11 April 2013

Jozi walking part 3 - Instawalking

This is part 3 in a series on walking tours of Johannesburg. While other cities also offer guided tours, Jozi is unique in my mind as a place where people will group together, with or without a guide, to visit places that they normally wouldn't. Whether for safety in numbers, unfamiliarity or companionship, it's a thing here.
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There's always one...
We met in Newtown in plenty of time to catch the sunset. Like a clandestine group of spies we gathered in a car park. Roy arrived on his scooter, Alessio drove in from Pretoria, Heather and I from down the road at Melville. It's my first Instawalk. Getting invited was a bit of an effort. True to the spy theme, you have to know someone who nows where and when the meeting takes place, and most important of all, that they even exist. There is no website, no Facebook group, to invitations. I feel like just for once I am in with the in-crowd.

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Afternoon in Fordsburg
The term Instawalking derives from Instagram, the fabulously popular photo-sharing site. Instagrammers are photographers of every kind, from selfie-shooting narcissists to baby-photo-posting parents, from collectors of urban moments to filter-abusing landscape artists. It's a cultural phenomenon, and since it relies on a smart phone camera, it means that snaps can be posted any time. Some Instagrammers have never used a camera before, some are professionals, most have developed a passion for shooting their life and times.

After a short conversation we decide to move on to Fordsburg to catch the sunset. The other three instagrammers are old hands, so I just tag along. They are looking for the right light, searching always for the un-noticed location, the unusual angle. The urban landscape lends itself to instagramming, so it is no wonder that the thing took off in Jozi, urban centre of gritty urban centres.

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The end of the day

Beyond the main street, in the warehousing Asian/Arab suburb of Fordsburg we hit the jackpot. Quiet streets, abandoned store houses, interesting afternoon shadows. As we wander the streets we are quizzed by onlookers. Security guards check us out, shop keepers take our photo as we take theirs, passers-by shake their heads at our interest in their run-down neighbourhood.

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Fully equipped instagrammers

Roy has come equipped. With his Ollyclip and his mini-tripod he flattens himself in the middle of the street, perches his camera on a high wall, changes lenses to grab just the right shot. The rest of us make do with the basic iPhone camera (although Instagram also exists for Android, today we are an exclusive iGroup), looking for the unseen behind the street frontages.
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Fordsburg public art
Fordsburg is full of unexpected sights: political graffiti on a garden wall, a mural high up above a row of shops, stylish art deco architecture, strange textures where paint has weathered and burnt. People are happy for us to photograph them: the woman on her way home with a baby strapped to her, the man carrying a big roll of fabric on his head, the shopkeeping brothers under their neon lights.

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winter is coming
Eventually the sun sets and we retire to Fordsburg market. A bustling centre for the neighbourhood, this Sunday evening it's heaving with families and friends out for an evening of window-shopping and dinner.

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Time for tea
The market is squashed into a tiny area between a main road and rows of shops selling glamorous but demure dresses, imaginative head scarf arrangements, shiny shoes and cheap electronics. It reminds me of Satwa, the Dubai neighbourhood most like a real place in that city of gloss and fake. We grab a cup of sugar cane juice freshly made and spiked with pomegranate, consider the many food options and plump for the Afghan chef in a white hat grilling chicken at his tiny stall. The nan bread comes straight out of the portable stone oven and the chicken is mouth-tinglingly spicy. A perfect end to a perfect walk. Let's just hope that I am invited back.

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hijab fashions
You can find an overview of Jozi walks here, my account of a guided walk in Melville here, a Yeoville walk here and my story of photowalking here

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