Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!by Sean O'Toole / 18.12.2009
It’s over. Finished. Klaar. Cancel your Kulula flights. Unhitch the caravan. Put away the boogie board. Bank that tollgate silver in your ashtray. Haven’t you heard? The N3 outta Joburg leads straight to hell. No not Heidelberg. That’s hell with a capital D. Derelict. Disgusting. Durban.
At least that’s the word from notorious Durban grump, Snowy Smith, a man synonymous with effluent. “18 million litres of it.” Reading his prickly blog, The Death of Durban, a cut ‘n paste mix of impressionistic journalism and amateur documentary photography, “illustrating the collapse and physical destruction of the beautiful, happy holiday city of Durban”, it quickly becomes apparent that Snow’s problem with other people’ shit has a lot to do with his own shit. The net result is a big stink.
“Durban’s tourist area has now become one big, filthy, faeces-smeared, littered, broken glass-strewn squatter camp,” he offers. “In fact all of once so pristine Durban is deteriorating into a squatter slum, a filthy, disgusting, unhealthy mess, with dangerously polluted water streaming into the ocean. The whole place also looks like a permanent prison now, a nightmare scenario with shuttered shops, heavy burglar bars, barbed wire, vagrants and incredible pollution everywhere.”
Welcome to the netherworld of citizen journalism, a digital landscape as exaggeratedly littered with bile and invective as Snowy Smith’s photos of supposedly blighted Durban. Scrolling through Smith’s blog, pausing on the countless photos of “tons of rubbish” and “broken glass”, one can’t help but marvel at the perverse monomania of it all. Here’s a man who routinely and obsessively peers into clogged drains and unwashed rivers to see what’s going on.
Not that this necessarily makes him an environmental activist. That’s just the camouflage he wears, the fancy Christmas wrapping he uses to cover over the insignificance of his offering. Smith is too partial to be believable. Everything pisses him off. Topless bathers. Tycoons. Taxi washers. Of the latter, he writes: “Thousands of vehicles are being washed on the Durban streets and roads every day. All this soap and detergent seep through the garbage stuffed storm water drains, ending up in the already highly TOXIC rivers, streams and the bay and eventually into the sea – KILLING THE ENVIRONMENT…!” And so on.
Ag kak. Here I am writing about the real life equivalent of Captain Archibald Haddock, the thunder headed salty dog from Tintin, when really what I want to write about is Garth Walker’s photographs of Durban’s beachfront (spread throughout this piece). Garth’s photos are not about blue flags or white anxiety. They’re about hairy backs, leathery skin, freckles, tattoos, underpants, plastics chairs, action stunts, indolence and a young black kid with his face painted white. Life, unspectacular and unadorned: the quotidian. Garth calls the strip where he made these photos the Golden Mile, “Durban’s finest public space”. In deference to the times, his series even includes a mop.
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