Hidden Minority: South Africa's White Poor
Apartheid is over in South Africa, but poverty remains. While everyone is now equal on paper, millions of people remain destitute and struggle to overcome the same privations that challenged them before 1994's momentous election. White faces don't come to mind when thinking about poverty in Africa. But not everyone poor in South Africa is black - half a million whites live on less than $40 (US) a month.
Ian Martin will use his Getty Images Grant to expand and deepen his photographic coverage of the little-known fact of white South African poverty. By taking intimate, humanizing photos, the kind that require time and trust to make, Martin hopes to reveal poverty where many people don't expect to find it, and in doing so, coax viewers of his work to see all poverty, black or white, with new, less jaded eyes.
In January of 2007, Martin spent two weeks photographing a small, mostly white enclave living in a wretched knot of half-collapsing sheds and tents. This is the Sonskynhoekie ("Sunshine") Care Centre, a nonprofit "mission" hidden in the countryside north of Pretoria. He located this place with the help of an informal band of poverty-relief volunteers who introduced him to its residents, people like Jaco Taljard, a 27-year-old father of two who feeds his family by scavenging and selling pieces of scrap metal. Hendrik Bezuidenhout is another, a man who says he bears no ill will toward his country's black majority, but nonetheless has a swastika prominently tattooed on each shoulder. Some residents are deeply resentful of South Africa's predominantly black leadership and use racist epithets to describe their feelings. Others are members of the African National Congress and are proud to have voted for Nelson Mandela.
Some poor South African whites are homeless. Some live in cars. Others share small cottages with large numbers of their peers. Still others live in camps supported by charities - at least a few of which have been accused of exploiting their clients by encouraging them to panhandle, then demanding a cut of their incomes. The volunteers are keeping track of these situations for Martin's eventual return. He has also established connections at the University of South Africa and with several South African journalists as resources for the project. The Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography will allow him to spend two months photographing. While he works, Martin plans on narrowing his choice of subjects to gain depth and emotional insight.
Poor whites are a small fraction of South Africa's enormous poverty, a minority of a minority. But that's no comfort to the residents of the Sonskynhoekie Care Centre and the thousands of others like them. Their concern about the future and their place in it is real, and poverty in South Africa remains a profound, long-term challenge. No one struggling in poverty deserves to be forgotten or ignored. Martin's hope is that his photographs serve as a reminder.
Ian Martin's photojournalism career started in 1991, when he was an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis. While working at the college newspaper, he traveled to New York to photograph families living in poverty in Harlem. This work won recognition in the form of a scholarship from the Alexia Foundation for World Peace and Cultural Understanding to study photojournalism in London. Studying under Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John Kaplan in the fall of 1993, Martin created a body of work that won the College Photographer of the Year award in 1994 and an internship with National Geographic that fall.
Martin drove 10,000 miles in six weeks throughout North Dakota and the American South, working on the National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways book. In the summer of that year, Martin interned for the Virginian-Pilot, where he later served as a staff photographer.
Martin's assignments for the Pilot were broad in scope, covering three hurricanes, general news, sports and fashion. In 1998, he spent a month living on various US Navy ships that were patrolling the Persian Gulf, enforcing UN sanctions against Iraq. Other documentaries included an in-depth look at life in a Virginia Beach police academy, Marine Corps training, an exhaustive look at the James River and the fading, centuries-old culture of Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay.
In the summer of 2000, Martin resigned from the Pilot to pursue his own documentary work and to launch a wedding photojournalism business to support himself and his family. Eight years later, he has photographed over 200 weddings, and the success of his business has given him the means to pursue documentary work, including photo essays on an annual religious pilgrimage in New Mexico, consumer culture in Copenhagen and political demonstrations in San Francisco.
In 2005, Martin photographed post-apartheid poverty in the rural Kranshoek Township in the Western Cape of South Africa. Two years later, he launched his ongoing documentary about white poverty north of Pretoria. He plans to return to South Africa and expand his coverage of South African whites living on less than $40 (US) a month. More about this project can be seen at ianmartinphotography.com/southafrica.html.
Martin lives in Oakland, California, with his wife and daughter.