Graeme Williams has returned his focus to Johannesburg, fifteen years after his first monograph The Inner City, was published in 2000. Much has changed since that period, during which the urban area was shifting from a whites-only, apartheid zone to a vibrant mixed-race precinct.
Now, the city is almost exclusively the domain of black people. Violence and xenophobic attacks have become more common. The locals have become resentful of the ever-increasing numbers of immigrants that have made Johannesburg their home as they seek work and a better future.
A city refracted portrays life in the city as harsh, but does so in a lyrical manner. The images are filled with movement, abstract shapes and layers of color. They form a poetic montage that evades a formal narrative, but communicates the feelings associated with life within this crowded landscape.
The essay won the 2013 Ernest Cole Award in South Africa – the prize included three exhibitions and the publication of the book.
A selection of images from the series were chosen and displayed at the prestigious Aperture Summer Open Exhibition in New York in 2014. The images displayed at the Summer Open were chosen ‘to reflect what’s happening in photography today.’
A series of images from the series were showcased in The World Atlas of Street Photography published by Yale University Press and Thames and Hudson in 2014. ‘He has developed a language of street photography to create highly subjective views of Johannesburg. They portray less about the outside world and more about his internal wars.’
The Huffington Post reviewed the World Atlas and showcased the essay – listing Williams as one of the ‘10 International Street Photographers Who Change The Way We See The World’
A short film presenting the essay and the photographer was shown at the Rencontres de la photographie festival in Arles, France. 2015.
The essay was showcased in Musee Magazine. New York. 2016.
The essay below was showcased by PHOTOPAPER in their launch publication. Kasseler Fotografie Festival, Germany. 2016. It included the following passage:
The Spirit of Graeme Williams by David Goldblatt
‘In the discords and harmonies of our life, Graeme Williams has found and shaped his own vision of their existence. He brings the light, shadows, colours, materials, textures, skin, flesh, movement and muscle of our shack settlements and city streets into photographs of dynamic, unexpected, sometimes startling synthesis. He does this with the surging, seemingly effortless fluidity of a dancer. His particular vision was first evidenced, if I am not mistaken, in an extraordinary series of photographs made in 1999 of two black dogs at play with each other on a beach in a flying ballet of explosive energy. There is a straight line of development from that elemental work to the highly complex “Edge of Town”, photographed between 2007 and 2009 in some 100 of South Africa’s ‘informal’ settlements. Now there is “A City Refracted”, a more sombre but no less dynamic series of photographs that spring from the tensions of Joburg’s streets and the makeshiftedness of living in its unloved and less salubrious buildings. Williams has told me that these essays evolved from the need to transcend the limits of the reportage in which, for many years, he earned his living. But they go far beyond that. They tell of some of his strongly felt understandings of this society. With rare and original imaginative reach, they are eloquently expressive of his spirit.”