On the 30th of July 2000 I took a walk through Alexandra township with one of its residents – the artist Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa. From recordings made over a 24 hour period I put together a 60 minute soundscape documenting a day in the life of the township.
At the time I made a small hand-drawn map of the various locations at which the sound recordings had been made. That was in an era before the advent of Google Maps, and since then I’ve often thought of how our awareness of our surroundings has changed along with the ubiquity of those maps and the satellite imagery they’re based on.
The satellite images, as impressive as they are in their detail, are still taken from some distance, and drones have recently opened up for a birds eye view that’s a little closer to our homes. The photographer Johnny Miller has put together Unequal Scenes – a collection of photographs capturing drones eye views that highlight the stark inequalities of adjacent South African neighbourhoods.1
The contrast between Alexandra and Sandton makes for one of the sets of photographs, and it is precisely that contrast that Bongi set out to draw attention to with an installation at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown back in the year 2000. It was there that I first met her and it was the installation that provided the impetus for the soundscape project.
I’ve been meaning to update the page for A Walk with Bongi through Alex on my site, partly with the addition of some up to date satellite imagery – which is one of the reasons I’ve been taking a closer look at Mapbox. Here’s a satellite view covering the area of my original hand-drawn map.