Goodman Gallery East Hampton is pleased to present a selection of work from Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s award-winning Ponte City series.
Ponte City documents the iconic building located near Johannesburg’s former central business district. The series has previously been shown at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP), Le Bal in Paris and Art Basel Unlimited. In 2015, Subotzky and Waterhouse received the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize for the project.
Described by Time Magazine as an ‘apartheid-era high rise mired in myth’, Ponte was originally intended as luxury condos, but fell into disrepair toward the end of apartheid when affluent people began moving out of the inner city en masse. Following that exodus, in the 1990s the building became a magnet for migrants from South Africa’s rural areas and immigrants from the rest of the continent. In 2007, following years of neglect, a group of developers evicted half of the building’s tenants and began to gut the apartments.
It was around this time that Subotzky and Waterhouse began visiting Ponte in an effort to meet the remaining tenants and photograph life in the half-occupied block. The pair regularly returned to the building, gathering an extensive archive of documents and photographs which have been published and exhibited in layered sequences that reflect the overlapping clouds of narrative and myth that surround the building and have made it a crucible of Johannesburg’s self-imagination during its almost 50-year lifespan at the center of the city.
This online viewing room, features a newly assembled 13-foot lightbox showing Ponte from the inside core, which complements the previous lightbox typologies of the building’s televisions, windows and doors. Ponte City’s genesis as a photobook is also featured as a grouping of book dummies created over the course of the six-year project. The out-of-print first edition was published by Steidl in 2014 and will be followed by a revised second edition, prepared ahead of a planned exhibition of the Ponte City Archive at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The institution acquired this complete archive of found documents and exhibition prints in 2018 and the exhibition, initially set for 2020, remains to be re-programmed after Covid-related disruptions.
"In the early stages of the project, Subotzky and Waterhouse took a large number of portraits in the elevators. They remember that while waiting for a lift one day, they saw its automatic doors opening like a theatre curtain to reveal a young woman dressed in pink, shoulders bared, with an ornate lace collar around her neck. That day’s resulting picture holds an important place in the photographers’ work. It is the first full-page image in the original edition of the book published by Steidl in 2014. It is also this portrait, pinned to a large-scale architectural drawing of the tower, that became one of the highlights of the exhibition.
In the months after taking that shot, Subotzky and Waterhouse regularly used the elevator as an improvised studio. Every encounter turned into a portrait session in this mobile photo booth, with subjects ranging from residents to visitors, young or old, smiling or cold, each face given a fine finishing touch by the neon lights bouncing off the edges of the metal cabin."
- Clément Chéroux, from introductory essay for the second edition of Ponte City (Steidl)
The Ponte City Book Archive is one of two core archives considered by Subotzky and Waterhouse to be the definitive expression of their project. Book-making was a fundamental part of Subotzky and Waterhouse’s working process of coming to terms with the wide variety of photographs and matarial they collected for the Ponte City project. The first book dummy was made in 2009 and over the course of the years that followed many variations of this form were made, in a wide variety of media, from concertina-folded archival prints to tape-bound laser prints.
Between 2008 and 2011, Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse took a photograph out of every window in Ponte City, of every internal door, and of every television screen. This formed a part of their broader investigation of this giant residential tower block, a building that has come to symbolize the best and the worst of Johannesburg’s past, present and future. The resulting archive of over 2000 images has found form in three distinct triptych works – as lightboxes, as multi-channel projections, and as individual photographic prints.