William Sheepskin on the rising popularity of Bo-Kaap on Instagram, and the impact on its residents

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It was directly because of this realisation that William decided to pick up his camera and document his neighbourhood, walking around the area “with a very large intrusive camera – one not easily missed in hand,” he tells us. With this camera as a sort of signifying prop of the project, the photographer was met with two reactions, and in turn, has created two dissimilar types of photographs within the resulting series’. For example, “residents of the area, my neighbours, would frequently enquire about it or ask for a picture,” tourists on the other hand “would assume, given that I was carrying a camera, that I was among their ranks, and give little regard to their presence wandering into my frame.”

Allowing the communities making up the area to guide the project, William’s photographs often feature an arm just in shot, the figure of someone walking away, or a group of people seemingly chatting about who is getting their photograph taken first. “Photographs of my fellow residents through are more intimate,” he points out, “with portraits displaying direct gaze towards myself and the viewer, as well as shop shots of their comfortable interaction with the environment they call home.” In making such contrasting images within one series, William’s work is a direct and apt representation of the situation itself, adding that he feels “the juxtaposition of the presence that subjects hold in the photographs speaks to the irony I am attempting to portray.”

The photographer describes creating this body of work an “insightful experience,” despite being centred around an area he already knew so well. It was exactly this process – of looking deeper into the familiar – which has made the work so worthwhile due to “offering a further understanding of that which I’m surrounded by, and the manner in which my presence can impact the area I find myself in,” he says.

When it comes to moving forward, he suggests that those visiting Bo-Kaap “make an effort to ensure that their presence is of a positive influence to the local economy and simply to be aware of the residential nature of the environment,” he points out. “With regards to change, I would hope that people who are interested enough in the area to visit and take pictures might support the efforts opposing gentrification and encroaching on heritage,” he says. Overall, it’s up to each of us in tourist destinations to consciously become more aware “of the subtle intricacies of simply being in a place and how one conducts themselves can influence the impact of their presence.”

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