By far one of the craziest projects I have taken part in yet; 24 photographs, 24 hours, one every hour posted to Instagram.
The call from the organizers:”Document Humanity to Make a Difference!”
The 24HourProject gathers street and documentary photographers from around the globe to share in real time as they document the human condition of their city.
Stanley had rustled together a small group of photographers in Swaziland and planned a route for the 24 hours.
31 March 2017, 22h30 – Manzini
We group in Manzini and head to the Ngwenya Border on the Western boundary of Swaziland to start the project…
There is great excitement as we make our way towards the border, last checks on gear and workflow to make sure that everyone is ready to rock the project. While we drive and to get into the swing of things, I check out the Instagram feed of @24hourproject since a number of countries have a head start on us and have posted their first images for the day.
Time goes by really quickly and we have only a moment for a group shot before our clock starts ticking. And so it begins!
1 April 2017, 00h00 – Ngwenya Border
The only shot I had planned beforehand was the first shot of the day. Providing the border post was still open, I knew exactly where we would be and I was looking forward to experimenting with slow shutter speed and light trails of the cars rushing past.
The first photograph in our 24-hour photo-marathon and we still need to get into our gear and adjust to our environment. Not so easy at this time of the night but we all are excited to finally get going.
As luck would have it, the scene was as I had hoped and I bag my shot. Off to a good start!
First shot in the bag and soon enough we head to our next stop.
As we drive, we face our next challenge: transferring images to our phones and tablets, editing them and then publishing them to Instagram with the required hashtags and byline. This takes time – just as all things do the first time – but spirits are high as we drive into Mbabane for our next stop.
01h00 – Mbabane
We stop in a parking lot to catch our breath and give everyone time to finish posting their first image. While others are still busy, I have my eyes on my next shot.
It has gone 01h00 so I am good to go. I grab my image quickly and easily:
The parking lot is relatively quiet so we decide to scout the inner city streets. We realize that there aren’t many people at this time of the night but we find a corner where there is some activity. We all succeed with posting our second shot in time and move on.
02h00 – Ezulwini
After a 15-minute drive down the Malagwane Mountain Pass we enter the Ezulwini Valley.
A petrol station at the first turn-off lends itself as a nice and safe stop for coffee and to see if we find more humans willing to be documented:
On this cold night, while most other people are sleeping, we find a dedicated petrol attendant dutifully going about his tasks.
Into the third hour and three photographs down, time for a well-deserved cup of coffee before moving on again.
We head towards Happy Valley Casino – with high hopes of catching people celebrating month end. When we arrive at the casino, however, the parking lot reveals that most of the celebrating has already come to an end at this place.
We go across the road to the shopping centre where there are still restaurants and pubs open and unearth some stead-fast people, celebrating and in “high-spirits”.
As I take these photographs I ask myself how they are going to contribute to making a difference for humanity. Though I don’t have an answer to this question at this hour of the morning, the thought lingers in my mind.
03h00 – Malkerns
Leaving the party-goers behind, our group drives towards our next stop. As we take a detour into Malkerns we pass a pub which, at first, also looks like everyone has come and gone for the night. It takes no time for all the members of our group to disperse in search for the next shot.
It’s a small area and everyone is trying to get a shot and so it takes me a while to warm up to this place.
Eventually I decide on this scene and I capture my image for the fourth hour:
It is now three-forty-five in the morning and my imagination and creativity are being more challenged than I expected. We are not just capturing street scenes in a big city, but scenes in a country with a very low population density. There are only about 1.3 million people in Swaziland and we really have to work hard for our images.
04h00 – Matsapha
We get back onto our route towards Matsapha. After driving around in search for some interesting scenes we decide to stop at another filling station and late night eatery.
I come across a locked door with a big chain around it. It reminds me of locked up people. I close in on the scene, frame my shot and take it. This is the final image I post:
Time seems to be whooshing past as we busy ourselves with either taking pictures, editing or posting them. As soon as one image is posted I need to be on the lookout for the next one.
05h00 – Manzini Taxi Rank
Everyone is enjoying the challenge, but also looking forward to what the nearing daylight hours will unveil. As we approach Manzini and the taxi rank, dawn is slowly starting to make its appearance. It’s a hive of activity and a burst of colour.
A pedestrian, clearly on his way home after a long night out, walks in front of my camera and poses willingly but requests that I make him “look like an American”. I’m only a photographer, not a magician, nor a politician, so I laugh and press the shutter. It does, however, make me wonder where a wish like this comes from.
06h00 – Manzini City Centre
The thought of sunrise fast-approaching makes me breathe a sigh of relief. I have enjoyed the journey so far, but I am keen on capturing some human busyness in the streets of Manzini. Gateful for some daylight, we stop for a quick coffee break and some photography chat.
No rest for the wicked… the clock keeps ticking and we need to keep moving. We set out for a few hours of walking. A nice change after many hours of having relied on our trusty wheels to get us from one human interaction to the next.
Here it is – my first daylight picture for the project:
07h00 – Manzini Market
We walk across the city and arrive at one of the stops on our agenda I have been extra excited about: the Manzini Market with all its hustling traders and their market busyness. The hope of finding some interesting scenes and people puts an extra spring in my step.
Many colorful scenes present themselves to me and my camera is humming with happiness.
We have a wonderful experience at the market. People are much more open to having their photographs taken then what I remember from my previous visits. I share some of the photographs with the subjects via What’s App as a small token of appreciation from my side. I feel happier that in addition to taking these photographs, I am also able to give them.
Time never stands still. Well, it never does, and this project reminds me constantly of that fact. We have been on the move for over 8 hours and we aren’t even half way into the day. That’s a pretty crazy realisation. I start to feel a little tiredness settling-in, so I distract myself by taking some more photographs as we make our way back to our vehicle.
Along the way I come across this scene:
I would have loved to use this photograph as my upload for the hour, but since I have already posted my image for 7o’clock and the timestamp dictates in which hour the image can get posted, I cannot.
So we keep on walking and I keep on shooting. It’s so nice to see the streets alive with people.
08h00 – Manzini City Centre
If you have to make a photograph, you find a way.
With time constantly and relentlessly chasing our tails, we focus on being more efficient in choosing a scene, taking a shot, editing and uploading our images within the hour.
Somehow, it works out. So far at least.
09h00 – Enjabulweni High School, Manzini
A local school is hosting its annual school festival. There are lots of people gathering to enjoy some sports challenges, food and other fun activities. An awesome opportunity to catch people enjoying life!
It’s busy, colourful and bright and I am really happy that I make out a group of girls as they are getting ready for their picture at the local Photo Booth stall.
We get to stretch our legs and stop moving for a bit. What a treat. Constantly being on the move, sleep deprived, eventually gets to you. Okay, to me at least. I feel like I need to hold onto something – a cup of coffee and a sandwich come to the rescue. It hits the spot and re-vitalizes me.
We learn from Colette, one of the photographers in the group, that a farrier is currently working on her horses on the farm nearby. It’s only a few minutes up the road. The thought of only traveling a short distance for the next photograph re-vitalizes me even more. No rushing for the next hour…
10h00 – Farm at Lugaganeni near Manzini
Watching the farrier going about his work is pretty fascinating and I end up taking a number of photographs. I love the colours and the mood in these shots and settle on this image for the 10h00 slot:
11h00 – Sikhuphe International Airport
It is starting to get warm as we pack up to move on out of the city. We stock up with cool drinks and ice, and start navigating towards our next location.
Before we leave, we have to say good bye to two of our fellow photographers as they have family and work commitments. The remaining four of us carry on with our trusty driver. He is the unsung hero of the day and I have no idea how we would have managed the 400 some-odd-kilometres without him.
It is well into the next hour already and we haven’t taken, let alone posted, our next image yet. We are still many kilometres away from our next stop and there is much conversation in the group. For the first time today we feel the pressure of traveling long distance between locations.
Africa is not for sissies. I say it all the time!
We head towards Swaziland’s new airport. There are only a handful of flights a day scheduled from this airport. For the rest of the day, time stands still there. It’s risky going there to take an image with so little time remaining, but we are willing to take on the extra challenge. While the pressure is on, crank it up some more!
Things don’t look good as we approach the empty parking lot. The midday flight has come and gone. The roads are basically empty. One forlorn Asian man is standing almost spell-bound in the blazing midday sun in the middle of the empty parking lot – one hand on his suitcase, the other casting a shadow over his eyes, wearing a business suit. The scene is so absurd. I wish I could grab a shot, but I feel for this man who is clearly stranded here. A quick chat confirms that he missed his transfer and was waiting for someone else to pick him up. At least this is what I make out from his explanation in broken English. Advising him to move out of the sun while waiting, we decide to make our way into the airport building, with beady eyes and charged up cameras.
Before we can enter we have security walking towards us. I am not surprised. An airport is an official building. Somehow, taking photographs presents a security risk. We explain that we are harmless and just trying to capture a variety of scenes with people from Swaziland.
Time is ticking really loud now and we are finally stepping into the airport building – and it is empty.
On the far side I see a person at a luggage wrapping machine, passing time with his gaze glued to his phone. We stick out like sore thumbs so there is no way to grab a shot without being noticed. All I can do is walk up to him and ask him for a photo. I expect a definite “No” as I approach him with my request. To my surprise he agrees. I don’t hesitate and grab my shot. 11o’clock is safe!
12h00 – Simunye
Oh My Hat! We are half-way. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.
We have been on the go for 12 – TWELVE – hours and ONLY halfway. I am an optimist – the glass is half-full – but in this case, the glass has a scary capacity. When we first discussed to take on this challenge, I wondered what it would feel like to be on the go for so long… now I am getting the idea!
There is an outdoor sports competition being held in the next town which will present some easier photo opportunities. We head there.
We can all feel the hours we have behind us and I am starting to wonder how I am going to feel towards the evening. Realizing the fruitlessness of the thought, I busy myself with charging my camera and phone batteries and letting the landscape whoosh by.
Soon enough we reach our next stop. We hold out here for a few hours and tell the driver to take a much-needed rest while we unleash ourselves onto the crowd.
13h00 – Simunye
Sitting down, lying down, being stationary has never felt so good. At the same time I realize that it is making me want to sleep, which is, of course, out of the question. I shake myself up and go about hunting my next shot…
14h00 – Simunye
With the 2o’clock shot in the bag – Jack, a gym instructor – we all decide to make a move and change scenery.
The day has taken its toll, not only on us and our camera batteries…
Hoping that our driver has had enough of a rest we are on our way again. Charged up but somehow feeling a bit worse for wear. I wonder why…
15h00 – Ngomane
We head out and stop at a small village where we can spot some human activity: people sitting outside their shops and houses – relaxing and enjoying their Saturday afternoon.
But people are shy and not willing to be photographed at first.
A few clicks later…
Even though I manage to grab some people photographs, this image is my choice for the hour – it’s just soooo Africa.
We want to catch the sunset in a place a bit further up the road, so we take to our merry way – yet again – stopping along the way for some interaction with other locals.
16h00 – Shewula
On our hunt for the perfect sunset spot, we end up on a long, windy, typically African dirt road. It’s rural, it’s remote and people are, yet again, scarce. The people we do come across don’t really enjoy our cameras and so we just keep on moving.
It is not uncommon for people in the rural countryside to think that anyone carrying a camera intends to make money from the photographs that they are taking. So they ask for a donation. It makes me contemplative. By taking these images for the project I want to make a difference for humanity. Not for myself, but that is a topic to pick up on another day…
17h00 – Somewhere out there
As we continue to search for the sunset spot, this desolate building is in keeping with how few people there are in the area.
18h00 – Ngomane
After a 90-minute loop on a bad gravel road that forces us to drive so slowly that the sunset spot is too far to reach, we turn around. Back to the main road.
Daylight fades quickly and by the time we hit the main road again darkness has set in for good. Mr. Tripod to the rescue.
We are now at the west end of the country and although not aware of it yet, our most taxing part of this day is yet to come. There is still quite a lot of mileage to be covered and only a few stops with human activity in-between. Our group is curious how this is going to turn out.
19h00 – Simunye
It’s dark and it’s late again, but thankfully we have done this before. Just a few more hours to go. We are nearing the end. As tired as I am, I am quite content and encouraged to see that others are also busy into the night.
20h00 – Siteki
As we move on towards Siteki we travel though pitch dark bushveld. Nothing but black outside and we decide to drive up the road towards the town and come across the veterinary fence and an old abandoned guard house. It is the main access to the town. It used to be busy. But today, apart from a few cars driving by, it’s quiet.
We experiment with photographing the stars, but quickly realize that a photograph of that nature requires a lot more time and concentration than we have. It is cold and I am way too tired and we are out of time. I notice that the guard house gets illuminated every time a car drives past. It is the only sign of life out here so I have no choice but try and make a photograph. I wait for a car and take my shot.
I am not crazy about the image, but it’s all I have so I upload it as my 8o’clock. Trying to shake off my frustration, we move on.
21h00 – Big Bend
As we travel through this part of the country I haven’t been to before, I am amused by the thought that I have to go to the extremes of this project to finally travel here.
I really like the scene and the abundance of lights make for some nice starbursts – even if completely void of any form of human life on the outside.
This is a sugar mill that operates 24-hours and we know that it is teeming with workers inside. The town was built around this factory that symbolizes one of the backbones of the country’s income streams.
22 images down – just two more to go.
I am completely exhausted.
22h00 – Siphofaneni to Manzini
We drive and drive. Everyone in the car is quiet. Outside is dark. Pitch black dark. We keep on driving.
We had planned to stop in the only village on route from our previous stop back to Manzini. It is obvious, as we slowly drive past, that the people here have been partying and drinking for a long time and that it is no place for us and our cameras. We decide to skip it and with that the only photo opportunity of the hour. We head into Manzini.
23h00 – Manzini
Driving into Manzini we head towards the centre and the main street.
When we get there, the mood is not quite what we hoped for so we drive around a couple of blocks and try our luck there. There are some interesting night scenes, with little human activity though, so we gather our last bits of energy and try to make some photos. As much as I try, nothing really works for me.
Once the others have their shots in the bag, we drive further until a shop with open, illuminated glass doors catches my eye. I am fast running out of time and options; this will have to do. I decide to use myself as a model.
In an attempt to somewhat disguise myself, I pull the hood of my jacket over my head. I make use of the camera remote control option on my phone. So much technical stuff, so late in the day challenges me on a very different level, but somehow I get it done – my late night selfie in disguise – the title “Desperate Measures” feels very fitting.
It takes all of 15 minutes for us to capture our final images, bundle into the car and be back at home.
Time to call it…
I can’t believe we are back. Done. And. Dusted! No way!
We are all completely exhausted, drowsy and so we mumble our good byes to each other as we grab our gear from the car.
Complete and utter sensory overload mixed with a weird kind of wired contentedness. We did it. We actually did it. It’s hard to comprehend at this moment.
How crazy a day was this?
05 April 2017 – Back Home in Johannesburg
I have to pinch myself. We did this. We actually did this. After having had time to catch up on Instagram to see what so many others have done around the world, it is even more apparent what we have done in such a remote place. I can’t help but feel that this was an experience quite unlike any other.
I have to admit that at certain times during the day I seriously questioned my sanity. It’s healthy to push boundaries once in a while, and I certainly pushed mine during this project!
The reason we embarked on this project was to raise awareness, in line with “24HourProject”‘s call to action.
The situation of refugees in the world is a dire one and I do hope that somehow, we – humanity as a whole – will be able to change this.
I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be forced to leave your home country, for one reason or another, and leave all and everyone familiar to you behind; only to head into an uncertain future, in a foreign country, with a foreign language and culture. Living “in limbo” in a camp, cramped with other refugees who share a similar story must be a huge challenge.
There is so much more that can be said and can be done.
My hope is that by having participated in this project and by sharing these images of how some people are living remotely, simply and peacefully, is cause for reflection on the hardship that must be faced by people living in refuge away from their own homes. I hope that seeing how people can live in other parts of the world, where they are free to pursue the life that they wish, is a reminder that this should not be a privilege, but the norm for all people.