Exhibition: Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s Ponte City

On my trip in Paris last year I visited the exhibition 'Ponte City' at Le Bal. This exhibition displays images, documents and architectural drawings of the Ponte City, an apartment tower in Johannesburg. This tower was built in 1975 for the wealthy white South Africans and was destined to be a top notch example of modern and affluent living. After about 5 years people began to leave the city center starting a process of decay that went on for 30 years. In this article you can read a bit about the tower's history and changes it has been through.

The exhibition was set up in a very fascinating way. On the first floor were collages of all the front doors of the building, in the basement photos of documents, portraits and printed letters that were found in the rubble on the basement floor. These documents and images all told different stories of the people who had lived in this building. Refugees and workers from other African countries, letters from the social security, law officers and schools. Next to some portraits, small interviews were displayed in which the subjects talked about their lives and how they came to live in the building. On an other wall were all the official documents displayed about the original design and usage of the building, the decay and new plans and the ongoing discussions of what to do with the building. 

I was very impressed with how this exhibition was able to tell the macro and micro stories of this building in such a way that it showed the connection between ideas and perceptions of a place and the actual lives that are being lived here. Even though the building has been there for such a long time, the function and image has been very transient and is still changing, just as the people who have lived there and will live there. 

An other thing that struck me about this exhibition was the tension that was shown between ideas of architects and developers and what actually happens when people live in a place or when history and changes in society take over. I have seen the same tension in my visit and photography of the Palace of Justice, that was built as an architectural highlight and show off of power and glamour, but because of unforeseen circumstances has its function changed and ends up in decay, while the stories and people it should serve are left on their own device. 

The choices that are made in the images that were shown and the way the exhibition was set up show that the photographers really want to show these different layers of a place. They did a really good job and I'm very curious to see what will be the next phase in the existence of Ponte City!