Jan Greshoff – images of Cape Town’s District Six, the city & the harbour from the 60’s & 70’s

Mast & rigging in Cape Town Harbour

Mast & rigging in Cape Town Harbour

Look up “Jan Greshoff” on Google and you will get around 26000 references to my Grandfather, a poet and literary critic of some note.  On page two though my Uncle (also Jan) creeps into the listings.

He was an architect by training and a passionate photographer, particularly in the first half of his working life.  It is interesting that his legacy is not the building he designed (which as far as I know were effective but pretty dull) but his photographs, particularly those featuring the now notorious District Six (I am sure from where the movie “District Nine” got it’s name), notorious not because of itself but rather the government of the day’s treatment of both the inhabitants and their homes.  He photographed this area just before and during the demolition in the 70’s and his images provide a window into what the place was like then.  Shortly before his death in 2006 he presented around 500 of these images to the then new District Six museum, which went on to host a successful exhibition of his work.

Fish & Chips van, The Parade, Cape Town, South Africa

Fish & Chips van, The Parade, Cape Town, South Africa

In addition to his District 6 images, he also did lengthy projects looking at Cape Town’s harbour, the city in general and rural areas of the Cape.  Sadly, by the time I was starting to do my own work he had pretty much come to an end of his.  The cost of the raw materials escalated so much in the late 70’s and eighties (Through the various boycotts that were in place at the time – and quite rightly so!) that he couldn’t really afford to shoot the film, never mind make the prints and he did like shooting a lot of material.  We had some great discussions though and it was at least partly due to my encouragement that he gave some of his work to the the District 6 Museum.

Staircase in the City of CapeTown.

Staircase in the City of CapeTown.

He always maintained that the image is always the most important thing and that the photographer is really simply a conduit or a means to an end – he had a kind of anti-egotistical approach to his work which is commendable but doesn’t help in getting your work noticed! The fact that, although he knew I had an interest and I knew that he had done the work, it took until 1996 for him to show me his prints is an indication of his reticent attitude.

After he died we went went through all the prints remaining and the images presented here are from that collection.

Derelict Beach Hut, Cape Town, South Africa

Derelict Beach Hut, Cape Town, South Africa

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