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Writing on Water: What Daniel Morolong and Joseph Denfield’s photos of 1960s East London teaches us

What can photographs of the East London coastline teach researchers and social scientists about South African history? A lot, says acclaimed scholar Phindezwa Mnyaka.

Phindezwa has embarked on a project called Writing on Water, which examines ways in which historical photograpphs from the 1960s taken in East London can be utilised for formal experimentation and disruption in history writing.

The project engages with the photographic collections produced by two well-known photographers, Daniel Morolong and Joseph Denfield, in East Londonica, during the 60s in the context of intensified racial segregation and restructuring of the city in accordance with apartheid policies.

In both collections the East London coastline figures prominently as both a setting and a photographic subject.

Drawing from scholarship that argues for photography as a mode of performing history, and history-writing in tum as a way of constituting a spectacle, the project aims to generate experimental texts that are attentive to the discipline of history by invoking Hayden White’s critiques of the distinction between history and fiction.

As material objects marked by expansiveness and instability of meaning in both form and content, Morolong’s and Denfield’s photographs draw attention to how historical knowledge is produced, rather than found, thus allowing for formal disruptions and novel modes of writing that enact a mode of critique of disciplinary reasoning.

Watch below as Phindezwa outlines her approach:

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