Shanty Town Deluxe
It is quite common for wealthy tourists to visit impoverished countries without ever exposing themselves to the extreme penury its citizens suffer. Or for travelers to book guided bus tours, similar to safaris, through slums to photograph and experience “the real” reality: poverty tourism! “Shanty Town” is a four star hotel in the heart of South Africa that goes even further and offers visitors a Township experience without ever having to set eyes on people who are actually suffering: a fake shanty town so that its wealthy clientele can pretend to slum it “within the safe environment of a private game reserve.”
The series Shanty Town Deluxe shows thirteen hotel rooms made or corrugated steel, painted in faint and friendly colors. Each one at a safe distant to the next, each one looking almost exactly the same. Even though nobody can be seen in the photographs, people have certainly left their traces: Motorbikes lean against the shacks, wheelbarrows, car tires and other everyday objects can be vaguely made out. Only vaguely because Roger Eberhard’s polaroid land camera from the 60s cannot take perfectly sharp images, but bleached out instant photographs that look like out of a “brave and adventurous” traveler’s archive, taken on a quick drive through a township during the Apartheid. But why is there so much room between every shack that offers comforting privacy when the “architecture” of townships normally doesn’t allow for so much space? Everything looks strangely staged and that’s because it is staged; the motorbikes are missing the engines, there is no car for the car tires and it’s been a long time since anybody has last moved that wheelbarrow. Only the repetition reveals the alleged traces of a comfortable home as accessories of a perfidious club holiday, in which the well-to-do can try out their idea of poverty. This is what happens when people think poverty is a cultural heritage.
Roger Eberhard is a Swiss photographer, living and working in Berlin and Zurich. He graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara (CA) and won an award at the 2009 Swiss Photo Award.