Moving through Modernity: A Photo Essay

Given the theme of A Divided City for a photography assignment, I set out to document scenes of Cape Town’s southern railway line. These images observe the ways in which modernity has impacted how people move through different spaces in their every day lives.

Passengers wait for the train to leave Salt River station as they commute towards Cape Town Central Business District.

The legacy of Apartheid is still visible in the geographical landscape of Cape Town as the poor continue to live in the urban periphery, away from job opportunities and amenities of the city centre. The railway network of the City of Cape Town is a contentious space when current debates of infrastructure and lack of urban integration are considered. This is due to its nature in history as a physical separator of people – which was further enforced under Apartheid (“aparthood”). As an essential component for a diverse and fully functioning city such as Cape Town, the railway network has shown to deteriorate over the past years. This is visible in the increasing occurrences of train breakdowns, poorly maintained stations and in the ever-present threat of being robbed or assaulted as a commuter.

Despite these issues, the train can be seen a space which breaks barriers – where people of all walks of life come together. In light of its historical purposes, there is an irony of the train which highlights further disjunctions and divisions of the transport system itself and those who use it.

A commuter observes the passing scenery as the train leaves from the Kenilworth station.

I sought to capture the forms of movement surrounding Cape Town’s southern line railway which has stations in affluent Muizenberg, underprivileged Retreat and the buzzing Cape Town CBD. These images document how the lives of those in the middle and working classes intersect through their physical movements in familiar spaces while acknowledging the divisions that modernity creates.

The images include socio-economic, cultural and technological symbols alongside displayed body language which encapsulates an undefined and complex relationship between people, their environment and the every-day.

Passengers wait for the train to leave Salt River station as they commute towards Cape Town Central Business District.
A commuter stands alongside the train door where his sneakers reflect the light while another passenger wears flip flops.
A disregarded plastic container lies in front of a shrub growing
in-between the train track near Muizenberg station.
A commuter passes time by playing music from his phone while
en-route to Steenberg station.
Commuters of varying ages and backgrounds pass time on the train while using their cellular devices.
Wilhelm stares ahead as the train departs from Newlands while en-route to Plumstead, where his daughter lives.
Passengers on a passing train towards Cape Town are caught staring through the window as they stand in-between train carriages.
An elderly woman leaves an older, worn-out train at the Cape Town station.
Two women talk at a distance as they await the next train departing from Cape Town station.
Philemon, a street performer, poses for a photo with his knobkerrie and traditional flute outside Cape Town station.
A train worker clears cardboard boxes from the dumping that occurs on top of Cape Town station as a glimpse of Table Mountain occupies the background.

Words & images by Arron Moos


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