Graeme Williams: The Edge of Town


Graeme Williams’s photographs of mosaic-like fragments of life in marginalized communities are conceptually rich. His compositions connect elements so disparate they might seem collaged or digitally manipulated. They are not. Graeme Williams subordinates his photographic method to perceived existence, yet constructs images that rupture the continuum of the real, as if rending the surface of reality to peek behind its veil. Because the realms he juxtaposes, of the affluent and destitute, of the dreamt and the lived, of leisure vs. labor, are found in every society, the images have a universal resonance. Every town has its edge. They also serve as particular metaphors of social disjuncture and disintegration that resist South Africa’s drive for integration as it struggles to establish a new, fairer system. They evoke the challenges and changes, joys and frustrations of South Africans living in more than one hundred towns across South Africa, striving to emerge from the shadows.

Graeme Williams marks with this body of work a departure from the conventions of black-and-white documentary photography, within which he has made numerous venerable contributions. Graeme Williams has developed new formal tools to adjust to the radical shifts in his environment and society. Williams has embraced color as a way of layering and multiplying information. He has collapsed the objective distance of the documentarian, getting in close to his subjects, among their laundry and into their private spaces, tracking their shadows, which, in African belief, are synonymous with spirits. Yet this intimacy becomes public, shared with the viewer, just as other juxtaposed elements in his work exist in contradictory tension.

This is Graeme Williams’s first solo show in the United States. He has produced two previous monographs of his photography, which has been included in numerous books and publications worldwide. He is represented in private and public collections in the United States, Europe, and South Africa.