In this series we feature the work of Gary Hirson, a photographer from South Africa. Gary has captured the every-day people and places that are linked by the Southern Line railway that connects Cape Town and Simonstown. Photophique caught up with Gary for an interview for this feature:
Hi Gary, thanks for speaking to Photophique, could you tell us about your photographic background?
At the age of 31 I was an Export Sales Executive working for a listed company. I travelled throughout Africa on a monthly basis, attended international trade shows and reaped all the worldly benefits of the corporate lifestyle. All that started to change after I bought my first camera which became an invaluable documenter of my experiences in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda and Zanzibar. A few trips and many photographs later, I realised that my life was about to change. I began my career in photography assisting international photographers, both in Cape Town and in London, which was followed by a stint as a fashion photographer.
I then quickly moved into portraiture and lifestyle photography, which better expressed my deep interest in people, places and the way we live today. Vying for a final spot in a Danish-funded photo-journalism workshop, I shot my first bit of reportage. While documenting the waking-up of a community living in a cardboard city underneath the highways of Greenpoint, everything proverbially ‘clicked’ as I realised that this was what photography meant to me. I currently shoot portraiture, lifestyle, travel and reportage for both local and international clients.
Could you tell us about this series?
Plans for The Southern Line began in 1861. 1864 was the inauguration date of this line that now has 28 stations, running 37 kilometres between Cape Town and Simonstown. The diversity and paradoxes of the Southern Line are glaring. The trains run through some of the most beautiful land and seascapes, yet some of the windows are too old to open, scratched and dirty, so that passengers can’t view the spectacular scenery. Affluent travellers page through international travel guides while blind evangelical singers squeeze between commuters hoping to hear the sound of coins dropping into their battered cups. Sometimes the trains run silently, empty enough to sprawl out on the seats.
At other times, passengers hang onto the sides of the trains, squeeze between open doors, and lodge between the carriages. At times punctual, and at others hopelessly late, stopping for no apparent reason between stations, frustrating the clueless commuters. 126 trains run The Southern Line daily, carrying up to 3.7 million passengers per month. Down the Line is less a glamorous interpretation of the benefits of the train commute, and more an unpretentious, honest documentary of the experiences of those dependent on this important urban artery.
What equipment do you use?
Due to the perceived ‘dangers’ of photographing the Southern Line from , at times 4.30am until after dark I used my trusty old Canon 20D. As I wanted to shoot the story through a commuters eye I used only a 17-40mm 1:4 lens for the reportage shots. For the landscape photos a 70-200mm general purpose Canon lens was used.
Down The line, the coffee-table book that accompanies this series, is available directly via his website and in bookstores (exclusively) in South Africa.
Photophique has express permission to publish these images and Gary Hirson retains full copyright to all photographs featured in this showcase series.Back to Top