As with any other multicultural metropolis, underlying the obvious beauty of the Mother City is hardship that translates into a daily fight for survival and dignity for many of her marginalised inhabitants. Local photographer Masixole Feni’s upcoming book Drain on Our Dignity (Jacana Books) explores the painful sociopolitical landscapes of Cape Town. The body of work, which will be published in July this year, is a milestone for the gifted photographer and comprises some of his most visually impressive – and socially important – images. He takes a brutally honest look at the city and its surrounding townships, and provides a first-hand glimpse into challenges yet to be overcome.
Feni has spent a significant amount of time in the informal settlements, capturing strong and emotionally powerful images. He touches on some of the most pressing issues of our society today, especially different communities’ experiences and difficulties with regard to a lack of basic service delivery. Few understand the painful reality behind the photos quite as well as Feni does. Having grown up in Cape Town, and now living in Mfuleni, about 40km outside of the City Bowl, he has experienced first hand issues such as poor sanitation, access to clean water and annual winter flooding.
While he admits to experiencing some difficulty shooting the images, Feni wanted to do the work himself instead of bringing in an outside photographer. ‘That, too, would have been a drain on our dignity,’ he says. Through this personal approach, he has been able to document the effects of inadequate basic services on communities and the environment.
Feni began his foray into photography when, in his early teens, he joined a workshop run by visual culture mentor, curator, lecturer and photographic artist, Jenny Altschuler. After being accepted to the South Africa Centre for Photography’s mentorship programme, he embarked on work for newspapers and NGOs. In 2015, he won the Ernest Cole Award for this series of works, making him the first black recipient of this prestigious accolade. With the publication of Drain on our Dignity, he continues to highlight the daily realities of the marginalised in Cape Town.