I have been looking forward to today for a week now. Today we got a chance to photograph our cleaning lady Angelina and her two beautiful daughters aged 7 and 12. Most of our portraits on the road haven’t been prearranged by any stretch of the imagination, so this was a first since leaving the US. While Angelina was thrilled to have a chance to have some portraits made, I honestly don’t think she realized what she said yes to.
To back up a bit, our house here in Hout Bay comes with daily housekeeping. Angelina is the housekeeper. She is absolutely wonderful. She has worked for the owner of our property, Chris, for three years. It took us about 2 days to figure out why she is still here. Not only does she take care of the obvious things, like picking up the dishes, or wiping down the bathrooms, but all the little things as well. After we left the house one day, Alexa came back to find her stuffed animal all safely tucked into her newly made bed. Angelina’s work ethic is phenomenal. I wish we could bring her back to the States with us, but I know Chris would have our heads.
Anyway, we want to do something unique for Angelina to say thank you. We decided the best way for her not to forget our family is to create portraits of her family for her. We packed a small printer and paper for just this purpose. Families in the townships don’t have the money to have portraits of their families created. Most don’t own a camera. We figured it would be a great gift.
Fast forward to today. We arranged to meet Angelina near the road leading up to the township. I guess we didn’t understand her directions and we ended up driving through most of the township on our own looking for her. Now when we first arrived in Africa the idea of driving around a township by ourselves would have seemed just plain crazy. Maybe it still is. We were definitely the only white faces in the place. Driving our Opel probably helped not draw attention to ourselves. It’s not exactly a fancy car. Thankfully a couple of nice people helped us find our way to her after about 15 minutes of driving in circles.
Angelina walked us through the township to her home. It was a three-room shack with no running water. She does however have power. The lines run zig zag from house to house. They wouldn’t exactly meet codes in the US, but we have seen equally good power solutions in Greece when we lived there. Her home, like all the homes we have seen in the townships, was immaculate. She may not have a lot, but what she does have is extremely well taken care of and orderly. There are no toys or items littered around her place, as in so many homes in our country. Every shack here had a source of music. Music of all kinds filled the air.
We got a chance to meet not only her children, but her sister and her kids as well. She has a close family and they all stay together. Everyone in the townships knows one another. They are all one big family. The men help each other with building and moving large objects, like the side of a house.
Everyone hangs out outside their homes, socializing with the neighbors. They think it is funny that white people hang out in their homes and don’t interact with their neighbors. They may have a good point there. Why is that?
The opportunity to photograph in the townships is a photography dream come true. There are so many colors, textures and patterns. The shiny tin siding, the colors of the walls, the bright smiles of the kid’s faces, and the laundry hanging out to dry in the sun all make an interesting landscape. Everywhere I looked there was an image waiting to be captured. The faces of the children were stunning. Black children’s eyes just pop.
Angelina and her daughters got a chance to feel like a rock star for their 15 minutes of fame. All the neighbors and their kids came out to watch us photograph.
Working with Angelina and her family allowed us unlimited access to all her friends as well. This was very different than the Cultural Tour we were on earlier in the week. We were not just the next group of white tourists parading through. Going local is absolutely the best way to photograph.
We got into a discussion with one of her friends over America and what it was like to live there. She wondered if life was as “fast” as they see on TV? She was inquisitive over schooling for our kids. She was pleasantly surprised to find out part of our kids school was the camera and creating images of her kids for her. She asked if Carl supported the ANC when he lived in Africa years ago. We asked many questions in return and learned a lot about her kids and their schools as well.
Today was a highlight of our trip thus far. I can’t wait to give them their portraits. If they are happy maybe we can go back…..
Tags: Cape Town, Photography, South Africa, Township, Travel