Tales from the City of Gold: Documenting a legacy

February 13, 2014

On Wednesday 12 February the Frontline Club welcomed Jason Larkin and Francis Hodgson for an in the picture photography discussion. They were talking about Tales from the City of Gold – a project that Larkin has been working on for over two years, documenting the legacy of gold mining in Johannesburg.

Discussing the legacy of Johannesburg's gold mining. Francis Hodgson and Jason Larkin.

Discussing the legacy of Johannesburg’s gold mining. Francis Hodgson and Jason Larkin.

Larkin was last at the Frontline Club in 2011 to present a project he had worked on with Jack Shenker – Cairo Divided. His new project shows the same measured, thoughtful and thought-provoking approach – a series of beautiful, square-format images, which present a subject but do not force one conclusion.

Hodgson, photography critic for the Financial Times and professor of photography at the University of Brighton, played devil’s advocate in challenging Larkin‘s approach to his work:

“You make pictures in a very beautiful, very poised, rather slow, very steady way, which is about allowing the land to have its own say. That doesn’t sit all that easily, apparently, with a history of exploitation, a history of protest, a history of get-rich-quick. There’s a kind of shift . . . between the way you’ve chosen to express yourself and what you’ve chosen to express.”

Larkin replied:

“There are multiple stories going on with all of this. . . . The mine dumps are huge – there are 400,000 people living on them. I don’t want to get too lost on one person’s story, one person’s narrative within these pictures . . . and I don’t want to show too much of how I personally feel about it. I’m laying out the facts.”

And as such Larkin presents the images of a legacy – and encourages us to question how we will engage with that legacy today and in the future.

As well as addressing how a photographer communicates ideas and reaches audiences, Larkin and Hodgson touched on the current culture of rapid consumption and disposal of images – the “digital soup” in which work can be lost.

Asked about his influences, Larkin mentioned Simon Norfolk‘s work in Afghanistan as being able to convey more than standard, gritty reportage in a very beautiful way.

“You don’t have to show pain and crying and all the other stuff that happens within my industry to get a message across.”

Hodgson added:

“In other cultures than photography, people know roughly the level at which the audience situates itself. . . . Photographers feel they have to reinvent the wheel and it’s nice to have a photographer who understands that the audience have a certain level of culture and that all the normal tools of cultural activity – of quotation, of reference, of allusion – are possible in photography.”

An exhibition of the work will be held at Flowers, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP, 20 February – 20 March 2014.

You can listen to or watch the full discussion below: