Ilan Godfrey’s projects about life in South Africa took my interest recently, partly due to how close to home they were for me.

His ‘Living With Crime‘ project looked at victims of crime in South Africa, who have suffered a horrendous ordeal or lost a loved one  due to violent crime.

Ilan took time out of his schedule to talk more about his approach and projects.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your photographic background?

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1980, I started exploring the fine arts from a young age, while using my photographic images as reference material for painting and drawing. I began to develop and print my images in the school darkroom. A desire to photograph daily life soon ignited my interest for photography.

I moved to the United Kingdom after finishing my schooling in 1999 and got my first break as a photojournalist working for The Times Chronicle Series in London. During this time I studied towards gaining a first class BA (hons) degree in Photography, 2006. I was awarded The David Faddy Scholarship to continue my studies, towards an MA (hons) degree in Photojournalism in 2007 from The University of Westminster.

I am currently based in London and travel between South Africa and the United Kingdom, working on long – term projects. Focusing on issues that reflect South Africa’s constantly changing landscape. Documenting the country with an intimate and personal conscience. I have built up over a period of four years, an in-depth study of urbanisation in Johannesburg, ranging from urban development, economic structure and stability, living with crime and security, illegal immigration, amongst other facets of daily life within Post – Apartheid South Africa.

I am the recipient of the Ivan Kyncl Memorial Photography Placement. I was selected as the UK student representative in Angola with CARE International photographing the ‘I am powerful’ campaign. My work is held in several private collections and has been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions in the U.K and abroad. Recently I participated in the Focus on Monferrato Master class in Italy. Publications include, The Sunday Times Magazine (UK), Flux Magazine, Foto 8 – The Photography Biannual, The British Journal of Photography and The Magenta Flash Forward book for Emerging Photographers 2007 and 2008.

I live with my wife in London and plan to return to settle permanently in South Africa at the end of 2010/11.

Why did you choose to tell the story about living with crime in South Africa?

When considering how I would approach this project, I knew I wanted to bring across to the viewer, a sense of what it feels like to live in South Africa with this constant threat. Since arriving in the United Kingdom nine years ago and with my regular visits to South Africa to see my family, I began to realize how different life is there. The people are almost desensitized to the way they live and from what I have learned is that communities have adapted to this way of living on a daily basis, this was no different for me growing up in Johannesburg. I have seen friends and family affected by crime. I have personally been affected by crime, so I understood to an extent what it feels like and how you adapt and continue with your life.

Even though I have made my home between London and Johannesburg for now. I still worry about my family and friends safety and with my close emotional attachment to South Africa as a South African. I am very concerned about what is really being done to prevent this crime epidemic.

In doing this Photo – Documentary, I hope to achieve an accurate, un – bias project using the image and sound recordings of victims experiences to give the viewer a truthful understanding of what South Africans live with on a daily basis.

This project is certainly not a campaign against the government, but rather a voice from the people, to say, “Enough is Enough”.

How did you go about planning/executing it all?

This was my biggest challenge; initially I thought the best way to approach this project would be through word of mouth. I found people to be very cautious and  uncomfortable with talking about tragic events that have happened in their lives. I decided the best possible approach was to contact the local newspaper and try to  arrange an interview with a journalist who could publish my idea. I have inserted a section of the text from the interview.


Norwood: Ilan Godfrey, a freelance photographer, is looking for people to help him in his latest project.

“I want to tell the stories, through photography of people who have been affected by crime,” said Godfrey.

His biggest problem has been persuading people to break the veil of secrecy around them. “No – one wants to talk and I think perhaps people are scared. After spending time overseas, I can definitely see how differently people live here, behind high walls and electric fences.

“I would like to do a series of portraits, perhaps at home, with a short story of their experience.”

As a result of this article I was fortunate enough to start making contact with people that felt comfortable to speak out. The project quickly gained  momentum
and I began to receive emails and phone calls daily.

Crime is a big problem still in South Africa, did you get a feeling that many had given up hope of ever seeing it resolved or was there a  glimmer of hope?

South African’s have been through a lot, the Apartheid of course has left a tragic stain on South African society and now we face  different challenges as a  community. Crime, Aids, high unemployment and poverty are only some of the major challenges faced  in South Africa today.

I have received mixed views, some people feel there is no future in South Africa and some believe that in time things will improve. It is difficult when you live in a society where you have been a victim of a particularly traumatic experience, to think, “yes there is hope”. Sadly as a result of people being affected by crime many families have left South Africa. Large South African communities now exist all over the world, whether it is Australia or the United Kingdom.

My family for now won’t leave South Africa it is still one of the best places in the world to live and I plan to return next year with my wife. Yes the topic of crime has always been a concern but we love South Africa very much its where our family and friends are and in many ways that’s more important than anything else.

I was reading recently that Jacob Zuma is taking new measures to deal with violent crime. He aims to give police more flexibility in their approach in dealing with criminal situations by allowing them to shoot to kill. At present they need to fire a warning shot, which puts them at greater risk. There is a lot of controversy around these new measures.

Should visitors to South Africa, for the World Cup, be worried about their personal safety?

Definitely not, I have a lot of faith in South Africa to make the most out of this wonderful opportunity. The last thing the country needs is visitor’s to be affected by crime. I think in many ways its like any large city, stick to the touristy parts and don’t walk alone at night. I would expect reliable transport facilities will be put in place and there won’t be a need for people to put themselves at risk by going into to particularly dangerous areas. Jacob Zuma is also under a lot of pressure to increase security and have a significantly higher police presence while the World Cup is underway.

To the viewer of your work what feeling or impression would you like to leave?

I want to express in the most accurate and truthful way possible the reality of life for people living in South Africa. Emotionally speaking this is always going to be a challenge and you don’t fully understand the level of anxiety and fear these people live with through the image. The captions are essential in bringing across this reality and I very quickly realized that I couldn’t truly express the emotional pain that was being felt through my writing. I therefore decided at that point to introduce voice recordings for the first time in my work.

I hope that to the viewer, it gives a true sense of what it feels like to live with the constant fear of crime but also an uneasiness, this is brought about in the compositions, light and expressions of the subjects and the surroundings they live in. I want to be considerate and respectful of the subjects, always distancing myself in many ways to allow for a calmness to come over the images during the time spent in the privacy of their homes.

I often felt this burden on my shoulders as if the victims of these horrific crimes were sharing with me their most intimate and most tragic experiences in the hope that through these images there would be change. What is essentially important here is, not the images themselves but rather the people within them.

Right now are you working on a specific subject? If yes can you tell us more about?

I am currently working on several projects; I don’t tend to work on one specific subject at a time as it all depends on funding and when I am in South Africa. Yes there are a few ideas in the pipe – line, a project based around immigration on the coast of South Africa, an environmentally based project around agriculture and a project on social inequality. I have begun researching these areas in more detail and have already started working on the narratives I want to achieve. Alternatively you can find a parcel using the FedEx Tracking tool. I find that patience and understanding is essential, I am in no rush, these things take time and I look forward to when I am back in South Africa so I can carefully mould these ideas visually one – step at a time.

What are your main inspirations?

I am inspired by everyday experiences, inspiration for me is not necessarily something I am aware of it could simply be a piece of music, a film or someone I randomly meet. The news plays an integral part in my relationship with the world as well as South Africa. In many ways a lot of my inspiration comes from my time spent reading books on South Africa’s history, South African authors who write on various subject matter whether it is fiction or non – fiction. I find that when I am in South Africa by simply driving around, randomly parking and going for a walk and speaking with local people, project ideas and new ways of working develop.

I am fortunate to have family that support my interest in South African issues, they gather newspaper and magazine clippings as well as recorded radio and T.V reports that might be of interest to me.

Which South African photographers do you admire?

  • David Goldblatt
  • George Hallett
  • Eric Miller
  • Cedric Nunn
  • Guy Tillim
  • Graeme Williams
  • Paul Weinberg
  • Jodi Bieber
  • Gesele Wulfsohn
  • Santu Mofokeng
  • Alfred Kumalo
  • Ernest Cole
  • Peter Magubane
  • Andrew Tshabangu

What’s the hardest challenge faced by photographers in South Africa?

I personally do not feel there are significant challenges to photographers in South Africa. At the moment I have commitments in London but I long to be back in South Africa concentrating on my personal projects. Especially at this time great change is happening and there is so much opportunity for young up and coming photographers to document these exciting times. There is a wealth of artistic talent in South Africa and with the support from art-based institutions both locally and internationally, photographers can be encouraged to create new and arresting projects. There is a handful of South African Photographers that are making waves internationally and there is definitely room for more.