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Rose Kotze

Private School

by Sean O'Toole, images Rose Kotze / 11.02.2011

Rose Kotze’s photographic essay on affluent Cape Town teens out on the jol and at home was one of the highlights from the Michaelis Graduate exhibition. Sean O’Toole asks the questions.

Mahala: You graduated from Michaelis School of Fine Art last year, your graduate thesis a photo essay titled Private School. Which schools did you focus on?

Rose Kotze: I primarily focused on my old high school, Reddam House, as my sister had just started grade eight there. From there I branched out to other schools such as Springfield Convent, Bishops and Herschel. Many of the teenagers photographed at social events came from public, but affluent schools like Camps Bay High and SACS.

Rose Kotze
Rose Kotze, Staying at a Friend (Club Bliss, Claremont), 2010, Lightfast Pigment Inks on Cotton Rag Baryta Paper, 56 x 145,5cm.

When you initially started the essay you created portraits that were far more rhetorical, artsy and constructed. What prompted you to opt to work in a more naturalistic visual style?

I think because of the nature of my subjects, in them being young, beautiful and manicured, it became difficult to separate my images from the type imagery found in tweenie fashion magazines. My more styled images, even when trying (badly) to take on some sort of art historical context, would often end up looking like a Miley Cyrus CD cover, which would often undermine the integrity of my images.

Naturalism notwithstanding, some of the photos have been ‘doctored’. The rugby player’s nose is made to bleed, for instance, and the club scenes are composites of many smaller scenes. This corrupts the authenticity of your essay as a truth telling exercise. Agree/disagree?

I think that in some cases, it became necessary to stage my shots in order to successfully convey an environment or mood. I spent many cold Saturday mornings documenting high school rugby matches but was never able to produce an image that managed to evoke the spirit of the boys. The First Team rugby jock is a prominent archetype in South African teenagedom, so I don’t think the fact that he was doctored made him any less authentic. I was trying to evoke an idea rather than an individual, which is why in those particular night-time portraits I had chosen not to include the subject’s name in the title. Furthermore, I felt that the night-time scenes needed to be quite aesthetically beautiful in order to visually demonstrate the idealised environment in which these teens reside. It is impossible to take a picture of a crowd of drunken teenagers without somebody returning the gaze of the camera, pulling a funny face or a zap sign – in doctoring my images I tried to create the most ‘candid’ type of image I could by making compositions of many different images taken of the same place throughout the course of one night. I also think that exploring the concept of adolescence as a construction by constructing my own adolescents becomes quite interesting.

Rose Kotze
Rose Kotze, Night Swimming 1 (Newlands Inter School Gala), 2010, Lightfast Pigment Inks on Cotton Rag Baryta Paper, 56 x 41cm.

There are a number of photographic precedents for what you’ve done. I think of Larry Fink, Jacques Henri Lartigue, even Steven Meisel’s Versace portraits. Who did you look at to help guide your eye, so to speak?

I was greatly influenced by photographers like Massimo Vitali (and his crowded club shots), Catherine Opie (for her beautifully lit portraits of football playing American youths), also Charlie White, Rineke Dijkstra and Bill Henson for their representations of adolescents.

Of the loosely grouped photos – bedroom and sports portraits, nightclub and horse club panoramas – which was the most difficult to do?

The night-time panoramas were definitely the most labour intensive, as they demanded a lot of Photoshop work to stitch together. However, I think the outdoor horse riding photographs were probably the most difficult to photograph, due mainly to getting the lighting and the horses to co-operate.

Rose Kotze
Rose Kotze, Night Swimming 4 (Newlands Inter School Gala), 2010, Lightfast Pigment Inks on Cotton Rag Baryta Paper, 56 x 41cm.

Some of the subjects are very close to you, including your sister and her circle of friends. Did this ever create problems in terms of getting the photographs you wanted (as opposed to how they wanted to be seen)?

It is hard to tell a young teenager how to pose without them worrying about looking stupid. Eventually I gave up and let them do their own thing with a small amount of guidance. I found that often the images in which they chose how to compose themselves were more successful.

In the catalogue to the Michaelis Graduate Exhibition you say that your photo essay is an exploration of “the construction of identity as performed by white, upper middle class Capetonians”. What are some of the visual markers of how they construct their identity?

Apart from things like horses, scooters and flashy cell-phones, I think the most apparent visual marker of their particular identities is the way in which they groom themselves. It is commonplace for the girls to sport R1000 heads of highlights and expensive designer jeans; similarly the boys more often than not own the latest and most expensive electronic gadgets. For me it seemed as if they construct their identities based on very adult and very “chic” ideals, shopping at the same exclusive shops as their mothers and sporting labels that seemed obnoxious or far too “old” for young teenagers.

Rose Kotze
Rose Kotze, Night Swimming 2 (Newlands Inter School Gala), 2010, Lightfast Pigment Inks on Cotton Rag Baryta Paper, 56 x 41cm

You show a world of wealth and privilege that is exclusively white. Is this because of the subjects you selected, or is it that the suburbs of Constantia, Bishopscourt and surrounds are still largely white?

While making this body of work issues of race didn’t really enter my thoughts until much later on. As it happens, none of my sister’s immediate group of friends are black or coloured, and the vast majority of teenagers attending the social events I documented were white, so yes, I think this does suggest an imbalance of whites and blacks living in these areas and attending these schools. I photographed an under eighteen party at Springboks pub in Newlands which had a VIP entrance, which was more expensive than the regular entrance; almost nobody in the non-VIP section was white and almost everybody in VIP section was. I think it was then that I realised that politics of inclusion and exclusion were very much at play within these social circles and the idea of focusing specifically on the rich (and generally white) elite started to materialise.

Did working on this essay give you any personal and/or critical insights into the world of wealth and privilege you yourself grew up in?

I think that producing this body of work has opened my eyes to the degree of polarisation within Cape Town’s post-apartheid terrain. The idea that the wealthy and privileged attending the ‘top’ schools in the city are still mostly white, eight years after I entered high school myself, says a lot about the social climate of Cape Town. Making this work, and revisiting the places (schools, clubs, events) that I was situated within as a teenager was pleasantly nostalgic, but at the same time it was troubling to realise just how exclusive these places still are. I think there’s a weird duality between feeling fondly towards experiencing a charmed upbringing, but then also understanding that, in a South African context, this comes at the expense of a lot of other people. A lot of the time I worried about how it would look being a rich person taking pictures of other rich people having a great time – I think personally that made me feel a bit guilty. Also, after spending so much time with these teenagers I started to feel a bit jealous that my daddy hadn’t bought me a pony when I was thirteen!

You’re embarking on a law degree this year. Can we expect an essay on the late night doings of law graduates?

Unfortunately I think my late nights will have less to do with socialising and more to do with weeping over textbooks.

Rose Kotze
Rose Kotze, The Snake Charmer 1 (after Gérôme), 2010, Lightfast Pigment Inks on Cotton Rag Baryta Paper, 56 x 41cm.

*Opening image credit: Rose Kotze, Night Swimming 3 (Newlands Inter School Gala), 2010, Lightfast Pigment Inks on Cotton Rag Baryta Paper, 56 x 41cm.

**All images © Rose Kotze.

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RESPONSES (98)
  1. brandon edmonds says:

    “I worried about how it would look being a rich person taking pictures of other rich people having a great time” – And we have an antidote at last to that noxious Seth asshole!! Live the holiday. Yeah in Cambodia. Fuck off.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    too easy to be art.
    where’s the challenge, to artist or viewer?
    documenting your comfort zone. whats next, the family holiday home?

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  3. gonzo nowhere says:

    ummm… I’m obviously missing something. culture? relevance? art? wherefore art thou?

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  4. Lizzy says:

    i agree with anon above, we need to see the seedy/disfunctional side of the affluent teenager else there’s no content, no depth and no interest. i’m sure there is plenty of that kind of material that can be exposed with a little participant observation…

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  5. Polony says:

    every time I see white south africans in their ‘idealised environment’ I cant help thinking they are Australians.

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  6. Rose says:

    Perhaps you guys are missing the point, the aim of the work being vacuous is to highlight how vacuous these people are – what’s the point of showing them puking and humping? We all know they do it, this is supposed to illustrate an ideal, as is norm in SA documentary photography.

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  7. Fray says:

    Obviously this isn’t for everybody, it documents something seldom seen, as the majority of our population are lower/middle class black folk, which is were a lot of people go to document and photograph.. Rose i feel has looked to the other end of the scale and captured something quite out of the norm, which is why i think most of the people who comment on this blog are your more upper class white folk – hence they find it “too easy to be art”… To be quite honest this series has left me wanting to see more…

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  8. Moose says:

    jesus the comments here are insipid horsehit

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  9. James Klopper says:

    Hmmm… Rose I think the problem a lot of people have with this essay is that they find the subjects lives and the world they inhabit to be a little too repugnant to respond without some scorn. On the flip side, we’ve all seen thousands of brilliantly constructed shots of starving african children and i think there are probably moral and political problems with both extremes. But who says art has to have some kind of socio-political message? Fuck it. As much as I dislike the world you portray I think it’s a rad idea and you seem to have pulled it off well.

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  10. Rose says:

    James, my idea for this body of work came from my own discomfort at photographing any sort of “Other” – there are huge issues with a Constantia whitie photographing poor kids from the flats, I felt that morally it stood me greater stead to photograph my own echelon. Yes, there are people who are a bit more socially aware than the Bishopscourt massive – but who didn’t go to under eighteen parties at Taboo when they were 13? This group of people is a reality, and I’m not entirely sure how photographing them is morally or politically problematic? The point I was trying to make was that the big black guy with a big snarling hyena (ala Hugo) is not the African exotic, the white kid with a R1000 haircut is. I think there is a very important socio political political message in the complete naivety these kids have for any sort of lifestyle other than their own.

    Hope this makes it all a bit clearer.

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  11. James Klopper says:

    Totally. I meant there are probably moral or political issues with any subject one chooses for one’s art – as in, you’re always gonna find some asshole who vehemently disagrees with you on some abstract point. But ya, I guess it’s true about rich white kids being an exotic variant in an african context. Who would’ve thought, haha.

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  12. […] Rose Kotze | Private School | Mahala Tags:  bfa, kotze, michaelis, photographs This entry was posted on Friday, February 11th, […]

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  13. Andre says:

    “gonzo nowhere”: wherefore means why.

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  14. The Space Between says:

    Photos suited to Facebook at best.

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  15. shitpiss says:

    Rose. You are one of the most spoilt, prentencious human beings I have ever had the displeasure of meeting and your answers to this interview and subsequent comments have done nothing but reinforce the fact that you are infact a giant turd. At least your Dad will keep your pockets lined ’cause those photo’s aint shit hun.

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  16. Rose says:

    Thanks shitpiss, for your awesome contribution.

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  17. shitpiss says:

    It’s a pleasure.

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  18. dwight says:

    Shitpiss. It’s seems the internets anonymity has made you very fucking brave and opinionated. We all know Rose’s real name here. But maybe your comments have merit… so who are you, when have you met her, and on what grounds do say these things? My guess you’re too much of a yellowbelly cunt to say…

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  19. Anonymous says:

    ‘Shitpiss’: Just because an artist is actually honest enough to photograph their own environment (rich Daddy and all) is no excuse to attack them personally. Also, Jesus, learn to spell….

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  20. Anonymous says:

    Maybe you should offer to do the photos for the school year book too?

    You went within your comfort zone to ‘document’ this lifestyle. You had no challenege for yourself as a photographer (in fact, you admit shying away from the challenge offered by juxtapositioning yourself outside of that comfort zone).
    You used your sister and her friends and then did bland basic portrait work with them, probably in your own back garden.

    I can see how you can turn this into a statement with enough pretentious wording, but the work itself moves no one no where.

    It has the same depth, and same intentions, as house wives of orange county might.

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  21. shitpiss says:

    Fuck you Dwight! Do not touch me on my set! Who are you? Why are you here? What are your motives? Who is your mother? I’ll tell you something- I’m having the time of my life and I owe it all to you! Grinding up on ya with my durty bits, durty bits, durty bits. Smash it! You are an agent! Fuck you Dwight!

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  22. Michaela says:

    I don’t understand why people are being so nasty, rude and negative. I think Roses’ work is interesting, thought provoking and a breath of fresh air amoungst some really mundane and tired subject matter. It appears that some of you may have never left the classroom yourselves.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    I think the only reason people are being mean is because this learning curve / photo hobby is being highlighted and placed on a pedstal as ‘art’.
    It’s not there yet.
    if anything, it is a technical excersize in photography.

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  24. brandon edmonds says:

    young shitpiss is precisely what’s wrong with this site, this era, contemporary education, the cultural system, the species and, why not, existence as such…

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  25. Caitlin says:

    Shitpiss, please take your sour grapes and deplorable spelling elsewhere as you’re adding nothing to the discussion.

    I personally think Rose’s work is quite revolutionary. Although I myself didn’t go to one of the “Big 5” schools, I always found private school kids had an interesting precociousness about them, particularly in the way they always sought to emulate their parents, and I find this an interesting subject matter that nobody has ever thought to explore. And so, in a semi-detached way I can relate to the situations depicted by the work.

    I hope Rose never leaves the art world – as a writer, I am always advised, “write about what you truly know” and I feel Rose has done just this in her visual work, rather than “sticking to her comfort zone”.

    Keep it up!

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  26. shitpiss says:

    Fuck you Brandon! I will kick you in the nuts! Who are you? Why do you make these accusations? Racist pig! I’ve got a feeling that tonights gonna be a good good niiiiiiiiiight! Mazel tov! Fuck you Brandon!

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  27. Anonymous says:

    washed out, basic layout photos of teenagers I dont know and will never meet, their acne and the knowledge that they are spoilt is not what I call a breath of fresh air or the antithesis to the mundane.
    Maybe if some kid of the township was thinking outside the box and really approaching this project as something as alien as it would be, documenting scenes that are bizzare to them but typical of the subject, way out of his comfort zone, working through the instant barrier of awkwardnes his position would encourage, the air of being ‘documented’ above playing some kind of ‘e true hollywood’ game etc… might make the work interesting.
    Someones daddy buying some girl a fancy camera, which she then uses to take photos of her sister and her sisters friends, isn’t screaming anything of depth to me.

    It’s like you individually indulged their personal idea of a ‘nice photograph’ – allowing them to pose. It’s just another way to facebook to them. In a safe medium. They are not under any critical revision beneath the lens. They do feel exposed, that which you claim to be looking for is willingly hidden behind their own lack of need to even confront it.

    I dont know.
    it just sucks.

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  28. shitpiss says:

    Anonymous – I kiff you!
    Caitlin – Fuck off you agent! Revolution my ass! 1 kak for you!

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  29. Linda says:

    I wrote an essay about Rose’s work, but most of the stuff in it has been said by her in the interview already, though there is one quotation from bell hooks I think maybe the commenters might consider:

    “One change in direction that would be real cool would be the production of a
    discourse on race that interrogates whiteness. It would be jus so interesting for all
    those white folks who are giving blacks their take on blackness to let them know
    what’s going on with whiteness.”

    Can no one see it’s refreshing to see a photographer in this country self-consciously representing an element of HER OWN identity and recent history? And in doing so Rose also makes manifest the still- prevalent divides in wealth, race and class in Cape Town and South Africa – a view of difference (though one less bludgeon-like than the plethora of photographs of disenfranchised black folk), but taken with a self-reflexive lens.

    (And how many of you share a distinctly similar upbringing to that of the artist and her subjects? Is that maybe why YOU find it so boring/so unworthy of documentary?)

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  30. WOW says:

    Stating the obvious? – Yes

    Do we give a shit about yuppies yupping around? – No

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  31. Gareth says:

    Those who are seeing these few images from Rose’s (impressive and original) body of work and then making blanket judgements are not only unforgivably ignorant, they’re also just mean little souls looking for an opportunity to assert some pseudo-intellectual standpoint. Either shut the fuck up or read a book and say something interesting. Oh and shitpiss, very accurate self-titling you degenerate.

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  32. Anonymous says:

    Hey shitpiss, a.k.a. MrChavcore, a.k.a. Sean… STFU

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  33. Anna says:

    Shitpiss, you’re so deep boet!

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  34. Michaela says:

    Exactly Linda!

    The people on this site sound like they would prefer to see pictures of some tween wanking into his pillow because that is SO CUTTING EDGE!

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  35. Caitlin says:

    Shitpiss is Sean Looney?

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  36. shitpiss says:

    Yes. My name is Sean Looney. Im an agent! Fuck you Caitlin. I kak you!

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  37. Anonymous says:

    Haha, so I guess using Lindas argument, the target market for this work would be the polar extreme: black folk living in townships.

    I think they would look at these photos of random white kids and be like, ‘okay now?’

    what about it even defines them as living a life of excess? these are basic portrait photos of teenagers. We have to be told they’re affluent private school kids. In fcat, this whole project requires too much context, from the photographers, to the subjects, to the viewers, before anyone can think beyond ‘Hey, I’ve seen something similar before, I think it was on this sweet art page called http://www.facebook.com‘. Thats mostly cause the work itself is almost mute. It says nothing. Everything needs to be extensively explained and put into context before we even get a questionable mirage of intent or depth.

    this is only causing reaction cause friends of rose are jumping to her defence and arguing sound pricple, generating the need for further response.
    If all you with biased opinions would just shut up and let us objective folk react to the work honestly we’d be closer to gauging the real impact of the work without you all having to explain it to us.

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  38. Rose says:

    Portraits are a set of four belonging to a body of work including 30 works, tight edit for the interview – thanks for your opinions anonymous.

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  39. Anonymous says:

    i would think you chose works which best give an overall impression of you work.
    Or are you saying that even after seeing 6 pieces of work that you personally selected, I should still not be able to have an opinion? This really isn’t work with weight I guess.
    but then again, i’m getting yet another explination requiring me to put your work into more context before I am able to react to it, apparently.

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  40. Rose says:

    And I’m not sure how jamming a camera into a fly covered poor kid’s face (I’m sure they LOVE to be portrayed in such a manner) is tantamount to leaving one’s comfort zone. But I do think that this illustrates my point nicely.

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  41. Roger Young says:

    Freedom of speech is a bitch.

    I think it’s quite interesting that, for some, an outsider’s perspective is what is considered the making of true art. It’s a very patronising approach. To subject and artist. Why should a kid from the township have more validity than a kid from the suburbs? That’s your own guilt speaking right there. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be interesting just that it has no greater or lesser validity.

    If your reaction to this small (and not totally representative) sampling of Kotze’s work is that they are shallow and blank and her intention is to show that wealthy whiteness as shallow and blank then the she has succeeded.

    Art conceptually is not about the aesthetic beauty of the image but the beauty of the truth contained in the work.

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  42. Anonymous says:

    i think what illustrates my point nicely is the fact that the only two options you seem cable of considering, on your poles of comfort / non comfort, are either rich public school white kids with expensive haircuts, or black starving kids covered in flies.

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  43. Anonymous says:

    The argument wasn’t that the outsiders perspective is the making of true art, the argument was that within this context and with this subject, a better impact would have been made by someone more removed from what they are trying to document or comment on.
    Is it observational but without intent. Also, the context of the photo seems to dillute the work.
    The comment is that the way the subject matter is approached exposes nothing. That there might be merit in the intent, but the execution is a failure. That the work requires too much context to appreciate. That the pictures aren’t striking or bland enough in either direction to make an impact on their own. Intentionally bland is one thing, and can be very effective, but this seems like a luke warm compromise.

    I can get the intention. If thats of any comfort. With all the explanations on here, how can I not?
    I feel that it has not been executed though.

    Give me (more) context with a link to more work and maybe we can better analyse.
    But as it stands, all I got is thesis and no punch. And thats the point I’m making I suppose, but if you feel seeing more work and getting more explinations will help, I’ve got some time to kill on this slow friday afternoon before work ends.

    Sure: i can get that the very medium, the rich photographer herself operating within her own comfort zone speaks on behalf of the intended subject as well. I can appreciate the whole ‘work with what you know’ philosophy (i was hearing it since the third grade for creative writing exersizes). I just feel that with this work it’s now in a loophole of any criticism can be excused by intent.
    I guess that in the moment captured by these photos, the depth presented by the subject is of ‘Oh, I’m going to pose nicely for my friends sister and her fancy camera’. It’s not confessional. It’s not moving. It’s not empathetic. It has no feel of documentary. It has no sincerity. It’s bland because it’s empty, because the subjects are never investigated or read, not because it’s sparse and critical. The individuals are unimportant, and the weight of the work comes into play when considering the overall subject matter, but on an individual basis the photos and the subjects in the photos say nothing.
    As much can be gathered from someone saying to you, ‘A suburban white girl from a private school takes photos of suburban white girls from a private school’ then you would from looking at the pictures.
    Any conclusion you might draw from that explanation, with as much insight as you can muster, would put you in the same position as someone who had seen the work.

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  44. shitpiss says:

    It’s kind of poetic that Will.i.am was one of the last people to record with Michael Jackson. Whether or not you like the Black Eyed Peas, their 11 million-selling 2009 album, The E.N.D., is the closest thing we’ve had in the past few years to Thriller — the ubiquitous pop album everybody lives with. The E.N.D. conquered Earth with a digital bum-rush built from hammering robo-beats, synth goo, elegiac Auto-Tune and overheated chant-rapping that makes Sisqó seem like a Rhodes scholar. In a moribund music biz, it’s almost as if mystical belief in the power of crazy, cheesy bigness was its own kind of defiant idealism.

    True art is spoken through the words of our brother Will.I.Am. Amen to him! Fuck you all! Agents! You make me sick!

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  45. WhistleWhile says:

    I don’t understand art. After studying it for 3 years, I have no idea what’s going on. I just know what I like without “positing or withdrawing” from the social consciousness. Or something like that.

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  46. Rare. Golden. Collectables says:

    ^ Obvious troll is obvious.

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  47. Rare. Golden. Collectables says:

    shitpiss i mean

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  48. Yawn says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    we get the point, you think the pictures are boring. you too are boring. Only more…

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  49. Andrew says:

    Whether or not you like the collection, you should be able to debate it on it’s merits and failings. Instead, the majority of you have resorted to blistering personal attacks against someone you’ve never met.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves – but you won’t. This is why Mahala readers are generally referred to as the cunts of the South African internet.

    I’ve only been reading Mahala for a couple of days and I definitely won’t be back. I can’t believe that such twats actually exist.

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  50. Roger Young says:

    I think Anonz has a point on some level. But what would the solution be? To have them laughing or crying? Puking or shopping? Or is it the lack of depth the subjects gaze imparts?
    Should they be FEELING MORE GODDAMNIT!

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  51. Zoe says:

    Art is subjective. This collection of work can have a profoundly different impact on different people.

    For example- me. I went to government schools up until high school. I was terrified that I would be far behind the other students and lacking in general when I went to Reddam. I was also embarrassed around some of my older friends- before I even attended the school new assumptions were made about the person I was and would become.

    I resented the stigma(at any school you’ll get great people and kak people) and yet condoned it because I was never proud when I mentioned my high school. At the same time I felt guilty because I knew how lucky I was to be getting a private education, being taught in classes of 30 or less, on beautiful grounds with an array of resources and extra murals available.

    I felt like I was in a cultural bubble- and even though I was not naive to how the majority of the SA population lived- I still felt completely detached from this- I had minimal non-white or lower class acquaintances(not even really friends) basically I was consumed in a spiral of white guilt and was a little repulsed with myself.

    I still look through facebook albums of the beautiful, perfectly groomed girls and wonder about their lifestyles and conversation topics.

    This collection reopened a continuous debate in my mind. In high school at times I would catch myself judging girls the kids around me, better looking, more wealthy, better dressed, better skin, better everything. Their lives must be so ‘easy’ and ‘perfect’. Every body has problems. Shit they have to deal with or completely suppress. We make judgments on the young, white and wealthy-which is good- they must be questioned or become complacent. Hopefully they’ll start thinking about the position they’re in and realise ‘they’/we have the resources and education to start changing this country… if we don’t all immigrate. I also think parents who spoil their kids without letting them work for anything is a major cause in the superficial, naïve attitude.

    Are there more photographs in the collection Rose?

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  52. Andrew says:

    @Zoe: Rose mentioned in a comment that there were 30 images in a series.

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  53. matty says:

    I love Rose’s work, not only is it aesthetically pleasing it is reflexive in nature. The problem with the documentary mode is the position of the documenter and the objectivity placed on the subjects. Obviously true objectivity is impossible and Rose has excepted that and used this to inspire her work by working within the workd she knows, understands and can provide an apt representation.
    This is art and if you refer to it by anything else then you are an uninformed idiot… The proof is in the raging debate that Rose’s work has created on this site.
    Well done Rose!
    P.s. I love the pick with the kids humping at the foam pwarty!!

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  54. excuse me says:

    Fact is the photos are shit. This is all about the photos right? Please link the rest and some other works or is this really the best? rich girl with nice camera taking photos does not equal art.

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  55. Josh says:

    Christ, this reads an AWFUL lot like zapunx!

    Most of the relevant points in defense of the work have been made, though the criticism being leveled leaves a horrifying image of the shallow and desperately obvious audience local artists have to contend with.

    Those who lack the subtlety to access the works’ biting, and profoundly cruel critique of wealthy white society (without the extensive explanations above) are beyond being lectured at. I suppose your pedestrian thinking is the reason mediocrity is so haughtily and appreciatively lorded throughout society.

    There is one point i cant resist though.

    ( Anonymous) “I guess that in the moment captured by these photos, the depth presented by the subject is of ‘Oh, I’m going to pose nicely for my friends sister and her fancy camera’. It’s not confessional. It’s not moving. It’s not empathetic. It has no feel of documentary. It has no sincerity. It’s bland because it’s empty, because the subjects are never investigated or read, not because it’s sparse and critical. The individuals are unimportant, and the weight of the work comes into play when considering the overall subject matter, but on an individual basis the photos and the subjects in the photos say nothing.”

    Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what this work is really fucking about? Kotze’s subjects are far more deeply and scathingly investigated exactly BECAUSE they feel, as you say “Oh, I’m going to pose nicely for my friends sister and her fancy camera”. They’re in their absolute facebook-profile comfort zone. They are completely unaware that they are being scrutinised. They are completely unaware that there is anything about them to judge. And because they accentuate the qualities which they are too ignorant and complacent to know to ugly. They are naked in all their ugly, unconscious, preening banality.

    These kids dont know enough to care enough to realise how ashamed they should be of how shallow and self-satisfied they are, and in that they are mirrors of their parents. They are what ‘white’ means at it’s worst. THIS unaffected, uncaring smile is the face of tyrany.

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  56. Josh says:

    And i say that having been one of those private school kids. Im sure i still am one

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  57. Peter says:

    Holy shit, did I take a wrong turn and end up on Youtube? Why are Mahala’s commenters so fucking retarded?

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  58. Max says:

    I think Josh said it all.

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  59. Romi says:

    Rose- really great work- wish I could’ve seen the rest of them. Are you going to put anymore online somewhere for those of us who couldn’t see the exhibition?

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  60. Brett Petzer says:

    On the upside, Rose, I think that this is a good and courageous step: you’re breaking some eggs, willing to verge on the banal or the complacent, in search of an omelette. I think your public should have patience with the fact that you’re not content to simply produce a string of exhibition-ready snaps, of the type that are somewhat of a shoo-in for Professorial nods. Perhaps you are a bit like a reasonably well-funded auteur who eschews the Oscar-or-die route of the worthy biopic, or even the exploitative Holocaust flick, to make something vulnerable to easy criticism, like a beautifully observed bildungsroman masquerading as a low-budget sci-fi drama.

    I have never seen a body of work like this. It is exotic. The photos themselves lack tension, but, since they depict a famously tense society, I think that that’s OK. There was a time, in high school, when I would spend long nights on the internet looking for holiday snaps and school photos of Zimbabwean whites – a world that was systematically vanishing, in a very compressed timeframe. I knew that it was a little weird for me to be looking at the effacement of a once-dominant minority – a sort of apocalypse-porn, nihilist onanism, whatever.

    These works of yours should be outrageous – that is, the outrage must flow from the idea that a visibly identifiable, pigentally-discernible group should live like this in a country which most people in the art-consuming world would consider quite poor.

    Is there comparable work depicting Argentinean elites, or Brazilians? I would hazard a guess that the same debates rage when lovingly-immortalised polo shots, or images of beach houses by Niemeyer, emerge from countries that, by some sort of fey consensus of right-thinking art consumers, should not fetishise inequality in this way.

    But elites are real, as Rose has said – their lives are not just real, they are triumphantly so, and they physically occupy every prominent point in the topography of desire of South African cities. Their power is projected visually from Table Mountain and elsewhere, and I think that Rose’s work is useful to South African photography because it contributes towards its representivity.

    The presence of these whites in a roomful of images of South Africa is necessary. The outrage of some beholders of the work is rightfully owed to a society that, as of 2010, became statistically the most unequal on earth (IMF Gini Coefficient). Rose ain’t gonna help nobody by leaving whites out of a show that says its the output of a collection of talented critical thinkers in a South African city.

    Wealth and whiteness might be overrepresented in all our media, but that is a function of economics; it does not follow that we actually examine the mystique of whiteness and the construction of wealth in detail. It does not mean we’ve even begun to defuse their power.

    I like Rose for going precisely where it’s easy for us to aim and fire at her.

    I also do not see how she could have done much more to shear her gem-like (brilliant, hard-faced) subjects from the safety of their setting, since she’s venturing into a discourse that is very young. I don’t think she could assume much in the way of consensus opinions on the part of her audience, the way she might have had she documented urban or rural black poverty, each of which are associated with a cloud of highly-developed discourses (agency, gender, modernity, orientalism etc) that we could all discuss by rote for hours.

    Basically, well done Rose – but don’t dare stop here.

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  61. brandon edmonds says:

    “These kids dont know enough to care enough to realise how ashamed they should be of how shallow and self-satisfied they are, and in that they are mirrors of their parents. They are what ‘white’ means at it’s worst. THIS unaffected, uncaring smile is the face of tyranny.”

    (Puts cigarette in mouth so both hands are free to applaud). Consider that apple cored!

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  62. Anonymous says:

    The fact that this has generated such a huge response in so little time means people are interested and thinking. Could good contemporory art aim for anything more? Good on you, Rose.

    And shitpiss, it’s almost brilliant what you’re doing, ripping off all the senseless hating vulgar commenters on this site, but that first comment was pretty retarded. Should’ve picked an article/artist that actually deserved the treatment, there are quite a few.

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  63. Dwight says:

    The kid with a R1000 haircut isn’t just African exotic. It’s planet earth exotic. It’s as exotic as ET walking down the road to grab a cup coffee!

    The mere fact that these pictures seem so familiar and uninteresting to us is the shocking part. THAT is what we need to be pondering.

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  64. WOW. says:

    Jesus, ‘Shitpiss,’ OBVIOUSLY you’re not Sean. Grow up, and don’t hide behind some one who would clearly kick your ass.

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  65. Anonymous says:

    Nothing about these photographs, apart from the shallow depth of field (which is completely overrated nowadays), is significant at all. Nothing.

    Technically they are ok, but that’s where it ends.

    If there were more candids, and less portraits, it might have been different.

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  66. Josh says:

    Uhm, I saw the work up and there are two two meter long “candid” panoramic shots of kids vrying at a foam party. Those were the tits. Where are they?

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  67. Barry Bonds says:

    Great concept – poor execution.

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  68. Dan says:

    Ok just chipping in here with a thought:

    Andy – in situations like this is would REALLY help to link to a the full body of work. I don’t know if it is available online, but possibly you should have asked Rose if you could upload it to a Flickr account so you could link to it from the end of the article. I think you will find that doing this might help direct the debate in a more healthy direction from the very start.

    Infact I can think of a number of other articles where a link to somewhere where more examples of photos or a full body of Art could be viewed would have been a good idea. Not to mention that I would love to see some of the photos from your ‘last sunday” sets in a higher resolution (something you could also do through a Flickr account)

    Just a thought…

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  69. White Middle Class says:

    Anyone in this guilt-ridden society can publish works of snotty-nosed black kids wallowing in their own shit – and be praised for it ….. SOOOOOO cliche …. congrats rose on being proud of who you are!!!

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  70. gov educated says:

    When i saw this (entire) exhibition i felt a strong sense of nostalgia but at the same time i cringed, i was not a private school kid yet i often cross into the private school niche, and took part in the same activities. Grown up now i look back on those times with a bit more knowledge and insight and i can definitely remember a time when i was too young and ignorant to understand the slightly warped subculture i was sucked into.

    I think the exhibition is as someone said earlier a fresher look at the new “old” south africa, something that is rather overlooked these days, but there are still divides that exist not necessarily in straight race issues but in cultural and economical issues. As i said not being a private school kid perhaps lends more so to my understanding of this exhibition as i remember the divide between the schools at events such as inter school gala’s etc

    I also feel that some key factors are being overlooked such as the point brought up in the interview about the complete desire for these kids to portray an “image” an image of wealth, issues of where these pressures arise from are part of the greater question of these photographs.

    when we look at social documentary photographers such as david goldblatt we can look at those images and read the image, perhaps because many people recognize and with the means of time can see those images in a reflective sense. If one could read these images as updated “recent” shots of the same scenes portrayed in south african 1970’s- or of the sons and daughters of 1970’s white south africa, perhaps then one could appreciate them for what they are

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  71. Anonymous says:

    I can appreciate the arguments in support of this work.
    I think too much of a leap of faith needs to be taken by the viewer, in handing over blind respect to the photographer, that she has managed to transcend the lifestyle she is defined by.
    I need more to be able to accept that she has chosen to be critical intentionally over convenience.
    I get the impression the work happened first and the brief happened afterwards.

    I just cant accept the sheer BRILLIANCE of this artist, cause I feel the execution has failed.
    And to accept the brilliance of the work I need to assume that Roze is revolutionary in her thought.

    But I’d need more than this to go on.
    This seems easy. Everyone is telling me it’s hard.
    I dont agree.

    I dont feel like it cost her anything. I think the only meritable art that can be taken from this is the obvious, but unintended.

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  72. gov educated says:

    oh and a comment to one of the first comments-

    “too easy to be art.
    where’s the challenge, to artist or viewer?”

    why must art constantly be cryptic some of the most simple pieces can be the most successful, perhaps it is not where is the challenge but why are you not challenging yourself

    and the challenge to the photographer does exist, it is often more difficult to focus the lens on yourself and to expose and criticize oneself, that is where the challenge lies

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  73. Educated Other says:

    I agree totally with Anonymous that the context of the photographs dilute the artist’s intention(s). I am not white. I am not privileged. I am, however, originally from Cape Town and fully understand the racial segregation and classist nature of the city. But what I AM interested in is this idea of the R1 000 haircut. My immediate response is, “What the hell makes their hairdressing experience so different to mine that spending a grand on it is considered worthwhile?” With that nugget alone my imagination runs wild: What? Do they get served some expensive coffee made from some animals dehydrated shit served to them on silver-plated trays?That’s where my curiosity lies. That’s where my response to the artwork begins the discourse. I want to be able to juxtapose their reality with mine and the ‘feel’. Doing what you’ve done, Rose, has instead isolated me simply because I am not of your world and therefore inately do not have sufficient backstory in order to engage with your work. I am sorry. But you have instead ostracised me. Please, next time allow me into the inner sanctum of your world. Show me the preparation that goes into a night out. What is it that makes that VIP section so different from the general population. I need to know what I’m missing and make my own judgement regarding the real value of what I see. Thanks though for this beginning … As the outsider I hope your next body of work, will consider me.

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  74. Educated Other says:

    I totally agree with Anonymous that the context of the photographs dilute the artist’s intention(s). I am not white. I am not privileged. I am, however, originally from Cape Town and fully understand the racial segregation and classist nature of the city. But what I AM interested in is this idea of the R1 000 haircut. My immediate response is, “What the hell makes their hairdressing experience so different to mine that spending a grand on it is considered worthwhile?” With that nugget alone my imagination runs wild: What? Do they get served some expensive coffee made from some animals dehydrated shit served to them on silver-plated trays?That’s where my curiosity lies. That’s where my response to the artwork begins the discourse. I want to be able to juxtapose their reality with mine and then ‘feel’. Doing what you’ve done, Rose, has instead isolated me simply because I am not of your world and therefore innately do not have sufficient backstory in order to engage with your work. I am sorry but you have ostracised me. Please, next time allow me into the inner sanctum of your world. Show me the preparation that goes into a night out. What is it that makes that VIP section so different from the general population?Break the exclusivity. I need to know what I’m missing in order to make my own judgement regarding the REAL value of what I see. Thanks though for this beginning … As the outsider I hope your next body of work, will consider me.

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  75. itakeaknittingneedletobedwihtmetocharmtheoneeyedssnake says:

    this work is not good, um, sorry

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  76. Bat Urine says:

    this work is very good, um, sorry

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  77. Doctor L. says:

    So I just woke up in this girl’s home and what should I find nestled between ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘Chimurenga’, but a copy of MAHALA 2. Holy shit, this is brilliant material. Montle, ‘Hosepipes’ is hilarious and delightful. Max, Gutboy, I like him. Brandon, your spirit resonates. And Andy the interviews have a character all on their own. Very accomplished, sirs! Now to dip before the dame rouses.

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  78. Anonymous says:

    these photographs remind me of a satirical south african view of MTV’s teen cribs
    ….poking fun at cape town’s affluent tweens, love it!

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  79. Lizzy says:

    the thing is, this stuff IS already documented – ever watched top billing? it is boring not because there is anything wrong with the artist, but because the subjects have the sort of agency that top billing would give them in presenting the side of themselves that they want the world to see. and what the middle and lower classes expect. i promise you that is’nt what REALLY goes on in the gardens and living rooms of the nobs. they dont need to be shooting heroin or ‘wanking into a pillow’ for the images to be more revealing. even just showing some emotion other than boredom or self satisfaction would do. granted, i havent seen the whole exhibition, just whats here, but this does not make me want to see any more.
    also, I was told as a fine art student we should ‘stick to what we know, live, experience’ to make ‘genuine’ art. but to be honest, in my case and i see in rose’s case this lived experience is really not worth sharing unless its properly interrogated and unpacked.

    anyway.

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  80. gonzo nowhere says:

    A subtle fact some people seem to ignore is that this was a Michaelis student’s project.

    I dunno how it did for her, probably well, considering teh crap I’ve read above from her classmates and peers.

    But I find it problematic to judge a student (note: not “artist”) until she has left her comfort zone, and explored the world beyond her milleu and familiar geography.

    As a potenial employer of such an ex-student in the so-called “real world”, I would be hesitant to give her an opportunity, feeling that she might come unravelled outside of her comfort zone. And by this I don’t mean shooting subjects who are Black or poor – there are many other categories of “otherness” one needs to confront as a working photographer.

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  81. reyals says:

    kak pictures… good art. art is there to make an impact, raise eyebrows, get a reaction, whether its on of disgust or love. this got a reaction, made an impact. thus it works as art. whether it was difficult or easy. its like putting a drol on a stand in the louvre. doesn’t change the fact that its kak, but it gets a reaction, a powerful one. thus, it is art. I don’t like the pictures, but its still art. its boring, but its effects are not. kak as the pictures may be, its still better than the warme worsies post. so, rose, i’m not a fan, but you have created art. so big up on that.

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  82. snapper says:

    presenting these white private school kids as ‘vacuous’ is just as superficial and objectifying as those ‘black kids with flies on their faces’ photos. I agreee with the stick with what you know story, but lets leave SL to SL, and try dig a little deeper into the human experience?

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  83. Cowardly Pseudonym says:

    please God don’t let my name or my work ever be mentioned on Mahala. i don’t think I’ll survive it.

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  84. Dee says:

    I think the work, and the subsequent debate it has caused, speaks for itself. Those who feel it is “kak” should continue enjoying vacuous so-called works of art made with an iPhone, PhotoShop, daFont’s and some “edgy” brushes downloaded off of DeviantART that gets put together in a cookie-cutter fashion by first-year art school dropouts and high school burnouts while the rest of us can continue our lives knowing that our thoughts have been provoked by this out-the-box collection of work. It really needs to be seen in all it’s glory though – Rose can you please upload the whole set for us to enjoy?

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  85. Anonymous says:

    I dunno what everyone’s problem is. This is much better work then half the cheese on this site. Good job Rose, ignore the haters, for they are merely ignorant fools jealous of your talent. Keep making challenging work like this.

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  86. Natasja says:

    I like what Rose has done. We see so much of the “bad” side of life that it’s nice to see the other spectrum. I don’t really know much about the taking of photographs and portraits but all I can say is that I like it. Everyone on here has a different opinion and I think that’s what makes Rose’s work something special. If her work was rubbish or mediocre then there wouldn’t have been this much interaction.

    Good job Rose!

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  87. AnalBlaster says:

    I think i’d like to give Rose a good rodgering.

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  88. Hugh says:

    Based purely on the reaction that artwork has received here it seems to be a success. What is the point of art if it doesn’t ignite conversation and/or debate. Job well done Rose!

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  89. Jean says:

    Hi all i kno that u are all realy upset wiht the work but hat we hav to look at here is Proverbs “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil” Proverbs 3:7

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  90. Anonymous says:

    Rose wins, her team has jesus.
    but we got satan and that means all the best jams.

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  91. ling-ling says:

    I’m interested in seeing more. Documenting the lifes of teenagers, rich, poor, black, white, upper, middle or lower can give as a peep-hole into the future.

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  92. jacqui says:

    What is wrong with a ‘pretty’ photograph you self important, self opinioned twats!

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  93. My penis takes better photographs says:

    Come on, amatuer photographs promoted as art?

    you have just pissed on photography as a whole… its clearly not about talent but who you know and how much money your daddy has…

    and look at all her priveledged friends jumping to her defence, like they even know what life is about, what art really is…

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  94. damndemons says:

    penis – and YOU know what art really is?

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  95. ilze_ says:

    the comments here are interesting to say the least, and too many. browsing over it i would just like to say that i think you [rose] chose a very interesting subject matter, private school kids are an entire elite species, that not just in South Africa, but internationally live in distortions of reality.

    i agree with several people though, about the quality of the photographs… but at the same time, even though they seem superficial and ‘facebook’ worthy, it seems well suited that way, because being a private schooler myself [ not proud of it] i would have been disgusted to see them represented as beings of depth and nobility and life. i like them as superficial, plastic faced, pretty, bright dolls, because thats all they are, until the world/university/work goes and smacks them with some perspective.reality/ideals…who knows.

    nice work rose.

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  96. photographer says:

    Stick to law, you’ll never make it as a photographer unless your family secretly buys all your work to keep you financially stable.

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  97. whoever says:

    I think most of the people who responded to this were probably privately schooled, and rant about articles like this one because they themselves feel constantly judged, although nobody really cares, but they will only realise this in their 30s anyway.
    Go read books or something meritable and let the people do what they do.

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  98. Frank says:

    I just saw the 2nd picture (the panoramic) in an art gallery for R12 000.

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