Sandton – corporate heaven, human hell?

Interviewer: Sandton – corporate heaven, human hell? That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?

Me: It is. And the hyperbole is intentional. Sandton – the business centre that migrated north from the old, downtown Johannesburg CBD, screams excess in every aspect. It is a place where corporate offices jostle to make a bigger, louder, jazzier impression, where the shopping mall is one long parade of luxury goods stores, where even the statue of Nelson Mandela looks cheesy and disproportionate. It is a ‘city’ of the car, not of sidewalks, a city where commerce dominates and people are mere consumers, creatures with wallets, not human at all.

Interviewer: So what do these two images say about that?

Me: A number of things. First, I have processed them in black and white, because there is something black and white about a place like Sandton – you love it or hate it. I live a stone’s throw away, in a leafy suburb, and I hate it. I go there only when I have to. Second, black and white brings out the strong graphic elements of the images, the sweeping lines, the curves, the interplay of shapes, the stark modernity of the architecture. It gives the buildings a massive, brooding presence, too – I was interested in how the Sasol building, in particular, looms over the surrounding suburbs, dwarfing them, squeezing them out.

The buildings themselves are interesting, in light of this theme. Sasol is the oil from coal giant, a petrochemicals monster that was created by the apartheid government to circumvent sanctions. Discovery is a very successful, very smartly operated health insurance company that is diversifying into financial services. I belong to Discovery myself, actually – full disclosure – because in this country private health cover is unfortunately essential, assuming you can afford it. And both images, too, say something to me about corporate power, self-confidence, hubris even.

Interviewer: And then there’s this image, in colour. What is this about?

Me: I think what this image is saying is that there is something exciting, too, about the corporate project, and something exciting about the architecture. It may be bold, even arrogant, but it is hard not to be impressed by it, also. There is some kind of an attraction, even in the heart of darkness.