Last week I took some time to setup the story of this week’s Picture of the Week by talking about the neighborhoods surrounding the Ponte City apartments, and the sketchiness of the situation to get both last week’s shot and this week’s.  I left it with the question of why would I do that… and I’ll get back to that in a second, but first, one more story about this building.  I mentioned last week that this building was hijacked for decades, and as part of that situation, the building actually had no power for a number of years.  No power means the elevators don’t work (they were seemingly in disrepair a lot, even when the power was on), and at 55 stories tall…. that’s a lot of stairs to climb.  Add in all the crime that plagued the building and you end up with a situation where you only go up and down the stairs when you absolutely have to.  That begs the question, is your trash worth risking you life over?  The answer of course is no, so what ended up happening is the residents just started throwing their trash into the center of the building, known as ‘the core’. For years, the residents that called this building home did this.  When the building was finally recovered and cleaned up, workers had to clean this area out – by hand – and by this point the trash reached the 5th floor of the building, which meant it was 10 stories tall!! (The discrepancy is that the first five floors are actually parking garage and basement levels)  The workers found all manner of things in the pile, including bodies of people who had either committed suicide or had been murdered.  Can you imagine?  I’ve been there personally, and I still can’t wrap my head around it.

Back to the question of ‘why’.  Why go to such a sketchy place to begin with?  In more recent years the Ponte City building (sometimes called the Vodacom tower or the Coca-cola tower) has appeared in films like District 9, Dredd, Chappie, and several others, and when combined with its real past, has become a bit of a symbol of the apocalypse.  If you’ve been around this blog for any amount of time, you know I have an affinity for rust and decay, and so, call it morbid curiosity, but I just wanted to see all this for myself, and I wanted to photograph it.  I wanted this shot – and now I’m a little disappointed in myself.

Let’s talk about creativity for a second.  I’ve given lectures on creativity several times, and the discussion is around this concept: when visiting places that have been photographed a million times, how do you come home with something different.  My pointers are generally to keep taking pictures and experimenting with the scene.  What’s disappointing about the picture above is that I took the obvious shot… and then I quit!  Don’t get me wrong, I really like the image – there’s a reason it’s “the shot” everyone takes – but that’s the problem.  If you do a Google image search Ponte City Apartments, you’ll see a hundred iterations of the picture above, and that’s all I got.  A copy of what’s been done before.  All that said, let me admit that creativity is hard.  Look no further than Hollywood, and you’ll see that playing out on the big screen right now.  Disney has evidently no new ideas and so is recreating several of its cartoon classics in live action, or pseudo-realistic fashion.  The new Top Gun trailer, though it doesn’t tell us much about the plot, looks to be largely a rehashing of the original story.  None of this is an excuse, of course, but a reminder.  Creativity is hard – but its worth it.  I’ll get it next time.

Next week I’m bringing Picture of the Week back local for shots I’ve collected here over the Spring and Summer.  I hope you’ll join me!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Ponte City
Ponte City Apartments, Berea, Johannesburg, 2198, South Africa

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