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Photographing dispossession, forgetting solidarity: waiting for social justice in Wentworth, South Africa

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South Africans today inhabit a fragmented and discontinuous landscape, often despite their most cosmopolitan intentions. Grounded in the Coloured neighbourhood of Wentworth in Durban, this paper asks how remains of the past appear as differently temporalised artefacts, some buried in the archaic past and others more readily used to critique the present. In particular, I explore photographs of inmates of a concentration camp from 1902, township youth appropriating a specific commons in the early 1980s, black political photography from the late 1980s, and film wrestling with the ambiguities of post-apartheid political life in a Coloured neighbourhood next to an oil refinery. What unites these moments is not just a meta-theoretical concern with photography as both documentary and aesthetic, but the specific political uses of images, exemplified by the work of two black political photographers. Their practice provides cues for situating these other photographs in a long century of multiple dispossessions. The paper explores when and how photographs might shock the viewer into recognising resemblances, connections and potential solidarities, not just with the past, but with subaltern critique of racial space and subjectivity in the present. I suggest how we might view photographs from various moments relationally, to understand how, in one corner of contemporary South Africa, people continue to wait for justice despite uncertainty and official dissimulation, in a state of anticipatory frustration.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/30487/

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