"My work as a photographer finds itself intrinsically linked to South Africa. As a young South African, optimistic about the future of my country and its possibilities, I find myself engaging with concepts and issues important to an understanding of South Africa's position in a post-apartheid democratic society. I am drawn to its histories, its unique landscapes and the elements of its past and future. My upcoming work involves South Africa's relationship to the rest of Southern Africa and the Continent."
- Robert William Watermeyer
- Born 13th April 1983 in Johannesburg
- Achieved Matric Certificate from South African College Schools (SACS) 2001
- Graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art (2008)
- Awarded a prestigious Tierney Fellowship from the Tierney Family Foundation in New York
- Awarded the Michaelis Prize 2008 for the most Outstanding Body of Work at the Michaelis Graduate show
- Awarded the Simon Gerson Prize from the Michaelis School of Fine art for achieving a distinction in studiowork
- Exhibited at the 17th Annual Rose Korber Art Salon
- Artist of the Month at the Rose Korber Art Gallery for Feb-Mar 2009
- Due to exhibit at the New York Photo Festival in May 2009
- Due to exhibit at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts Michaelis Gallery as part of the Tierney Fellowship Group Show May 2009
Review by Cape Town art critic, Melvyn Minnaar
BORDERING ON FINE MYSTIQUE
The Sunday Argus, The Good Weekend, 13 December 2008, pg 12
Cape Town photographer Robert Watermeyer won the Michaelis Prize 2008, the University of Cape Town art school's top annual accolade, for a remarkable photo essay.
Beit Bridge is not where you want to be right now. We know all too well what's going on just north of that border post - where the disaster of an African country is defined and focused at a chaotic, desperate point of entry.
Robert Watermeyer's picture representing this vital customs' gate is quite subdued. It is in his outstanding photographic essay and exhibition that just won him the Michaelis Prize - the University of Cape Town's highest accolade for a final year art student, an award with long-established kudos.
In fact, only a few human heads are visible in the rather puzzling scene of boxes and containers piled up against the high barbed fence. Where one would expect a hectic hustle and bustle of crowds as people cross into South Africa from Zimbabwe, Watermeyer offers a view that signals something different. And, on contemplation, something quite positive.
For all the barbaric signals that the razor-wire barrier puts out, the plastic and cardboard containers denote the site-specific, survival services that local traders provide to passers-through in terms of fuel, water, provisions. A mini economy.
It's a fascinating, unusual view: not what you expect at this red-hot port-of-entry, meaningful on a basic human level, deeply sympathetic - and curiously beautiful.
This "alternative view" at the Beit Bridge check-point in Limpopo, taken on September 10, is one of some 70 images that the 25-year-old Watermeyer took in an ongoing project he simply calls Ports-of-Entry. Presented as his final-year project for a BA in fine arts, it won him not only the prestige of the Michaelis Prize, but a Tierney fellowship, which allows him to work with high-profile international mentors towards a masters' degree.
Only a handful of the total images that Watermeyer has recorded of the 60-plus border crossings and points of entry into South Africa are on show at the annual exhibition of final-year students' work at the Michaelis School of Fine Art or the Orange street campus. Already numerous red "sold" dots signal the impact of his imagery.
It would be true to say that Watermeyer's project concept - to photograph every place where travellers, strangers, visitors, can enter South Africa, by land, sea or air - is turning out to be quite an individual take on the country's geography.
And, of course; given the charged nature of why and how of border crossings (for food, for fun, for fear; for facility), symbolism is always hovering just beyond the physical bureaucratic structures of offices, gates and lamp posts.
Yet this Johannesburg-born, SACS-educated young artist is not too overtly concerned how those signals are read in his pictures. His passion-and this is what gives the work that rarity: an original view - is more earthbound: it's the landscape that charges him up.
One senses a peculiar, engaging post-apartheid patriotism in the way he talks about travelling to these, sometimes, far-outlying spots where travellers from elsewhere in Africa come into our country. It's very specific: the view, recorded by his bulky Mamiya 6x7 medium-format camera, is from inside South Africa in all cases.
In other words, there is a feeling that he is also looking at how we welcome, accept, treat those who come from outside.
He says the project was triggered by the variety of people from different African countries that lived and worked in and around Cape Town..
"I was intrigued as to how they arrived in South Africa."
The plight of foreigners at the hands of officials prompted his interest in the physical structures in place aimed at monitoring and controlling the movement of people across our borders.
"I had many questions about border posts. The majority were unknown to me, and I wanted to know what they looked like, how they related to the landscape of South Africa, which topographical aspects influenced their placement and how they acted to influence the infrastructure of the surrounding areas."
It is striking how formal the composition of Watermeyer's pictures are, despite the gritty nature of the landscape, the rough-reality of scenes. This - the straight lines, blocked spaces - unveils the poetry of the shots, most offered in neutral colour and light.
Some places, he says, contained within them the sense of trepidation associated with border crossing.
"The texts used on signposts and information boards carry and enforce a sense of control and order.: In all cases I was drawn to the integral part these structures played in the current social state of South Africa, as well as the lives of those who pass through them on a daily basis.:"
Robert Watermeyer's project is not complete. It is part of his future plans to pursue the theme.