/14 Portraits

Ian van Coller

Interior Relations

Interior Relations explores what some have described as the deep fault line between South Africa’s public democratic ideals and the ongoing racial and economic inequality that circumscribes the lived experiences of a large majority of black South Africans more than a decade after apartheid’s end. The photographs are focused specifically on the lives of domestic workers—nannies and maids—who seemingly embody the daily reproduction of apartheid-era relations in the present day. As Sindiwe Magona writes in the introductory essay to Interior Relations

The domestic worker daily negotiates the space between township and suburb, abject
poverty and obscene wealth. That she doesn’t lose herself, lose her grip on reality is a measure of the indomitableness of the human spirit. That the domestic worker is not consumed by jealousy to utter madness at what she sees and must disavow, acknowledge as unattainable, not and never to be hers – something she must never, ever, desire. Surely, only then can she go on seeing it, touching it, and not desiring it.

With these images I wanted to create a portrait series of domestic workers that would provide a space for the women to assert their own identities, juxtaposed within settings where they normally had to conform to their employers often unspoken (and customary) expectations with respect to dress and manner. For the sittings the models were asked to wear their preferred clothing and accessories so that they might express some aspects of their own aesthetics and identity within a contradictory context. These are the women who are most intimate with the spaces–they organize, dust and clean them on a daily basis–so in a sense they are owners of that space. At the same time they know in actuality they will never be able to own such a space.