In Farewell Cape Town, a book published by Éditions Juillet, the photographer Benjamin Hoffman and the writer Sophie Bouillon paint a touching portrait of South Africa’s Mother City. Using black-and-white photography, the book presents a panoramic chiaroscuro of a scarred, yet vibrant metropolis.
As if he had to get at it through its specific mood, through its currents filled with bitterness and salt, its ebb and flow, Benjamin Hoffman began his Cape Town book with a photograph of the ocean. The series shows the South African city as full of contradictions, an ideal terrain a photographer-flâneur. Benjamin Hoffman deliberately gets lost in the nooks and crannies of the city, capturing whatever catches his eye along the way: a frown, a band of dropouts, a van on fire… He records violence, but also gentleness and poetry, like that couple taking a boat ride, nestled against one another; kids playing, perched on a wall; youngsters mixing music in the middle of a street, their eyes shining with excitement.
Benjamin Hoffman’s photographs often elicit a conspiratorial smile in the subject. We are moved by it, as we are by the joy of life he skillfully depicts. However, in many of his portraits of city residents Hoffman also foregrounds a certain melancholy quality: take this man in a flat cap, looking toward the horizon from a train, who seems absorbed by the landscape, meditative, and maybe even nostalgic. Or the man who closes his eyes behind the wheel as kids spill out chattering out of his van: he seems to be deep in thought, lost in daydreams that transport him far away from us. The ability to capture ordinary wanderings of Cape Town residents infuses Benjamin Hoffman’s photographs with a special warmth, imprinting the images on our retina long after we have stepped away. These images are a fruit of an encounter between the photographer and those who make the city what it is—as lively and vibrant as in this book.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Farewell Cape Town
By Benjamin Hoffman and Sophie Bouillon
Éditions de Juillet, Forthcoming late April 2019, €25