The Photobook Advent Calendar – 2nd Dec

This year, in the true spirit of Christmas, we’re doing the Miniclick Photobook Advent Calendar where we’ll look at a different photobook, newspaper, magazine or ‘zine we like by someone we’ve worked with in the last 12 months, right up until Christmas Day.

Day 2 – December 2nd

Jason Larkin – Tales From the City of Gold

Having enjoyed Jason’s newspaper “Cairo Divided” so much, we were dead excited when he told us he was dual publishing the project he’d been working on in South Africa as an art book and newspaper. He came down to Brighton in November this year to discuss the work with Max Houghton at one of our events for Brighton Photo Fringe.

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“A city built on gold, Johannesburg was founded in 1886, when settlers and immigrants descended on the largest reef of the precious metal ever to be discovered. The area transformed quickly into a mining mecca. Within fifty years, over three hundred thousand people were working in gold mines across the city. This vast and rapid expansion reflected the increasing global thirst for gold as a commodity and helped fuel a government that changed South Africa forever. 

Long after the mining has finished, its environmental and social impact is still embedded in the fabric of modern Johannesburg. Tailings dams, the by-product of past extractions, now exist as manufactured mountains of waste. Six billion tonnes of these ‘mine dumps’ form the backdrop of Southern Africa’s largest city. These vast monuments are a constant reminder of the productivity of the past, whilst attracting a plethora of contemporary activities. With around four hundred thousand people currently living around the six billion tonnes of toxic waste, the resurgence of re-mining the dumps for remaining gold is stirring an already fragile existence for many. 

Tales From The City Of Gold explores these tailings as an integrated extension of the thriving metropolis that surrounds them. Anthropological in its approach, this project is the result of living in Johannesburg for two years, observing the ordinary and extraordinary nature of life alongside the dumps. Focusing on the coexistence between past and present allows a unique perspective on the actions of previous generations and reveals that impact on our society and environment today.”

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When we were discussing with Jason how he’d like his talk down here to go, he stressed that he’d like to focus at some point on the reasons and ideas behind dual publishing like this. The art book, “Tales from the City of Gold” and the newspaper “After the Mines” include images from the same body of work and the same captions and superb essay from Mara Kardas-Nelson (all translated into Zulu by Thandiwe Nxumalo Kunutu). The core reason for publishing in two formats like this is to make the work as accessible as possible. The newspaper, published by Fourthwall Books, is an affordable way to get into the work and the writing, whilst the book, published by Kehrer Heidelberg in Berlin, has some beautiful extra touches, without feeling like you have to have it to enjoy the work.

The book also includes an additional essay by Julian Rodriguez, illustrations and fascinating sections of Fanagalo – a pidgin, command only language of Zulu and Xhosa with adaptations of modern terms in English and Afrikaans, developed by colonialists in the early 1900’s to communicate with servants and adopted widely by the South African mining industry.

Both the newspaper and book have been put together beautifully and you can tell a lot of time has gone into things like typography, the space the images are afforded and the order they lie in (as you’d expect). All this wouldn’t count for so much if the work wasn’t so bloody good though – all the images are taken with the huge slag “mountains” as a setting or a backdrop, which is a neat way to trigger our thought processes and allow us to explore the consequences of the mining industry without ramming a specific message down our throats.

The book costs £32 and can be found here, whilst the paper is available in South Africa for R80 (although I’m sure Jason has some copies in the UK if you happen to see him…) .

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