CHANGING THE LINES
In 2005 I was contacted by the then general manager of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC). She told me that TMACC was planning for an upcoming maintenance shutdown in which some of the cables would be changed, and they wanted the process photographed to create an operations guideline manual for future cable changes.
I had no idea of what to expect.
Day one of the shutdown arrived and, with camera in hand, I arrived at the scene filled with heavy machinery, Swiss engineers and TMACC staff in overalls ready to get to work. Table Mountain as the backdrop with the awakening city below made for the perfect setting.
Immediately, the photographer Sebastião Salgado’s book Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age came to mind. The powerful images it documents made me realise that it’s reportage photography, whether street or travel, I’m most passionate about. Seeing the epic scene in front of me, I realised that this was an opportunity I had to grab with both camera-filled hands, so I mentioned to the general manager that she would be getting more than just an operations manual.
That was the beginning of a 13-year journey, which has resulted in this, my second photographic coffee-table book. The idea for the book first came to me in 2015. As the only photographer to have photographed the maintenance shutdowns in such depth, and over such a long period of time, I realised I had a treasure chest of unique images to share.
During the two- to five-week shutdown, a lot more happens than cable changing. This is also the time when roadworks, new builds, interior refurbishment, and staff training happens .
The question became: What to include in this book?
Every four to six years, the ‘heel’ and ‘haul’ cables that pull the cable cars up and down the mountain need to be changed. Every 12 years, the track cables on which the cars glide need to be retensioned. And every six years, the cable cars are stripped, serviced, checked, refurbished and refitted. Given the scale of Table Mountain, all of these procedures are feats of engineering, unique in that they don’t occur anywhere else in South Africa. The teams work on the foothills of the mountain, tightrope-walk the cables high above, and are dwarfed by machinery and elbow deep in oceans of essential gear. For safety reasons and more, everything − from the tiniest of nuts and bolts to the most massive of major working parts – must be stripped and replaced or refitted with absolute precision. Anything overlooked could result in the direst of consequences.
Adding to the drama, everything has to be done during midwinter, and the notorious Cape weather doesn’t always play along. However, it can’t influence the deadline. Ensuring that all that must be done is completed on time often means long hours.
Changing the Lines is not a promotional book for Table Mountain or TMACC but, rather, a reportage showcasing man working with machine in an engineering feat that takes place in a unique and dramatic environment.
DOWN THE LINE
The idea for this book was first seeded in early 2008. Commissioned to shoot a housing project as part of an engineering company’s Corporate Responsibility Programme, I was asked if I ever took pictures of Cape Town and its surrounds for my own personal pleasure.
Embarrassingly, I said no and was met with the response – “I suppose it is difficult to be a Prophet in your own city.” This statement has always stuck with me.
Eyes closed and I’m rocking dozily on my commute between Claremont and Woodstock. The global financial meltdown is responsible for me having to travel by train. Not a bad thing actually, as I now have time – twice a day – to reflect on anything I want.
I-Pod background music, the screech of the braking train, a gospel singer hoping for some spare change, tightly-packed sweaty bodies, perfume, cigarette breath, smelly deep-fried chips, businessmen and beggars, haves and have-nots, all riding the line side by side. This needed to be photographed!
The diversity and paradoxes of the Southern Line are glaring. The trains run through some of the most beautiful land and seascapes, yet some of the windows are too old to open, scratched and dirty, so that passengers can’t view the spectacular scenery.
Affluent travellers page through international travel guides while blind evangelical singers squeeze between commuters hoping to hear the sound of coins dropping into their battered cups.
Sometimes the trains run silently, empty enough to sprawl out on the seats. At other times, passengers hang onto the sides of the trains, squeeze between open doors and lodge between the carriages.
At times punctual, and at others hopelessly late, stopping for no apparent reason between stations, frustrating the clueless commuters.