Wits City Institute Seminar

The profane and the prophetic at a South African beach

Phindezwa Mnyaka, senior lecturer in History at the University of the Western Cape, presented The profane and the prophetic at a South African beach at the Wits City Institute’s Seminar Series Chaired by Noëleen Murray on Friday 17 February 2017. Her paper proposed a reading of photographs by Joseph Denfield and Daniel Morolong through the lens of circular time that sees images as potentially recalling the past while prefiguring the future.

Discussant: Isabel Hofmeyr

17 February 2017 / 13.00 – 14.30 Wits Anthropology Museum, University of the Witwatersrand

Words: Phindezwa Mnyaka

Image:  G. French. East London Library

The Wits City Institute Seminars, hosted by Noëleen Murray, the Andrew. W Mellon Chair of  Critical Architecture and Urbanism are a space for the critical consideration of academic work in progress. The converstaion was  with literary scholar Isabel Hofmeyr over my paper which proposed a reading of photographs through the lens of circular time that sees images as potentially recalling the past while prefiguring the future.

I read alongside each other two collections that were published in two related newspapers in East London, South Africa, in the 1960s simultaneously. These are photographs by Joseph Denfield and Daniel Morolong whose very publication and circulation in the media were predicated on temporal and spatial distance. By paying particular attention to the beach, the subject matter that preoccupied both photographers, I provide an account of such distance through a reading of abandonment as a condition that marked their respective practices. By invoking the notion of prophecy, a mode of knowing that is complicit in such acts of abandonment by gesturing towards infinitude and a rejection of the present, I suggest it is at the beach – that space of ruination and undoing- that temporal crossings take place between the two photographers. In its prophetic mode, I propose, photographs allow one to encounter a past depicted which may well be a fetched future that has returned.