A landscape’s social imprints

2011-08-25 00:00

SOME of the most famous battlefields in KwaZulu-Natal have been captured on film by renowned ­German-American photographer, ­Beatrix Reinhardt, who is in ­Pietermaritzburg doing an artistic residency at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

Reinhardt, who has been in South ­Africa for the past two months, has ­visited Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Blood River, Talana and Elandslaagte, and plans to juxtapose her landscape ­photographs of the battlefields with a body of work she’s completing, which looks at a ­550 kilometre-long Friendship ­Pipel­ine — a segment of a larger gas pipeline that stretches from Siberia to points in ­Europe, and which was ­constructed by the East Germans ­between 1974 and 1978.

Reinhardt’s work is, she says, ­motivated by the need to produce an ­unencumbered view of a social ­landscape, and to reveal information about the people who interact in these spaces.

“Spaces — urban, ­private, public, ­interior etc. — hold a complex ­embodiment of meanings,” she says. “Just as the stone, steel, and mortar of a city holds embedded imprints of the collective ­aspirations of different eras, so does the wider arena of ­nature, the ­landscape on and around pipelines, ­historical or ­industrial sites ... I feel the residue of people is often more ­interesting than people themselves.”

Southern African battlefields are not the only source of inspiration for ­Reinhardt. She has also been to ­Namibia to meet and photograph a group of ­people known as the “Black Germans” or “GDR kids”.

“About 430 Namibian children were sent to East Germany during the war ­between South Africa and Namibia in the eighties. After ­Namibia achieved ­independence and East and West ­Germany were ­reunified, the authorities sent the youngsters back home,” she said.

“Many of them had left when they were very young, and they only spoke German. Some had lost family members. I have been finding and ­photographing these individuals.”

Reinhardt said her own East ­German background was, in part, a catalyst for the project.

“I grew up in Jena, in the former East Germany. After the wall came down I studied abroad and when I returned, I felt that the country I had known no ­longer existed. If I felt that kind of ­emotion, I would ­imagine it would have been even more intense for this group. Some of them left Namibia at the age of three, so they were more German than ­Namibian,” she said.

The Black German project sees ­Reinhardt returning to her photographic roots. When she began ­taking photos, the Associate ­Professor of photography at the City ­University of New York focused ­almost exclusively on people.

“I lived with communities who were foreign to me — the homeless in New York, people in trailer parks,” she said. “I was interested in people whose lives were very ­different from my own. The camera was an excuse to get in touch with them, to start a conversation.”

During her residency at UKZN, ­Reinhardt has delivered two lectures, and from August 29 to September 2, she will be showing some of her work in the exhibition, Residue — 550 km of ­landscape and developing thoughts, in the Jack Heath Gallery at the Centre for Visual Arts in Ridge Road, Pietermaritzburg.


• The exhibition is open to the ­public during working hours. For more ­information, phone 033 260 5170.

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