Pretty rough edges

Posted on 8 June 2023

In a book of his distinguished work, photographer Obie Oberholzer documents under-the-skin scenes – honest, vibrant stark, and sometimes even pretty.

Sing a Sad Song, Clocolan, Free State, 2019. Marieta Groenewald cares for forgotten street children – ‘punished by being born into a life that they did not ask for’ – at Lethoteng Community Centre. I look down to find tears on my Canon’s viewfinder. I ask the name of the little girl singing in the photo. Marieta’s reply takes me to where sadness and hopelessness dwell. ‘The girl’s name is Hlompe. It means “respect” in Sesotho.’

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The ATM, Lady Grey, 2018. Brummer Street in this Eastern Cape town has lost its ‘r’; an artist or delinquent painted the letter out, so it reads Bummer Street. I parked my bakkie in Bummer and dangled my arm out of the window so that my shoulders sagged with the weight on my head. Across the street was an FNB ATM. I know that I shouldn’t be, but I am ashamed of all that I have, even though it’s actually very little. If only I can drink all the bottles of sadness in me. Get pissed, get high, fly, jet away to Oberammergau.

Next to me, in the window seat, sat Sister Helen Kagendo, a Kenyan member of the Catholic Missionaries of Charity. She wore the blue and white of Mother Teresa and gave me a little picture of her to keep. Upon landing she blessed me with one final smile and we parted ways forever.

‘You haven’t won until you sink the black’, Cape Town, 2005. A parody picture for Laugh It Off, spoofing Carling Black Label’s advert that references the black ball in snooker. With Photoshop not yet available, the shot meant burying a Zulu friend up to his chest, with a crate of quarts on his shoulder. This was done in front of a popular shebeen while locals chanted, ‘One beer, one black.’


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