More to it than the beauty of it - part 1

“I’ve come to believe that beauty can be a very powerful conveyor of difficult ideas. It engages people when they might otherwise look away'

- Richard Misrach

The public pool during drought  / Sea Point, Cape Town / Photo by Donald Michael Chambers /

The public pool during drought / Sea Point, Cape Town / Photo by Donald Michael Chambers /

This Misrach quote is from Henry Carroll’s new book, Photographers on Photography, How The Masters See, Think and Shoot. And, at the minute, I agree.

This is somewhat reflected in the approach I took when I captured the image of the Public pool at Sea Point, Cape Town, South Africa. The sun was setting, buskers were out singing on the strip, runners were going about their routines and goals, and families and groups of friends were out, making the most of one of Cape Town’s feature destinations - the Public Pool at Sea Point. I stood at the railings on the overlooking walkway and observed, taking it all in. The smells, the sounds, the light, it was all a daydreamer’s delight. The backdrop to this this is that this was in late February of 2018. Cape Town was in the midst of a water crisis and counting down to what they thought at the time, was an impending Day Zero - the day the city would completely run out of water. Water rations were regulated, long lines existed at water collection points, the lands were dry and public pools were empty. Most. I remember seeing a telling Getty Images picture in the Guardian before I left London for Cape Town. It was of a man standing in a nearly empty and clearly not-in-use, Newlands municipal swimming pool. In the background was Table Mountain, partly hidden by the clouds. If you’ve been to Cape Town you know that the clouds sort of creep over and slightly down the mountain. Sort of like a low lying mist claiming it’s territory. The positioning of the man in the pic is almost as though he’s pleading with the clouds, ‘Come on. Do your job.’ Look it up and tell me if you agree. To me the image was stunning. Compelling. Set up or not I don’t know but told a powerful story.

So again, back to the scene at Sea Point. With the Guardian image in mind and the many powerful images of people lining up for water, and the distressing scenes of dried up reservoirs, what I was seeing in front of me appeared contrary. Complicated. I was drawn in by the thematic representations of life; endurance; adaptability; human nature; beauty; life goes on - all elements of another side to this crisis - and the inherent contradictions that context brought to this scene. You see, the pools at this city landmark are seawater based. To me, a representation of man’s ability to adapt and use nature to our advantage, contrasting the context of the times, a water shortage crisis, which represented an example of humanity being disadvantaged by our overuse and abuse of nature. There may be other elements that are in this capture of a single moment in time, in a complicated and evolving society but this is what resonated with me at that point.

So yes, it was my hope that in taking what could potentially be dismissed as just another ‘pretty pic’, that my use of an appreciation of the esthetic value, could draw a viewer in to a wider, multi layered commentary and discussion.

I’m not saying this is right and other approaches are wrong or even that the aim was achieved. It’s simply an acknowledgement and acceptance that on this journey of self and world exploration, which is what photography is to me, this is how I’m seeing things at the moment. This is how I tell my stories. I’m glad I’ve come to terms with that and I’m happy to run with it.