PDN Photo of the Day

Following South Africa’s Fading Railroads

Roger Palmer’s latest monograph, SPOOR, features color photographs that follow South Africa’s fading railroads. The images, made between 2014 and 2018, were shot in rural areas throughout the country’s nine provinces. SPOOR is published by GOST Books.

SPOOR is a continuation of Palmer’s work addressing concepts of place and placelessness, location and dislocation, migration and settlement.

A “spoor” is the trace or track of an animal or person by which they can be followed. In Afrikaans, the South African language descended from Dutch, the word also refers to rail tracks. South Africa’s rail network used to be called Spoornet. The title of the book suggests acts of following and shadowing that are determined by these mostly defunct rail routes, many of which are now used as footpaths connecting minor towns and settlements.

Over the course of the project Palmer stopped at about 550 locations. SPOOR presents 83 images arranged in ten series. Each series is introduced by a map showing the locations and names of the rail stations pictured in the series on an otherwise empty national map. “Isolated in darkness, these seemingly random configurations of places constitute Palmer’s selection of picture series, the sites of which may be close to each other or separated by vast distances,” writes GOST in the press release. The book concludes with a map showing the distribution of all photographic locations that contributed to the project.

Some of the station names reflect regional centers, including several that have been re-named in the post-apartheid era. Others refer only to the faded railway sign that preserves their fragile status as places.

By Roger Palmer
GOST Books, available for pre-sale

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