It’s about us

3 September 2002

This is a book about us. A collection of photographs about living in South Africa that make us “smile, laugh, feel proud and occasionally cry” – by Pierre Crocquet, a professional photographer who has joined the Proudly South African campaign.

‘Us’ is published by Bell-Roberts Publishing, available from them and selected Exclusive Books stores.

Pierre Crocquet was born in Cape Town in 1971. He qualified as a chartered accountant and worked in finance for seven years in Johannesburg and later London. He then studied photography at the London College of Printing and is now working as a professional photographer, specialising in commercial, portraiture and editorial work. Crocquet is currently based in Cape Town.

He says: “This book is about people -­ just ordinary people who happen to live in South Africa ­and by nature are South African.

“Publishing a book about people living in this country has always appealed to me, but never more so than when I returned home after living abroad for five years. In that time I would often catch myself smiling in far-flung places after chancing upon a group of people who were unquestionably South African.

“Their behaviour expressed a lack of self-consciousness; sometimes embarrassing themselves in a nice kind of a way. Tact and the ability to whisper their opinions in more delicate situations did not come naturally. The loud and direct route was the chosen way.

Young first-world tourists who come to South Africa “love the mood and take to it fast”, says Crocquet. “Within hours of landing they’ve abandoned their home country rules.

“This book sets out to capture some of South Africa’s character,­ its quirks, its wildness and its innocence by simply photographing ‘Us’ – South Africans – as we go about our lives.

“The journey of producing this book began while I was driving to Cape Town and passed ‘Johannes’, a teenager biding his time along an infinite stretch of road. He was swaying back and forth in an old kitchen chair in front of a farm stall that had a ‘Hanepoot’ sign on the roof. The scene was an appealing mix of surreal and ordinary, but I was anxious to get to Cape Town and the summer sun I’d missed during my overseas years.

“Fortunately I decided to turn around, unpack my camera and unwittingly started photographing the first material – ‘Johannes’ – for the book. At the time it was nothing more than shooting a scene I found stimulating. Later I framed some of the images to form a narrative.”

Interest shown in the piece resulted in Crocquet shooting a range of other scenes around the country, featuring people going about their daily lives. “The images were mostly uplifting and amusing”, says Crocquet, “even though the people’s circumstances were sometimes trying. Somewhere then I decided to commit to producing a book about ‘Us’.

“I am sometimes asked how I photograph people and how they respond to being photographed. Most people are approachable and almost everyone featured in this book knew they were being photographed. I didn’t try to catch them unawares, but at the same time I worked as quickly as possible.

“Hesitation allows people to change their pose to how they would like to be seen, although after a while most people become bored with the camera and revert to who they are anyway. Occasionally, communication lines get crossed and I offend someone, but that is inevitable when dealing with people.”

Although the subjects were aware of Crocquet’s camera, none of the images were directed, he says, and scenes were “simply photographed as they unfolded, then printed un-cropped. The resulting reportage photographs are a combination of ready anticipation, patience, luck, working the scene and sometimes serendipity.

“When this happens I gladly accept the rare gift of a great, unexpected image. But soon after I start wondering how many other serendipitous images I’ve missed because I was elsewhere when they occurred.

Material was photographed all over South Africa, says Crocquet. “There were a few images I hoped to find – like ‘Daniel and George’,­ children walking to school barefoot – but in general I just kept an open eye, confident that interesting scenes would reveal themselves to me. I often caught myself smiling while photographing: the result of quirky scenes captured.

“Producing a book of this nature was far harder than anticipated, mainly due to the diversity of our cultures. Also, while my intention was to capture a wide range of South Africans, I did not want the book to become a “rainbow nation” checklist. I strongly felt this would make it contrived.

“Instead, I wanted to compile a book of great images of ‘Us’. If the book is biased in makeup in any way, it is the result of chance and nothing else. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did creating it.”

Source: Proudly South African

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