Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 21, 2015

Sarah Stacke: Picturing Family in Manenberg

Love From Manenberg is not about gangs, poverty, or drug abuse, even though all of those things exist there. It is about how messy life is, and about the relationships photographer Sarah Stacke made and maintains in this Cape Town suburb.  This is the fifth and final installment from an extended series.

Three generations of the Adams family gather for a portrait in Manenberg, South Africa. This image was given to the family by photographer Sarah Stacke as one way to say "thank you" for the time and access to their lives they offered Stacke.Three generations of the Adams family gather for a portrait in Manenberg, South Africa. This image was printed and given to Jessica Adams, top right, to add to her collection of family photographs.

In the pictures taped to the painted concrete walls inside Debby Lottering’s home, her three kids are posed in singles, pairs, lines, and orderly groups. They look straight into the lens and their smiles are lit by the brightest light around. These are the pictures I make to leave behind in Manenberg, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa that I’ve been photographing since 2011.

Reading5_ManenbergFamily_011 copyZipporah Lottering hides behind the curtains at her home in Manenberg, South Africa. This iPhone image was given to Debby Lottering, Zipporah’s mother, by Sarah Stacke as one way to say “thank you” for the time and access the Lottering family offers the photographer.

Reading5_ManenbergFamily_008 copyBaron Moses of Manenberg, South Africa. 

At the end of each visit, which vary from a week to two months, I print hundreds of photographs and give them to the people pictured. It’s one way to give something back and show my appreciation for the time they’ve spent sharing their lives with me. Over the years, the images have made it into frames and onto the walls of various families, they’ve been taped to hot water heaters, and stuck between the pages of books for safekeeping.

Reading5_ManenbergFamily_018 copyTwo photographs left with the Maxwell family are displayed on a bookshelf inside their home in Manenberg, South Africa. Shane Maxwell, left, was a close friend of Ashwin Pietersen, right, who was killed in December 2014. The photograph of Pietersen, also given to his own family, was used on his funeral pamphlet.

This is a simple gesture – on my part and on the part of the people who save and arrange the photos – but the dispersal of this archive plays several roles. In the case of Ashwin Pietersen, a young man killed in a gang fight, the pictures of Ashwin I gave to his family are among the few they have. One of the pictures was used for his funeral pamphlet. The pictures of Naomi Lottering, Debby’s older sister who primarily lives on the streets, provide – as far as I know – the only visible record of Naomi’s life and whereabouts over the last four years. For Debby, the pictures of her kids, friends, and father have become the default family photo album of recent years. There are also many photographs of which I don’t know the fate. Often, in the rush of packing and tying loose ends, I leave the pictures of the people I don’t regularly see with Debby. She distributes them around town in the days after my departure, a business she tells me relishes.

Reading5_ManenbergFamily_010 copyQueenie Duplessis of Manenberg, South Africa. 

For the most part, images of Manenberg in the news highlight one thing: gang violence. The images I select for Love From Manenberg, the ongoing series that results from my time there, don’t overlook Manenberg’s serious social issues, but the series makes every effort to represent the community as the complex and culturally rich place that it is. The photographs I leave behind draw attention to the strength of character and abundance of love, compassion, and resiliency that holds the fabric of Manenberg together. These channels of picturing Manenberg each have their own distinct consequences and influences.

Reading5_ManenbergFamily_007 copyDebby Lottering looks out the window of her second-floor bedroom in Manenberg, South Africa. The image, made with an iPhone, was printed and given to Lottering at the end of photographer Sarah Stacke’s visit. A copy of the photograph also hangs on Stacke’s wall in Brooklyn, New York.

One of the many powers of photography is that it shapes how we see and reflect on the world and ourselves. Even though almost everyone I’ve met in Manenberg takes pictures with their phones and the cost of printing photos is somewhat reasonable, it seems to be the inconvenience that impedes one from having pictures printed. This is a side effect of digital photography everywhere. But perhaps it is in the very places where challenges abound, such as Manenberg, where family photo albums can hold the most power to shape identity and collective memory. There are few things that make me happier as a photographer than to see the pictures I’ve left behind stored and displayed alongside family photographs, cherished by generations long before I ever stepped foot in Manenberg.

 See the complete series here.

Photographs and text by Sarah Stacke.

About the Photographer

Sarah Stacke

Sarah Stacke is dedicated to developing intimate stories about intersections of culture, history, and geography that have created marginalized communities. One of her current projects takes place in Western North Carolina where she photographs the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. She is also working on Love From Manenberg, a long-form documentary project in Cape Town, South Africa, and another project in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she’s developing an archival resource in collaboration with photographers and families in Kinshasa. In addition to making photographs, Sarah teaches and generates projects that ask viewers to think critically about cross-cultural visual literacy at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. She has written about photography for The New York Times Lens Blog and the Nasher Museum and she is the curator of exhibitions including Keep All You Wish: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum and AfriPost: Epistolary Journeys of African Pictures. In 2012 she received a Master of Arts from Duke University tailored to research photographic representations of sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora. Clients and publications include The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, Marie Claire, Planned Parenthood, YMCA, KARIBU Kinshasa, HOPE Cape Town, and SONKE Gender Justice Network. You can see all of Sarah's Reading The Pictures Originals posts here.

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