Swedish photographer Per-Anders Pettersson (b. 1967) started photographing South Africa in 1994, when he documented Nelson Mandela's election. Curious how the country would develop, he continued working there over the next two decades, finding not only progress, but disillusionment, too. Rainbow Transit, his second monograph, presents the result of this long-term work in South Africa. In 79 images, both portraits and urban landscape photography, he depicts a country in which people live under unimaginably different circumstances: from the very poor to the very rich.
Whether Pettersson was photographing in dark interiors or outside in the bleaching sun, deep colours are present in every photo. One photo, for example, shows a young woman who is dying of AIDS, lying in an old wheelbarrow, in a field of deep green grass and a blue sky. Avoiding a cliché photo of poor people who are ill in dark rooms, Pettersson takes instead a photo that's exploding with colour. Another photo shows policemen inspecting a car wreck, the blue of the broken front window as fresh as tropical water.
While the photos do have extensive captions, consisting of a description and some background information on social circumstances in South Africa, the dates are in most cases absent. Considering the long period of time covered by the book, this detail would have been useful. The book's format is remarkable in itself though, with the addition of a few non-traditional foldouts. They aren't used to extend a photo as you unfold the page, but rather, the photos on the foldouts continue on other foldouts elsewhere in the book. For example, one of these photos, a bird's-eye view on the township of Khayelitsha, continues on another foldout a few pages further on. By printing the photo of the township on different pages, making it possible for the viewer to fold the pages together to see the complete picture, the book literally weaves the never-ending presence of the townships through the book.
Pettersson captures well the scenes of South Africa that together define a complex country. A white policeman pushes a black-skinned person against a police car, while, in another image, a young ballerina lifts her leg in a graceful but angular shape outside of a shack, and in another, a fire sends children and adults running. Through carefully composed photos and deep colours, Rainbow Transit illustrates the alarm of societies that consist of extremes.
Rainbow Transit is available for sale from Dewi Lewis Publishing.