By Andreas Vlachakis
In Calvinia Photographs by Andreas Vlachakis
Calvinia is an isolated town of roughly 10000 people in the rugged bokkeveld of the Karoo. Like all communities in South Africa it did not escape the ravages of apartheid planning and economy which has resulted in a debilitating history of alcohol abuse in the young and the elderly, violence, frustration and the despair that comes with poverty and 80% unemployment.
People who were farmers and farm workers find themselves idle as most of these operations have downsized or been monopolised. There is no new development. The white and so called coloured communities still exist racially segregated, suspicious of each others motivations and intentions, locked in their identities by a brutal history.
Everybody knows everything about everyone. The uncertainty of change is frightening. Many people live from day to day, just finding sufficient money to quench the ugliness and anxiety of sobriety. Young adults are filled with the frustration and anger of wanting to express the person they are now discovering in themselves, without the space in which to do this. So they too are learning this language of violence and the simple sedation of cheap wine.
For all the towns problems there is the generosity and resilience that comes to a community united by a shared oppression. I was overwhelmed by the kindness offered. People welcomed me into their homes and spoke about their lives, their love, regret, despair and desire. I lived there for a short while and was moved by the striking physical beauty of the landscape of the region. Its far-reaching sky, severe extremes of temperature, spectacular fields of spring flowers that fade to semi desert summer starkness.
Time has a different character. In this body of work I have attempted to understand and reflect the many conflicting aspects of this place. The gentleness and respect borne in that great space with its easy timelessness battles constantly with the poverty and abusiveness that results from unemployment and lack of social services.
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