Ponte City
Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse (South Africa / UK)

The fifty-four-storey Ponte City building dominates Johannesburg’s skyline, its huge blinking advertising crown visible from Soweto in the south to Sandton in the north. When it was built in 1976 – the year of the Soweto uprisings – the surrounding flatlands of Berea, Hillbrow and Yeoville were exclusively white, and home to young middle-class couples, students and Jewish grandmothers. Ponte City was separated by apartheid urban planning from the unforgettable events of that year. But as the city changed in anticipation and response to the arrival of democracy in 1994, many residents joined the exodus towards the supposed safety of the northern suburbs, the vacated areas becoming associated with crime, urban decay and, most of all, the influx of foreign nationals from neighbouring African countries.

Ponte’s iconic structure soon became a symbol of the downturn in central Johannesburg. The reality of the building and its many fictions have always integrated seamlessly into a patchwork of myths and projections that reveals as much about the psyche of the city as it does about the building itself.

In 2007 the building was bought by developers, but by late 2008 their ambitious attempt to refurbish and revitalize Ponte had failed spectacularly. Their aim was to target a new generation of aspirant middle-class residents. The developer’s website still describes how ‘In every major city in the world, there is a building where most can only dream to live.

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse worked together between 2008 and 2014 on the Ponte City project, culminating in a publication and touring exhibition. Ponte City has been exhibited at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Edinburgh, 2014), FoMU (Antwerp, 2014) and Le Bal (Paris, 2014). Excerpts from the series have been shown at the Liverpool (2012), Lubumbashi (2013) as well as the South African National Gallery (Cape Town, 2010). Ponte City won the 2015 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize.

Mikhael Subotzky’s film, video and photographic works are concerned with the structures of narrative and representation, as well as the relationship between social storytelling and the formal contingencies of image making. His works have been exhibited at venues such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The South African National Gallery in Cape Town and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, as well as at the Liverpool and Lubumbashi Biennials. Subotzky was born in 1981 in Cape Town, South Africa and is currently based in Johannesburg. Previous monographs include Beaufort West (Chris Boot, 2008), Retinal Shift (Steidl, 2012), Ponte City (Steidl, 2014) and WYE (SCAF, 2016).

Patrick Waterhouse has produced a variety of work in many different media including drawings, photographs, prints and artists books, notably a fully illustrated version of Dante’s Inferno. He is also Editor-in-chief of Colors. In 2011 Waterhouse developed a new editorial direction for Colors, creating the Colors Survival Guides and a series with an interlinking narrative structure. His work has been exhibited at numerous venues. Patrick Waterhouse was born in 1981 in Bath, United Kingdom and is currently based in Treviso, Italy.

www.subotzkystudio.com / www.patrickwaterhouse.com