LOOK: ‘I Declare I Am Here’: A photographic exhibition which captures the city of gold in its essence

Sarah Eckstein, waiting for a service to start at Twelfth Apostle Church, Doornfontein,Johannesburg, South Africa,19 April 2019 (Easter Friday). Picture by Caroline Suzman.

Sarah Eckstein, waiting for a service to start at Twelfth Apostle Church, Doornfontein,Johannesburg, South Africa,19 April 2019 (Easter Friday). Picture by Caroline Suzman.

Published Mar 11, 2023


Johannesburg - Back in 2018, South Africa was celebrating its 24th year of democracy.

And to commemorate the momentous occasion, local photographer Caroline Suzman decided to start what would become a three-year project.

Each South African public holiday during this time she would take to the streets of Johannesburg in a bid to capture the city of gold in its essence.

Through her camera lens, Suzman sought to record Joburg's shadows and dreams. She shot pedestrians streaming in and out of the city as they navigated architecture from a bygone era with resilience, grit and grace.

Lelo Mndaba and Volken Fren (from Serbia) in Maboneng, Johannesburg. Picture Caroline Suzman.

Her photographs recorded fleeting interactions between herself as the photographer, Joburg’s residents and the city environment; peeling walls, poster-covered concrete pillars and flyovers, littered pavements and potholed streets.

Her images also revealed the combinations of traditional dress and street fashion that reflected the hybrid identities and personal creativity of passers-by.

And after her three-year passion project, Suzman is finally ready to exhibit I Declare I Am Here; a photographic exhibition at the Wits Art Museum (WAM).

Price’s candle factory, Henry Nxumalo Street, Newtown, Johannesburg. Picture Caroline Suzman.

“The title was chosen to suggest the strength of the people in the city,” Suzman told the Saturday Star this week.

“I also wanted to show the vibrancy of the city and I wanted to respond photographically to the many years of South Africa’s years of democracy.”

In seeking out unexpected matches between the streets and the people who pass along them, Suzman’s intention was also to transmit a sense of the vitality and radical changeability of Johannesburg.

“It was an amazing experience because I am always walking and driving around Johannesburg and meeting people and this was an opportunity to be really focused.”

Nkosana Mokoena, City and Suburban, Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture by Caroline Suzman.

It was also important for Suzman to capture these images during South Africa’s public holidays, some which were established in response to particular moments in the country’s history such as Heritage Day, Youth Day, Human Rights Day, Freedom Day and Day of Reconciliation.

She is aware that each of these public holidays holds different meanings for Johannesburg’s varied communities.

“I like photographing on public holidays because people dress up and express cultural pride,” she said.

But some of Suzman’s photographs were also taken during the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the toughest eras in the country’s history.

“The city changed a lot before and after Covid, which was unsettling.”

But the photographer was also pleasantly surprised at what she discovered in Joburg during her time working on this project.

Dancer/Performer Xolisile Ngubane , Maboneng, Johannesburg. Picture by Caroline Suzman.

“I have never worked with so much colour and some of the major themes that are reflected in this particular series are love, heritage, migration, security and faith.

“What surprised me the most during my time in the city’s streets was how warm and cheerful everyone was in spite of the decaying infrastructure.”

And from her experience in the heartbeat of Johannesburg, she found that friendliness of the city’s people as well as its cultural diversity are what make it so unique.

Suzman is thrilled that after three long years, she is finally able to exhibit her photographs at the WAM.

“The city is in need of some positive stories,” she said.

The I Declare I Am Here photographic exhibition is open for viewing at the WAM from March 9 to May 13, 2023. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm.