Breathing Spaces is a book of environmental portraits, composed of photographs taken in the first decade of the twenty-first century, a few years after South Africa’s democracy. It explores how photographic images can move us, can unlock personal and shared memories, can prompt public debate, can unsettle us and challenge us to think about alternative environmental futures. The photographs in Breathing Spaces explore the relationship between people and three neighbourhoods located south of Durban harbour: Wentworth, Merebank and Lamontville.
Durban’s densely populated southern basin is well known as a flashpoint of pollution perpetrated by South African industries and transnational petrochemical corporations. It is also known for the conflict over plans for further, dirty economic growth.
Breathing Spaces: Environmental Portraits of Durban’s Industrial South presents portraits of people and living spaces taken by social documentary photographer Jenny Gordon. These are interleaved with reproductions of images from family albums and are variously accompanied by extracts from Marijke du Toit’s conversations with the people portrayed, their friends, family and neighbours. A selection of photographs taken by local residents who participated in photographic workshops and exhibitions, held in the particular neighbourhoods, are also included. As a composite portrait, this book presents long histories of personal, communal and familial places in South Durban. It explores the possibilities of photography through conversation, and conversation through photography. It is about the struggle to take personal breath against social and environmental injustice.
Historian Marijke du Toit is based in the Faculty of Arts at the University of the Western Cape, where she works as a specialist for teaching and learning in Higher Education. Before moving to UWC she was based at the History Department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
Photographer Jenny Gordon lectures photojournalism at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Grahamstown.