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Vincent van Graan

Featuring a collection of archival photographs dating back to the 1880s as well as recent images of the city and Cape Peninsula, Vincent van Graan’s new book, Cape Town Then and Now, takes the reader on a fascinating visual journey through the Mother City and surrounds. Here, we chat to him about the inspiration behind this project. What inspired you to start writing this book? I have always been interested in photography and especially fascinated by old photographs and glass negatives. I think, that, combined with my love of Cape Town, sparked the idea when I saw the collections at the Archives. The mountain range and peninsula create the perfect backdrop to try and find the original area these old photographs were taken from. There is just so much history here, and when one looks at these comparisons, you can’t help but be drawn in. How long did the entire process take to complete? A few years dreaming about it, about a year and a half of gathering material and six months putting it together. Which one of your comparative photographs captivated you the most, and why? I have always been captivated by the image on page 55 of the gentleman climber on the side of Table Mountain. The absence of urbanisation in the background, the clothes he was wearing for this activity and definitely the effort that went into taking this photograph. In a day and age where we don't really have to think much about the hundreds of photos we take, it's hard to imagine a photographer carting his massive bellows camera up the mountain, carefully setting it up and taking a precious few glass plates, before trying to get them safely down and develop them. What do you believe is the most interesting thing you found during the course of your research? I've been living in Muizenberg for some years now, and I'm always on the look out for things about the area. Maybe not the most interesting thing, but I really enjoyed seeing a guidebook from 1914 say ‘... and nothing so calculated to revive the sense of well being than... to spend lazy hours on the Muizenberg sands.’ Also a tourist brochure from 1918, praising the health benefits of surfing: ‘It steadies the nerves, exercises the muscles, and makes the enthusiast clear headed and clear eyed.’ Do you have any more projects coming up? I have one or two ideas, but now that I know how much work it is putting a book together, I am thinking twice about it! Get your copy of Vincent van Graan’s 'Cape Town Then and Now', R250 (Random House Struik). Interviewed by Lindi Brownell Meiring