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Hafeez Floris captures the unseen side of South Africa's townships

Hafeez Floris’ photography shows the childlike and creative side to people in areas like Manenberg and Soweto, South Africa.

By Lindsay Samson on 19 September

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A quick Google search for Manenberg brings up thousands of images. Rows of shacks, policemen with guns, and residents mourning victims of gang violence dominate the visual narrative. These photographs were often taken by photojournalists, most of whom did not grow up in Manenberg and present a different visual texture to how some locals capture the area.

Take photographer Hafeez Floris' street photography, for example. Born and bred in Cape Town, his images disrupt the stereotypes of the towns Manenberg, Mitchell’s Plain and even Soweto as nothing more than areas of strife and even violence. Prioritising a nuanced perspective, his work is at once illuminating and exuberant.

Floris began his career as freelance news cameraman and photographer for local news agencies. He moved on to spending time shooting inspiring content for Beautiful News – a platform dedicated to sharing positive coverage of South African achievement. His personal photography boasts a distinct richness and a sharp aptitude for storytelling.

Borderline obsessed with his camera and the art of film photography (he refers to his beloved Leica as ‘the best girlfriend who doesn’t talk’), Floris is laser-focussed on capturing what he sees as Cape Town’s quickly vanishing cultural heritage. Having spent much of his life moving from one Cape Flats neighbourhood to the next, he and his camera have been privy to some of the subtle moments of the fellowship particular to these areas of the city.

Behind a security gate in Mitchell’s Plain, John Fredericks (screenwriter of South African Oscar entry Noem My Skollie) sits smoking a cigarette. The sun is seen streaming across the 71-year old’s face as he stares beyond a bright red curtain onto the street outside. A still moment captured while Floris was shooting a story for Beautiful News. After spending nearly two days together, Floris’ photography captures the old man in a more pensive state, depicting an emotional depth beyond what Fredericks allows most to see.

In another shot, he clicks a little girl clinging to the bannister of a staircase to a block of flats. She stares down Floris’ camera with a mischievous glare. In a worn pink jumper and woollen beanie, the child’s eyes come alive against the moody Cape Flats sky behind her. “I like to show some of the more childlike and creative moments that you find in these areas because you never see areas like Manenberg portrayed in that way,” says Hafeez.

The photographer aims to capture everyday scenarios that embody the culture and sense of community unique to that particular area. As the older neighbourhoods of Cape Town continue to become gentrified at rapid rates and their little histories threaten to disappear completely, he takes on the task of documenting their stories.

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Citing Henri Cartier-Bresson as his ultimate inspiration, Floris is heavily influenced by his hero’s interpretation of ‘the decisive moment’. “Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression,” the French photographer said. Calling to mind aspects of the humanism that the Cartier-Bresson became famous for, Floris’ work feels intimate and spontaneous yet highly considered.

Keenly aware of the often unbalanced power dynamic between photographer and subject, he likes to begin his work by sharing his own stories with those he shoots. This helps them willingly open up. “I like to talk to people first. I like to kind of not know anything about them beforehand and then get to know them on a personal note. I’m a very open person so they open up to me and spark a friendship,” shares Hafeez.

When asked if he requests the permission of those whose images he captures on the street and his answer is devoid of any kind of artistic ego: “You can’t intrude on someone's space. Even though there are moments that you as a photographer may want to capture, you can see it in the picture when they're not pleased. You have to be humble when it comes to taking photos but it helps being able to instinctively read situations.”

Floris is keen to stage his own solo photographic exhibition in the near future. With a growing body of work and his knack for seizing the moment, he’s on track to make it happen.

Follow Floris’ work on his Instagram page.

The article was first published on Design Indaba. This is part of an exchange programme between Design Indaba and Design Fabric to introduce the rich works coming out of Africa's art and design scene to South Asia, and connect one culture to another.

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