richard mark dobson – the crest hotel

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Richard Mark Dobson

The Crest Hotel

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editors note: this is a long essay…but, i think certainly worthy of discussion…stick with it…do not even start to watch this if you do not have a solid 15 minutes at your disposal….. -david alan harvey

I remember the Crest Hotel way back in the 70’s. In fact it was from this hotel that I gathered my first impressions of our newly adopted land, South Africa.

Emigrating here with my parents from England in January 1975, I was 12 years old when we arrived at the door of the Crest after a short cab ride from the austere Jan Smuts airport.

Upon arrival at this comfortable 3 star hotel, a stone’s throw from the bustling boulevards of Hillbrow, I was awestruck by the views from our 12th floor window. Glittering skyscrapers and a zillion apartments surrounded us on all sides; our hotel it seemed was at the epicenter of all this glitz, with its lively terrace and sparkling pool. For the two weeks that we lived in Hillbrow at the Crest while my father sought rented accommodation in the leafier northern suburbs, I gathered impressions of this ‘Americanized’ metropolis, admiring its scale & lofty buildings, sensing its economic presence and buzz, all the while searching out the exotica of black faces to remind myself that I was in Africa after all.

Certainly during those first few weeks while strolling past the café & bakeries and soda pop joints of Pretoria & Kotze streets on balmy summer evenings, I could see clearly that this was the abode and playground for a predominantly white cast. I saw lots of happy white faces! An illusion of blissful living. An illusion of harmony and human equality. Yes this was a place of happy shiny white people, and I, the little white kid who’d just stepped off a plane in Africa from England, was entranced.

32 years later, I return to the Crest. Still entranced but for different reasons. The place has changed, the city has changed, and the country has changed. I’ve changed.

The Crest hotel therefore is my personal attempt to join dots, and answer pertinent questions to my own sense of failed idealism and dislocation. Projected through the presence of others, the Crest after all is where my journey to South Africa began. For many presented here today though, this is where their journey will end, or has ended already. It’s where their relationship with South Africa is coming to an end too, but certainly did not begin.

As an artist/photographer I intend to explore further themes or locations that I hope will allow me to investigate my relationship with this country and my country of birth, England. And how the two sit incongruously side by side within my own psyche. The Crest is where I chose to begin this investigation.


Richard Mark Dobson (Cape Town 20 April 2009).


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117 thoughts on “richard mark dobson – the crest hotel”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. You have obviously put a lot of work in here Richard and it shows. I especially love the photography, the portraits are wonderful. Great styling of the piece throughout. Yes it is long, probably too long, but it didn’t bother me too much. I was very taken by the piece so stuck it out. I guess this is a little sad in a way… that 15 minutes seems a long time. A reflection on how fast we need to consume these days…

    Very interesting work though! Off to check out your site now. I’ll certainly be looking at you portraiture first! Love it!

  2. i have no words… truly original… truly amazing work… this is a product of very deep meaning… i have never seen anything like this… so electric… its amazing… very nice work!

  3. Extraordinary essay. It is a story that really goes beyond just what is happening in South Africa, but all over the world…

    And, a twist at the end that is handled in a bizarrely beautiful way.

    Truly remarkable storytelling… Congratulations.

    -Noah Darnell

  4. First thoughts: without a doubt, straight from the heart.

    It works; wonderfully, very poignant, very moving. This is an extraordinary example of how the technonogy available today can be used to GREAT effect. If this is is a beginning for Richard I can’t wait to see the completed body of work!

    Many, many thanks for showing this, Richard.


  5. its tough to find the right words to express when i see work like this. praise is in order without a doubt but it has to be expressed in a somber kind of way.
    congratulations on your originality and singular perspective.
    i found this to be an incredibly interesting description.


  6. “Who builds houses for you when you have nowhere to live? Who gives you tents and blankets when you are shivering with cold? Who nurses you, who takes care of you, who comes here…”–J.M. Coetzee, “Life and Times of Michael K”

    “But photography, has its greatest impact when one believes in the picture.”-Roger Ballen

    On the morning of October 13, 200_, at approximately 9:25 am, I was teaching a group of ESL students and we were standing, as if a group of soldiers, facing the large window of my classroom, which overlooks the courtyard of my school and faces West toward the tall, glittery wealth of the affluent neighborhood of Yorkville, which abuts against the location of our school, trying to speed-lick as many adjectives as possible within two minutes out into the air, inspired by the steel-blue overcast morning, when before our eyes dropped a large, blue-flapping material that was quickly caught by a rush of vacuumed vroooooom and brush, soon after in a snap of silence between the falling blue material and the silence of breath between the student who stood next to me pausing between adjectives and shock, was a cacophonous detonation, an explosion that seemed to rock the building and sent a shock-wave of silence upward and outward, as if a bomb had been set off beneath the bulwark of our school building and for what seemed to be an interminable length of I stood there unable to move or look out the window and the adjectives ceased.

    At the foot of my school, lay the body of a distraught 38-year old woman who’d leapt from her apartment’s balcony at the top of the building in which our school is housed. By the time I had made it down the steps and out the door to where her blue-clothed body lay, she had already perished and the building’s security guard, who’d in a grotesque fate of misfortune had been sitting on one of the benches taking a rest, was shaking in hysterics unable to say anything and I looked at her, and then at her right leg, which was elbowed in a position of miraculous and unnatural contortion, over her head, and then i looked up and heard the screaming of a woman’s shout….and since that day, i have looked up every single day i enter the building and I am unable to let go of the grief i have felt and the implausibility of her wind-draping body falling in front of my and my students yes, of all that silence, of the silence, of the police bag, the pulling away of the body, the thin, magenta river of blood that tatoo’d the auburn brick and the swatch of the greater damage which was unveiled when she was removed from the courtyard 3 1/2 hours later. I could not photographs for 3 months after that October day….and for some time, I’d consider giving up photographing for good.

    Our lives our monumental in their brevity and in the importance of their nature, of the quixotic way we gather and disappear, of the way we are lost and regain, of the way an entire cosmos of existence thrives in places we have no clue about and that the strong, black pull of entropy and time measures us, stalks us, and most of the time we refuse to see that.

    This story is, in fact, about a Motel in the center of a South African city that has undergone change, just as monumental as the change that the nation itself has undergone. This is also a story of these singular lives that have, but for the specific appearances of difference, the same band and width of each of our lives. This is also a story of a little boy who was carried from one nation to another and returned to understand how his own life is in fact, in the arc and the brevity, no different from those who still call this place home. This is also a story of grief, the particular grief of a very young man who lept to his death and the wake of that grief is the same peeling away as the walls of this hotel. But it is also the story of each of us. Do not comfort yourself with your wealth or your cameras or your indifference to worlds unknown or unrecognizable. This is a story of each of our lives and the difficult and broad circumference around which we seldom are able to make a full reckoning of…..

    that each of us shall meet with and be confronted by grief is one of the undeniable truths of living, that we are charged with making sense of that and with the loss of all things, and how we go about this in myriad ways is the one testament of this life afforded us….

    how best to express that and to make it truth, our own small, peculiar truths which speak to the universality of each of our lives….

    This story, a testament, to the grief of living, but through grief we are often better able to appreciate that which will sooner than we expect be writ from us…..

    Monumental, Richard, and heartbreaking….

    thank you…..

    all the best

  7. What can I say..this is just breath taking, most interesting and touching piece I have seen for a long, long time. When I see this, I know photographers, storytellers, will survive, despite all the grim predictions that the video will replace the photo on the web etc. That makes me incredible proud and happy, even though the story is sad.. Your style is special, the combination of details, interiour, portraits and video work very well.
    Very inspiring, thank you so much, Richard!

  8. wow..
    couldn’t look at some of the images,
    could do without all the slow zooms,
    and want to see more of your images…
    the grief
    while you were there?!?!?!?!?!
    so fucking strong…
    thats what I’m left with..

  9. ok, i’m not infected by this, so if don’t read this if you want more of what you’re hearing above.

    I’m convinced that a great deal of effort went into this project and because of that I’ve a great deal of respect for you Richard, but when you couple the access you had with the imploding powder keg that is j-berg, then I can’t help but think you need to use what you learned on this effort and carve out another deeper chapter.

    For me personally, I feel this is weak in comparison to what you might have already done, but not presented, or saw and heard, but chose not to collect. The angle is genius, but the cut is shallow.

    I really don’t know anything about you Richard, but I know for a fact that you saw and heard much more controversial things to record and witnessed much more controversial things to capture, and from what you’ve shown us, you had the talent to collect and present both, now in j-berg and soon the same implosion in capetown.

    So I only have one question, with all the hard-hitting subject matter you were soaking wet in, what made you craft this story line, again the approach is perfect, one step away from a gated community, but the reveal is, well, not that revealing.

  10. Richard, I did happen to enjoy looking this and was Jealous of your subject. However, after reading what Joe wrote I couldn’t agree more… Specifically

    “The angle is genius, but the cut is shallow”.

    You did a great piece, However, I too feel like there is a lot more nitty gritty stuff you may just have left out or overlooked, (Maybe for personal reasons), in your edit, (I suffer from this problem)???

    Thanks for the essay.

  11. Richard – This is powerful work, so honest and genuine. My mind is racing.

    I particularly love how you have told the story with a defined photographic aesthetic…but not at the expense of honesty, dignity, and humanity. I think that this is a difficult balance to strike, and you did it very well.

    Thank you very much.


  12. Whew. A big exhale when it stopped. Had I been holding my breath? I think so. At least from the photo of the shattered window on. A story yes, but true. I am in awe of where Richard took me, where each of these indivduals took me. A story shot by an outsider whom his subjects let inside. Too long? Hardly. Life is long and this was life, at least one photographer’s view of life. Magnificent.


  13. Very impressive!
    Honestly brutal!
    A straight forward confrontation with reality and life!
    A great way to tell a story!
    Richard, I’m speechless!
    Keep going!

  14. Excellent. one of the best. very powerful.
    Almost movie…
    hats off…
    anyway… I have to buy a DVD camera…
    I am movie maker…
    I think….


  15. Pingback: The Crest Hotel — a photo essay « Helderberg Photographic Society

  16. You say this is a personal journey, and there is no arguing with that. And it is strong and well done piece.

    But I don’t understand the point beyond your personal journey. Images of decay and hopelessness with no useful response possible have little value, IMHO. Yeah, for a lot of folks life sucks and then they die. It may be that way for many of us should we outlive friends and family and money and community.

    I just don’t think we need photographic essays to remind of us our fragility and real lack of control. To what useful end is this very personal essay other than than for a bunch of us to say in response, “Whoa, that’s deep.”

  17. “The angle is genius, but the cut is shallow.”

    Joe, I’ll be honest here but with no malice toward you personally. Okay? This statement made me agitated, irritated, and just wonder how could you say this after viewing this. The story builds, piece by piece, life by life to a stunning and awful conclusion. It also invoked one of the best things I’ve ever seen Bob B. write – honest and straightforward with no embellishment, like this piece, both awful and real. Have you watched people die Joe? Friends, family, strangers, cultures, dreams by their own hand, or the hand of fate or god or just because or whatever “it” is – figuratively and literally? Have you lost, I mean really, really lost? I’m sorry, I do not mean to make this personal and I am sure you have experienced many things in your travels but this essay makes we want to defend it somehow for its simplicity and honesty, heart and depth, yes depth. You are of course entitled to your opinion, and have done much to raise discussion levels here, but I just think you are pushing too hard on this one. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Richard wishes he had done something else. I don’t know but jesus christ man, does anything truly rise to the occasion for you. So we should all say what we think, really think, here, yes? And I applaud you for doing that. I am just doing the same, and what I swore to myself I wouldn’t do. Damn. But you pissed me off, and I don’t even know you :)) Peace.

  18. Jim, I would suggest not watching any movies then, except blockbusters of course. Damn, did it again. I’m going to shut up and go back to building my studio/office/workshop now, I think I’ll call it Burn Studios Northwest. Y’all are all invited, especially Joe and Jim.

  19. young tom, what is the value of this piece to any of us beyond the author?

    I’ve had friends commit suicide, my mother died a slow, painful death from diabetes. My dad died a long, slow terrible death from Alzheimer’s. Yeah, it sucked. Life is full of tragedy. But what does the author of this piece want to say to me about all this crap? Sorry, I just don’t see the point.

  20. Thankyou Richard.

    thankyou bobblack. thankyou DAH

    What a moving piece of work.

    I am shaken, very sad, very moved. Words fail me here. I’ll have to digest this for awhile.

    I don’t know if there are other burn-like magazines on the web, but I’m continually challenged, inspired, entertained, and ever so happy to be here.
    I love the multi-media aspect of this and the other multi-media pieces we’ve seen here. This IS the new magazine format. I was trying to mentally compare the experience of viewing a piece here on burn, VS the experience of holding a physical magazine. This is so much more (though I can’t read it in the bath).

    Anyway, congrats Richard Mark.

    gordon L.

  21. Thank you, young tom, for saying what you said, both to Joe and to Jim. You took the words out of my mouth but expressed them much better than I could have done myself. When I posted my own comment above, all I was thinking about/feeling were my own reactions to Richard’s essay. “Deep” is definitely an apt adjective to use here.

    And yes, Jim, life sucks. It also soars. And art IMHO best serves life by mirroring both. Life just IS, and that’s what we have to work with. It’s ALL we have to work with.


  22. So, Patricia, you see this as an “art” piece. O.K. That lifts it beyond rational discussion.

  23. Jim, I’m sorry you see no value here.

    Lordy Jim, does any kind of photography have value to you?, does any photography or art make a difference in our lives? What would you choose to put here?

    Since we’re all just gonna suffer and die, I guess nothing really matters.

    Is there anything about which you are passionate? Is there a single story or photograph in the latest issue of your newspaper which has any real value to anyone or that will change anybodys life, or are all those words and pictures just there to fill in the space between the ads?

    BTW, glad to see you back here Jim.

    Gordon L.

  24. Gordon, what difference does this essay make in your life?

    Yeah, there will be a photo story from Friday night’s 12 hour local American Cancer Society Relay for Life event, which raises many thousands of dollars for cancer research. There were 56 “survivors” there, among the hundreds that turned out to stay all night at the event. These “survivors” are alive today as a direct result of the research supported by events like this. Cancer sucks but here is something you can directly do about it!

  25. A leopard can’t change it’s spots, but it looks like a photographer can turn into a visual storyteller.

    All the best


  26. Jim

    We are all touched by Cancer. Raising money is a good thing. If your newspaper helps raise awareness, and as a by-product, money, that is a good thing, which can in the long run change peoples lives. The celtic band I play with has raised over $30,000 for cancer research.

    If your newspaper donated advirtising space for the event, I’ll even be more impressed.

    You never answered my other questions, but I’ll try to answer yours.

    It is clearly too early for any significant shift in the universe as a result of my viewing this piece. I’ve only viewed it once, and will do so again, perhaps many times.

    Si has reminded me of the pathos of our human existence, my place in it, and reminded me to be more generous with my time and attention to people who are even older than me, and maybe a little odd and needy. I loved the inclusion of the snaps of peoples former lives. Yes, there is a story behind all those pathetic faces. I was at a weekend musical gathering. One of the performers mentioned doing a regular gig at a senior care home. My group used to do this, but has not for a few years. Seeing this essay, I realize we need to do this.

    This essay has expanded my appreciation for non-traditional photo technique, and composition. Richards use of flash is pretty bizarre, lighting from below, deliberately creating shadows to add an un-expected graphic element into the mix. I like to use musical analogy, it’s like an un-expected grace note, or harmony. It would certainly be considered a flaw by purists, but somehow, it works and adds to the texture.

    The essay has expanded my view of the world beyond the safe little confines of my comfortable life.

    The rest will have to wait, a friend has just arrived asking for a ride to the hospital with a son that needs stitching up.


    Gordon L.

  27. Gordon, do you really need reminding about the pathos of our existence? Look at any newspaper, go over to the Magnum or VII website. Read CNN’s website. How much more do we need?

    I certainly have no argument with the photographer’s technique. The whole piece is well done. No question. The photographer says it is a personal exploration, and it is certainly valid as that.

    But for others who view it, where is the hope in this? What is the value in exposing hopelessness when there is no reasonable expectation that the viewer can in any way effect the outcome? It’s just more voyeurism. And exploitation. And there is too much of that in photography already.

  28. Ah Jim, is “art” such a dirty word in your book that we can’t even use it in the same breath as “photography”? To me, the two are often interchangeable, probably because I was an artist for three decades before getting serious about photography. I bring the same eye to my work with a camera that I brought to my work with brushes, paint, pens, ink, pencils, handmade paper, wood and clay. Sure my subjects might be different but the same rules of composition, value, color and dynamic tension apply. Sometimes I am all about documenting exactly what I see; other times I am more concerned with expressing how something feels to me. Occasionally I use my photography to make a point or raise awareness in the viewer. Sometimes I simply play.

    Does this invalidate my work as a photographer in your eyes? Do I have to be a photojournalist and ONLY a photojournalist? Is there no other way to use a camera in your opinion?

    Regarding Richard’s essay, what are we supposed to do with all those unpleasant realities like suicides? Because there’s no money to raise for a cure, do we just ignore this subject? If we do that, aren’t we running the risk of putting our heads in the sand? I’m reminded of the quote that is posted on the home page of Jim Nachtwey’s website: “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”


  29. JIM:

    voyeurism comes from the disconnect between the viewer and the subject, from the mechanics of watching something and feeling neither affinity nor connective tissue with the lives that are unfolding before you. voyeurism stems from a separation, a disconnection between viewing and feeling, a predatory sensorial reaction.

    That you feel neither connection to or propinquity with either the work or the lives offered suggests that this story has indeed become for you one of purely a voyeuristic experience. This does not define it as such for others or in it’s essence. Your disconnect with others who’ve experienced the story wholly differently is an indication your inability to connect with story (for the reasons you’ve described) or with other’s emotional experience. Your voyeuristic reaction does not vitiate the power or the importance of this story, except with regard to your own experience. Voyeurism and exploitation takes its form from an inability to connect, to feel, to experience another’s life and circumstance as that fit as their own.

    I find your castigation of both the work (but on the grounds of purely technical achievement) and others reactions as not only cynical but turgid and obdurate. That we are bound by stories rather than severed by them seems to be a position that makes little headway with your reaction to work. A remarkable mindset indeed. You questioned the value, beyond the author, of the piece. I tried to write about that in the last paragraph of my comment: but that value failed with regard to your experience. this, however, does not eradicate the value of the story for me, and others: that before us pass lives we have no inkling about, rarely investigate, seldom care, but continue on our ways through all our self-conceited blindness. We fail to connect to the world beyond our own, just as the that city’s citizens little know, most likely, of the lives that are contained in that hotel that the greater area surrounding has past beyond.

    All is always, Jim, the same story. That you are unreached by this piece is not a condemnation of the work or the story or it’s necessity. That you continually question the worth of other’s reaction seems to me a grotesquely cynical arrogance that continues to confound me. At a remove, it becomes funny. At a remove, it becomes jaded. At a remove, it becomes dreary. At a removes, it becomes isolating.


    “The angle is genius, but the cut is shallow.”…

    quite a clever quip, but I havent the faintest idea at all what the hell it means?

    the character of critique is to be able to digest work, not for what it might have been, but for what it is, ….I’m not flummoxed that you felt unmoved or felt it failed (again, personal reactions) but that the suggestion that the failure lay with the choices of stories told….and yet, none of us were there, lived this experience….that kind of questioning seems odd….

    all the best

  30. I was surprised when it went to the suicide. I loved the shot of the body in the pool with the blood. Sounds strange to say that about a photo of a suicide in a pool but it really struck me. The sequence from the broken window (which I was perplexed with when it first came on with the man weeping), the one legged man and the videos in the dining room. All great except for the man in the plaid shirt seemed too splashed out with flash and even that series was interesting.

    The shot of the table in the sequence of the man with one leg. It felt like a one legged table because it only had one chair.

    This essay I thoroughly enjoyed and 15 minutes went very quickly. Richard, even though the subject matter is of people at the end of their life in a hotel at the end of its life…extraordinary. I loved this essay. Thanks for sharing.


  31. This doesn’t remind me of life or death or the things we should value about our dear existence. At no point do I look at this photo essay or video as something to take from and learn from. At no point do I feel upset or sympathetic towards any of these people. It’s a beautiful piece and a beautifully told story in Richard’s own way.
    For Jim who feels like there is hardly any sense in showing images of true life experiences, that they offer no hope…for life….well this is just strange and frustrating to read. A story is being told, connections are being made, and curiously, brilliant photographs are composed for us to take in for a sense of lived experiences as they are wonderful deathly or lively as they may be.
    I read something like what you wrote and I can’t help but feel like you’ve completely missed the point. If you can’t see something like what Richard put together and just get it simply for what it is then you’ve most likely gone too far or maybe just not gotten too far from yourself.
    Photography can’t offer the kind of depth that a truly lived experience does to the individual who was actually there with or without the camera. For the rest of us involved in viewing, I do not believe that we get to scrutinize an image in relationship to “a life” or “life” because we have nothing to do with that image. We come after the fact and I guess it seems we’re lucky if we feel it or understand it.

    I just saw this and i liked it very much

  32. Richard, I went to sleep last night with very strong emotions after viewing The Crest Hotel. This morning I viewed your work a second time and read all the comments – I am no less excited than I was last night. A mixture of awe, sadness, disgust, appreciation and respect of your accomplishment.

    A question – how long did you spend shooting at the Crest?

    Thank you for an extraordinary experience!

  33. Richard I applaud you, this is a great story

    A story told through the situation of decaying individuals in a decaying Hotel, So what, you might think, life is tough get on with it, (“But what does the author of this piece want to say to me about all this crap? I just don’t see the point”). Once you step away from your regional papers, regional concerns and regional demographic, this is the story of South Africa , it is a National and International problem (look at Zimbabwe). You might want to check out at to get an idea of what is happening. Sure Jim, I respect you for your forthright opinion, you certainly bring up valid points. If I understand it right you are an editor on a newspaper surely you should have grasped that concept, really the world is bigger than Texas.

    Not only is this story striking by being able to tell the story of a nation, it is also the access that Richard has achieved, Hillbrow is an extremely violent neighbourhood of an extremely violent city. I have lived in and shot a documentary in Soweto, which was tough, but Hillbrow we didn’t even get the cameras out.

    Richard can you drop me a line, I think we have some stuff in common.


  34. with 20/20 hindsight i really don’t expect anyone other than Richard or a native South African, or possibly a member of the project team moving a service team out of j-berg and into cape town, to understand why i made the comment i did.

    There is a dark secret that is only being whispered around the anglo world and i don’t think anything is sinister about that secret other than it’s being whispered and not said out loud. i hoped this essay would say it out loud and not just braze it with a micro decay story, or contra-gentrification story.

    recently the bottom fell out of the stock market, it was sudden, deep and severe. It is nothing in comparison to the degree that the value on human life fell out of j-berg, it seemed just as sudden, even deeper, and more severe, and I’m not talking starving here. there is an implosion of infrastructure there that is just mesmerising. The states has nothing on j-berg when it come to gun culture, if you live outside of a gated community a gun seems as necessary as water, for all races.

    so sorry if my comment seemed so odd. i was obviously looking for something that i wanted it to be and that was of course selfish. i would still like to hear some discourse from Richard as to whether he squelched the macro message that he both knew of before he got to j-berg or saw when he was down there. And i will go back with a bit more patience to see if I have missed something. If i have i will of course apologise, my response was very knee-jerk, but i stand by it based on my first run through.

  35. This is utterly fantastic. Having also arrived in SA in the 80’s from the UK and also staying in Hillbrow, this brought back so many memories.

  36. Yes Bob.
    There’s nothing more terrifying than hearing a scream of anguish.
    This story reminds me more of what a friend recently asked, ‘what the difference between a metaphorical Heaven and Hell may be’ rather than, life’s tough so get on with it.
    Her observation was that in her metaphorical Heaven people shared, rather than selfishly not in her Hell.

  37. Hi Joe,
    Richard please forgive me if I am wrong, but I believe Richard started this project a wee while ago so This project might not have coincided with current events

    Forgive me if I am talking out of turn.

  38. Thanks Ian,

    i’m really open minded about exploring this, when ever i sit alone so polarised in an opinion i want to figure out quickly if i’m the lighthouse or the aircraft-carrier demanding to be given way to a pending collision.

    Ok, with a longer considered view and one with out feeling like I was waiting for Jack Nicholson to scream out, he did in fact order the code red. My simple hang-up with the essay is this:

    It seems far too micro. It‘s as if this story is specific to this decaying area, or even specific to a soon to be derelict hotel.

    exploring the micro with out admitting there’s a macro elephant in the room disturbs me, but that’s just me, and i can easily get that no one else might think that. i also think this is why Jim Powers might not get hooked into this, he’s like ‘this stuff happens everywhere’ and he’s right as viewed here. You can find a replica hotel like this in Palm Springs even with the same empty pool and the same people there from when times were better (even a dog women!), getting mugged, turning tricks, selling crack, and yep, committing suicide, I know this for a fact, my grandmother used to run it, but this is not that.

    Decay and derelict areas happen inside healthy cities and the localised spirit is valid for these ‘neighbourhood’ stories. J-berg is much bigger than a neighbour hood and ‘going derelict’ an overly graceful way to describe its demise.

    i suppose some might think it was an amazing coincidence that someone jumped out a window at exactly the same time a photographer was there documenting the hotel’s demise. Flip that on the other side. What if the essay ended in a way that you know that it happened already ten times within ten city block during the time the documentary was collected. Richard, did you not record a single gun going off?

    at about 13:42 in the essay the key witness starts to deliver, but it is lost in all the things in this essay that just seem to water down anything other a ‘groovy’ media story. i don’t really know what the message was Richard, is it a story of decay?, a story of general change?, is it a history lesson?, is it a build up to a single tragedy? Is it all of these things? Well then is it concise and cohesive enough to pull this ambitious effort off? Even with a different, more clinical, less personal hat on, there are parts of this effort (N,S,E.W views) that just make me think, is this really necessary?, or the long time spent panning into the bar, what does that accomplish?

    i weigh and measure everything in life i set out to enjoy the same way, whether it was a bong hit, or a concert, or an essay on Burn. ‘Did I feel entertained enough to warrent my time or money’ So yes, i whole-heartily felt i was entertained and i’m more glad than not for experiencing it, so Success. this shouldn’t mean that much, but i’d like to balance what looks like a lop-sided initial comment. I hope i’ve explained my unfair baggage that i brought with me to this essay.

    But please, Richard, come out and give some more context, I’m really wanted the second DVD with the editors notes on it!

  39. Bob, you’re correct, guilty as charged, but for the first time i’m pure audience on this one, not essay critic.

  40. Jim Powers, this story is news worthy.

    i suppose there is erosion and there might be such a thing as global warming. j-berg is not the product of erosion; the polar caps of social infrastructure are melting in S.A., first in j-Berg and the water is already rising in capetown, more stories like this might not curb it, but might make it less of a surprise when the international-level time-bomb goes off. i have a very small dose to form my opinion, but City of God always comes to mind only on a capital-city-level, when i think of j-berg.

  41. Young Tom, Thank you for your tempered response, if two people agree with each other all the time, then one of them is likely not necessary, if they can disagree as gracefully as you did, then they might even be brothers. Thank you again for your feelings and the way you delivered them.

    It’s worth saying again, i think i have brought way too much baggage with me on this essay. i’m sorry to Richard for this. It’s just that right now we look back on things from our parents time and wonder how could it have ended any other way? (say arming Afghanistan to battle Russia, then pulling the plug entirely) It’s like a slow moving train headed for the city centre, sure it was slow, but with nothing to stop it, what did they think was going to happen?

    This essay in the first tug at the air-whistle; I wanted it to be the roar of the engine. Our kids will know about South Africa someday in a way far different then we know about it today and they will say, how could you not see this implosion coming.

  42. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing this with us, I know you must have felt a sense of loss seeing the hotel as it is now, perhaps it is the way of things.
    The hotel is perhaps a mirror for how life has changed in South Africa over the 32 years since you returned.

    Good luck with the rest of your journey.

  43. Hi Joe,
    I am in agreement with you, the situation in Joberg is drastic, has been for sometime, it should be shouted about, there is a whispering but not vocal admission of the situation. It also reflects the African continent, there are alot of countries with huge potential, some are succeeding others are coming to a grinding halt or rapidly declining. This is a news worthy story.

    You can look at this essay and just see the decay, which happens all over the world in everyone’s backyard, maybe this is what Richard wants to say, maybe not. If he is telling the bigger picture then it is subtle. I too brought my recollections of S.A. to bear on this project and instantly applied it to the greater picture of the whole country, if there is no concept of Africa maybe that is all you see, just decay, and therefore so what.

    I was brought up in Tanzania and other parts of Africa, my first experience of S.A. was some 15 or so years later. On arrival at Joberg airport I was dumbstruck by the complexity of infrastructure, signs,highways,lighting, this wasn’t the Africa I knew, increadible, fantastic there is hope. It didn’t take long on our journey to Soweto to realise this was an essential but rapidly crumbling and fragile facade, built on years of oppression, stolen education, deceit, exploitation, violence, yet there was still hope, generosity and humanity (the same humanity you find throughout these stories on burn) in everyone we met, including gangsters/drug dealers/shabeen owners/taxi drivers/sangomas/nurses/gang leaders/local radio presenters/shoe makers and the odd polititian(if you dug deep enough through the self serving retoric). There is violence, shootings for the sake of a few rand credit on a phone, collosal aids issue, gang/turf warefare, tribal prejudice, colonial legacy.

    This is a country with immense potential to help it’s people and be a shining light to the rest of Africa, but it is also a country that could so easily be a slow motion car crash and a repeat of Zimbabwe.

    The waters are bubbling and the touch paper is lit, S.A. has been simmering for a longtime and with the increasing fragility of the voice of reason, Nelson Mandela S.A. is on the cusp.

    I agree with you Joe, it needs to be screamed about, but this is not to detract from the accomplishment of Richard’s essay, it is our point of view.

  44. Patricia,

    Thanks for the research.

    Judging by the indepth content of the essay, it seems Richard spent quite a period of time working on the story.
    Also I have seen other interpretations of this essay, posted by Richard some time ago.

    I was trying say it might not be a right up to the minute news breaking story, therefore might not include reference to “recently the bottom fell out of the stock market”

    Of course the subject matter and the story is current and always will be.

  45. As has been said here many times before, we each bring our own uniquely-constructed life experiences with their attitudes, opinions, hurts, joys and prejudices to every photo and essay we view. Our critiques may appear objective to us but can strike others as loaded with personal baggage. Joe’s response to Richard’s essay is a case in point. And I appreciate his recognizing and acknowleging this.

    For countless reasons going back in history to the present, South Africa carries a unique position in the national psyche of persons born in or currently living in the UK. Ian gives us an excellent analysis in his recent comment. As an American, I have my own attitudes about South Africa, most of them having to do with what I read and heard about (but never saw personally) of the horrors of apartheid, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and the struggles of the majority of SA’s people to find their rightful place in a country that had not been truly theirs for generations. I carry my own baggage just as Joe and Ian and Richard carry theirs.

    Joe criticizes Richard for focusing on the “micro” while ignoring the “macro” in his essay. I wish Joe would better define for us what he means by macro. Richard’s is a story of individuals rather than a depiction of a culture/society “imploding” on itself, to use Joe’s term. As DAH so often says, if Joe wants/needs to see the macro picture, he would do well to go to SA and tackle it himself. I know he could do it as I’ve seen what Joe can do with a camera: he is magnificent.

    I’m finding this discussion to be an excellent one. We are staying focused on the work without crossing the line into the personal. I hope my comment is respectful to Joe, whom I admire greatly.


  46. Okay it looks like i am todays bad guy. I think the whole thing plodded. I think a powerful story that could have been told in one way has been diluted down. what i mean by that is why use several shots to make a point when one does it perfectly well?
    I like the ‘idea’ of multimedia presentations, and while this one did convey some melancholy it did not do enough (IMO). It seemed to be used as a crutch as much as anything else.
    Its probably just me, but I got ‘bored’, and I KNOW the subject is compelling, but not enough here compelled me.
    I watched it with another photographer, and his only comment was “not enough of the pictures can stand up on thir own”…and I have to agree, which takes me back to the point about the MM aspect of it being a crutch.
    There are some very powerful, and some very subtle pictures in here, but as a whole it didnt hold me at all. Sorry.


  47. It is so long that it gives a certain impression of work in progress. I’m not sure if the best option is to edit it down to make it stronger or to keep shooting to make a feature of the same length but which carries several episodes. It’s quite cinematic, but much more time is spent in the introduction of characters than on the development of narrative or actions. I think that carrying on with the project would be probably the best option. It does definitively try to get the most out of the multimedia capabilities of the net, but I wonder if in that case it starts to step into the world of tv documentaries, which I find more engaging to watch (if they are well done), being more of a con than a pro.

  48. Richard Mark Dobson

    Hi there Burn community…

    I’ve never been the blogger/chat room type, so bear with me…. I don’t ever think I have much to say!!!!! But certainly all your appraisals and critiques are taken heed of and I find cultivating.

    But I will say this is the first time I’ve done a multi-media thing, and yes there are many glaring mistakes and obvious holes in it. I basically put it all together myself for better or for worse….

    Briefly though the Crest came out of another assignment I was doing on Johannesburg. Working on a multi-media documentary for GEO France (you can find a link to it on my Jimdo site). We went to interview Mrs Goldman, and during the visit, I saw the dining room with its tawdry 70’s decor and 8 full time residents having dinner. I saw the potential then telling SOME Joburg stories through these few regulars. Leftovers from another era basically….

    The pool artwork also became the conduit, the pic of shiny white people sunning themselves, again harking back to another time. The fact that a young black man should end his life dead centre in that pool was to say the least, bizarre and ironic. The timing and locale was both uncannily and depressingly relevant to what I was doing. Unwittingly this young man’s tragic death became a kind of ‘last act’ in the stage play I was concocting, and through it I had a means to use his death as a metaphor for the high levels of crime, and violence that are still unfortunately prevalent in South Africa.

    I’ve been in and out of Jozi for many years, through the 70’s, 80’s 90’s. and had quite a few near death experiences. Its always been a pretty violent & wayward place. Certainly at night!

    I think crime levels peaked in the late 90’s, and is now currently on a gradual path towards some semblance of normality. Whatever that means. I try to be positive when necessary, although I’ve always had a fairly cynical view on humanity…..but I will never go to Joburg without raising my guard 20 notches…

    I spent 2 weeks at the Crest. Not long at all considering that many others would want to involve themselves with their subjects for months or years. Does that show, does that matter? Would ‘the reveal’ be more if I had spent more time? This is always the photographers dilemma….as for the editors cut. Maybe for ‘The Crest Hotel’ part 2? But not at this hotel. Somewhere else in Joburg….

    While I might agree with my critics that there is possibly a ‘what’s the point?’ or ‘shallow cut’ or ‘what’s the reveal? element to it all. My only refrain is that at the time, I felt the narrative had developed such within 16 days….that it was complete. There and then….and that it fulfilled my notions for a short film/play within the themes of pathos, melancholy etc….and a short essay on contemporary Johannesburg,. I shot it in January 2008.

    As we all know personal work is about searching…..

  49. Thank you so much Richard :))….

    all we have is our searching….and our awareness :))

    all the best

  50. JOE
    I have not finished reading all comments – no time unfortunately – but I came up to your first one. And I have to agree with you. I have been to J-berg in 81 with my family by the way, and we’ve travelled and seen quite a bit. And when I watch the present situation …

    It is, as you said, a much bigger and a oh so much more dramatic story. But as Richard pointed out, this one is the starting point “The Crest is where I chose to begin this investigation” … And … truly … if he goes all the way with the next story, it might be very welcoming to have this symbolical introduction. If he goes all the way … it might even be a necessary thing. A link. I am curious and I will follow up to check.

  51. thanks Richard, i liked from your comment most the pure mechanics of your thinking, you saw a visual contradiction (the pool art work and the current guests), you found some way to collect visual evidence of this transition and gained something more intimate than a person spending a lot more time might have received, and best, you felt the narrative both form and finish. sweet.

    it sounds like such a repeatable process when you put it that way. the story also sounds so very crisp so succinctly put.

    i was surprise to find out that times were worse in the 90’s, which is why i won’t be taking Patricia’s gracious advice to go collect the infrastructure implosion essay i’d love to collect; there’s something that tells me i could get into a situation there that i couldn’t easily talk myself out of without more native experience. i think i’ll try my hand back in Palm Springs first if i’m only looking for a visual contradiction! ;-)

    Best wishes Richard,


  52. Thanks so much, Richard, for sharing a bit of your process. It helps us, as photographers, to get a sense of the genesis and development of a project such as yours. Your description is very clear and I suspect it answers lots of the questions posed here. I look forward to following your photographic journey…


  53. ALL….

    i do not know Richard…i had never heard of Richard….i have never met Richard…but, when i first saw Crest Hotel entered into “submissions” here, i knew i was seeing something quite unique ..

    Richard has “written” a docu/novella here that combines a vision of a social reality with subjective well thought out narrative..

    i did not feel i needed “to know more” about life in South Africa from this story any more than i feel i need to know about all the other fishermen who were fishing that day from “Old Man and the Sea” or about other characters besides Robert and Pilar from the Spanish Civil War in “For Whom the Bells Toll”…Hemingway told big stories by telling little stories…as has Richard here….

    the most compelling stories/novels/films of all time are but microcosms of a larger whole…tell the “whole” and you have an encyclopedia/anthology …..look into the eyes of one person and you can see all of humanity…

    Richard and i worked a bit on one sequence, removed one person’s story, but basically i left this alone…we went back and forth on a couple of things, but i did not want to mess with it too much by e-mail…were both Richard and i working on a sound stage together, i think we could have tweaked it out even more…i was disappointed with the sound capture but this can be “fixed”…unfortunately very expensive to do….

    all in all, i think Richard is breaking new ground….with the plethora of multi-media shows out there that mostly use multi-media just because they CAN, Richard takes us to a new level of narrative exploration with the tech available to him, but never ignoring fine image making…

    if this is Richard’s first attempt at a multi-media essay, you might just want to keep an eye out for whatever essays and/or films he will do in the future…..

    Crest Hotel does have its weaknesses as some of you have pointed out…

    but, any way you want to slice it my friends, “the bar has been raised” for all of us here on Burn….

    cheers, david

  54. …thought next time you come across a building , wherever it may be… as run down as Crest Hotel you may think back of this photo essay , look twice and it doesn’t matter where you are based.

  55. Richard Mark Dobson

    Thanks David…I could’nt have put it better!

    Hey and we have met, at the Paris Magnum party back in ‘2002 or 2004 , and I think Henri Cartier Bresson’s last. I ‘snook’ in under the invitation of then GEO photo editor, Sylvie Rebbot, and I was all agog surrounded by you living legends. So much so that I dropped a glass of that very expensive champers at your feet!!!!!

  56. Hey Richard, every time someone talks here about an invite to a Magnum party I always think of the film Wayne’s World; where Wayne and Garth meet Alice Cooper and get asked if they want to hang out with the band. They look at each other – like “What do you think? Could be o.k.” – and then blow it completely by prostrating themselves, saying “We are not worthy! We are not worthy!”.

    By comparison, dropping a glass is small champagne. Hope it wasn’t full.



  57. Hi,
    I visited 4 times, an hour long and still I feel an urge to see that again. Its truly a unique representation……There are lot of characters and every character has a entity of its own. There is a reflection of the society and overall a country through this essay. The story has told a lot and still there are lot untold matters here.
    I know it is not so easy to have the intimate photographs which evoke just a feeling.
    Great work.

    have a nice day.

    Partha Pal
    from Birbhum

  58. Hi Richard,
    I have enjoyed this essay for about and hour and four times, still I feel an urge to see again. Its all about feelings. Its not an easy task to handle so many characters at a time and you executed it superbly.
    Every characters has its own uniqueness in it and your photograph revealed the characters wonderfully. Its a new dimension in photography and BURN is becoming an addiction day by day.
    Thanks Richard for sharing such a good story.


    Partha Pal
    from Birbhum

  59. Richard Mark Dobson

    Mike R…point taken. Prostrating oneself can be a messy & unnecessary business! But sometimes it can have benefits….

    And Partha Pal….absolutely. Burn is burning…..and it’s good to be caught up in the flames….

  60. I just watched this again. It is not as shocking as the first time, but still ever so powerful.

    Someone commented on the shot of the body in the pool, and how it felt strangely beautiful. Yes, I felt the same thing the first time through, and again now. How strangely grotesque that such an ugly moment resulted in such a beautiful photograph. One does feel guilty appreciating the beauty. I wonder how it felt to be making the photograph, and the ones that followed. I cannot imagine making such photographs, and admire Richard for having the courage and presence to.

    I can’t decide wether my compulsion to watch this piece again and again is voyourism, as Jim might suggest, or something else. In what ways will this piece change me I wonder (thankyou Jim).

    BTW I left in mid-comment last night, we ended up in Emergency for a few hours and 11 year old Luke got 10 stitches on his shin. I got a great photo of the event for him.

    Anyway, DAH is certainly right, the bar has certainly been raised. Mind you I feel I’ve been looking way up at it all along.
    I’m sure we are seeing the beginning of an era where we will see more multi-media pieces. Internet magazines like Burn are clearly a wonderful venue for them, and there is no denying the power of mixing in the sound and video clips. I thought I would never use the video capability of my new Canon 5dmk11, but I may even get out the instructions. Video capability seems to be the next must have feature that will be included on any new DSLR.

    Gordon L

  61. Maybe we need a new sub-section over there on the right for multimedia such as this — it can’t really be addressed as a series of singular photographs. Maybe calling it something different would allow for these pieces to be judged as a whole, instead of the “some pictures aren’t strong enough on their own” critique.

    I wanted to like this piece, the beginning hooked me in well, and the photography was strong. I think the audio being better would help a lot… I couldn’t understand a lot of what was being said. Had to rewind a few times. I’m not opposed to longer work, and I like the structure of the narrative a lot, but I think there is a time in the middle there where it lags, the photo quality falls off a bit, and could use a little tightening up.

    I’m left with thinking that this needs some tweaking, but I’m surprised and impressed with what Richard’s done — it’s given me lots of ideas, and maybe even a different way of approaching certain projects. Thanks.

  62. my only experience of this city has been through documentaries and some photographers work..
    here is part one of a recent program by louis theroux..

    i don´t see this as a piece about s. africa alone.. i think it is a piece about human beings struggling with a set of circumstances.. to the point of suicide.. to me it is much more powerful if i accept that although these people are so far away there are also people much closer who are suffering to a degree they feel just as acutely as those here.

    the fact that this part of the world is tolerating infinitely more injustice, (as it has for 100´s years), than the rest of us is what whacks me between the eyes about it. knowing that the situations here are more frequent and widespread makes it shocking to me.. and as the video unfolds and people tell their stories i feel seduced by the presentation within the context of the changes over time which this hotel has undergone..
    and then BANG out of the blue.. just as in real life.. the suicide hammers the point home.. the juxtaposing of the 70´s hotel literature and the suicide play as subtlety as a giraffe in a field of horses and that is real life.. it is real storytelling to reflect that.. and the shock of it is just as it is in real life.

    there are infinite possible reactions to this work which could benefit over time.. not least that we can see how sudden a suicide is and perhaps take more time to understand our relative sufferings.

    i think it´s great to see a longer piece on burn

  63. I like it, although call me a traditionalist, I don’t really like multimedia pieces as much as the traditional stills. I would love t see this in a different format, actually, although I know this is how you meant to put it together. I do think there is enough strong stills in this one to accomplish that. My feelings about multimedia, and this also includes the uber-professional and uber-sleek Magnum in Motion presentations, is that the presentation overpowers the work itself. I would even be temped to say that audio does the same. I’m actually very happy to turn down the volume and just watch the photos, but with these multimedia pieces I feel I can’t do that, which in turn doesn’t allow me to concentrate fully on taking my own message out of the piece. I realize that there is a usefulness to incorporating stills, video and audio together and that it may be the “future” but is there anything better than contemplative, slow viewing of a book or a picture hanging at an exhibition?

  64. Rafal…

    i am certainly with you 100% on the tactile nature of the traditional viewing of photography…and yes yes, most multi-media pieces leave me cold..mixing stills with video is in fact a very simple “effect”…one of many “effects” available to film makers all along but now for EVERYBODY, easy to do, and THE FUTURE….maybe….anyway, technique for technique’s sake is going to bore the hell out of us time and time again as everyone wants to try to mix video with stills, which usually serves no purpose and is just annoying most of the time…

    most of the time..but, not this time for me…i was keenly aware of the strong single images and yet still mesmerized by what i could not help but think was a mini-movie…way beyond most multi-media pieces…

    there is no way my friend this “story” could have been told by traditional methods…a book??? i doubt it…who “reads” a photo book from front to back???

    no, this HAD to be what it was IMO….

    normally i either want to watch a film OR look at stills…i hate to be yanked from one to the other right in the middle of one experience or the other..

    but, what Richard has done IMO is to let us know, as in all things, there ARE ways to make the “effect” part and parcel of the narrative…i got so caught up in it that i did not even “notice” when he went to the video part…for me it was all part of the buildup just knowing knowing something was going to “happen”….

    surely , Richard could make a book of stills out of this as well…he had some killer singles in there…but, alas a different experience….better?? maybe, maybe not…let’s wait and see what he does with it…

    cheers, david

  65. JARED…

    i welcome suggestions, but i do not quite understand yours…you may critique an essay right side up or upside down..critique the narrative, or hate #`14, or recommend different music…whatever….how does making a “new category” help?? there are already so many variations on the narrative theme we have done here, but they are all loosely “essays”…how you critique is up to you no matter how it is categorized…if i did not understand your suggestion, please re-state…

    cheers, david

  66. DAH

    Simply bad tongue-in-cheek comment on critiquing the piece as “not enough strong images” — overlooking the narrative, etc. Simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Burn is just fine as is. :)

  67. To further explain (probably not necessary), this seems like a piece that was conceived, shot/filmed and recorded to make a cohesive whole. It seemed obvious to me, and deserves to be critiqued on more than the basis of the strength of each individual shot. (I wish I had the ability to string words together better.)

    When we look at more traditional photo stories, it seems right to look at each picture and judge their strength. This kind of piece, begs to be critiqued as a whole, like a movie, documentary, etc…

    Not making much sense now, but maybe that’s clear enough?

  68. I think that this could be a “traditional” presentation. I don’t think that it could only be this. It could only be THIS as a multimedia piece but I think that the story could also have been a traditional presentation of stills. It would be different. I think though it might be better like that. It would certainly be less intrusive. I think a multimedia way of presenting throws its POV onto the viewer too much. It doesn’t really allow for contemplation, although this is also the big drawback of the web compared to the book or exhibition wall. While I like the tactile part of the book, what I like more is the ability to control how I receive the message. A book can be viewed at my choice of speed. My choice of sequence. I can choose to go backwards or forwards. I can choose where I look at it, too. None of this can really be done on the web and that’s why I’m more sensitive to how a piece lets me retain some control over what I’m seeing. With multimedia, I just feel like its a closed story with one message and point of view. Music does a similar thing to me. The choice of audio has a deep and powerful impact on how I receive a photo. That’s why I also prefer to turn off the sound.

  69. This kind of mixed mulimedias makes me schizophrenian.
    From one side we all should agree everything is changing, move on, evolving, mutate. Normal, isn’t it?
    Like still photography to multimedias presentations….
    it is normal… if we are not behind there should be nothing scary…
    and many times it’s looks better than just stills…
    and it is nothing wrong to be Scorsese or framing movie.
    yes… but where we have the end of photography and where begining of movie??
    do internet have to be exterminator of classic photography?
    should we dig the grave?
    buy d5II and d90 only?
    write a script?
    meet Brad Pitt? (I prefer Joli)
    and buy movie software?

    maybe yes, maybe not…

    for me this kind of multimedia piece is VERY interesting…
    but it is also like echo…
    echo of photography and movie in one…
    I love echo… who don’t?
    echo is cool…
    but it will not replace of normal conversation.
    or should not at last…
    conversation with echo is noisy…
    know who have children…
    but sometimes echo is cool.

    echo!… echo… cho…ho…ho…

  70. RAFAL…

    well, yes i see what you mean…a book is more interactive than a movie….with a book you can make choices over which picture you want to look at longer, come back to, etc etc…the nature of film and of music is of course not interactive…you MUST see it the way the director or musician wants you to see it or hear other choice…but, it is not the web vs. anything…the movie theater and the concert hall are not the web….this is the nature of the art form itself…besides, the web is just a gathering point, or a point of information…i may have told you that when Little Pieces of Us was up on a super movie screen in Madrid, it did not feel like the web….but, as you will point out, it was not a book either..well ok, but it was still something special…

    hey Rafal, as you know, i am a book lover above all other things….all this other “excess baggage” is just to get us to print…

    cheers, david

  71. David Bowen, Gorgon Lafleur and others have answered Jim’s usual “What’s the point” post in a very articulate manner.

    The reason this essay works so well is that it shows the Human Condition. We look at others; we see ourselves. This makes us more aware of others as fellow human beings, worthy of respect, understanding and compassion.


  72. Mike R, so we watch this presentation, and we become more aware that these are fellow human beings, worthy of respect, understanding and our compassion. What damn good is that to these people?

    We aren’t able to solve the problems in our own neighborhoods, much less South Africa. We are awash in images of misery and suffering and inhumanity. All these images serve to do now is to make us aware that the problem is so widespread that we have no hope of fixing it because the capacity of one human to inflict misery on another seems without limit.

    If this is a situation bad enough that the photographer felt it necessary to air it, what is he doing directly to make things better for those people in that hotel? We must be more than observers or we are less than human.

  73. Jim as an editor and photographer is everything you do for the good of everyone? Should newspapers shy away from all misery stories? Should all newspapers be full of joy and wedding announcements and hide the misery under the carpet therefore perpetuating the big brother is watching/conspiracy theories/media manipulation myths

    Observing is crucial, after all what is reporting?

    This is a narrative, a short story of real life, it is interesting on that level it is also a reflection on the nation. Has the photographer once said that his aim is to help these people.

  74. Jim. It isnt MEANT to be of any good to THESE people. It is meant to be of some good to US. the Viewer of this. I do not believe that this piece is intended as campaign journalism ‘hey look middle america, these people have no food or water, feel guilty, care, give money”. Its a piece of social documentary. It records a small slice of the human condition. That we the viewer may look at it and see some small stories to remind us to care about the things we can affect in OUR lives. There but for the grace of god, if you like. in that it succeeds, I think. regardless of my earlier critique of the treatment, the social message stands up fine. i AM reminded that these little vignettes play out everywhere, I AM reminded that simple twists of fate are all that seperate most of us from the void, I AM reminded how change can shipwreck people, And I AM reminded to look a bit deeper before I condemn.
    I think less ‘what is the point of stories like this?’ and more ‘without stories like this, what is the point?’
    John (currently working through post IKEA stress disorder/rage) Gladdy

  75. Jim… Ian…
    reading your posts you both have some fair points.
    However, Ian, I do feel sometimes (quite often actually) photographers exploit misery to there own gain.
    Jim, how can we presume the relationship between photographer and subject is without exchange (some form of help to better their situation)? and is that a necessity for all photographers who tackle these sort of (misery) subjects?

  76. This presentation held my interest throughout- I take my hat off to Richard for putting this together in an interesting way.
    The overall vibe I took away from this was ‘loneliness’. The choice of music I think helped to solidify this emotion (for me).
    Though there were some strong stills in the piece, I think perhaps it could be ‘tightened’ a little, but in all very nicely done!

  77. Sam,
    I agree with you, there are plenty of photographers who use their skills to exploit misery and even to exploit joy. I do not think that has been done here as I feel all characters within the essay retain their dignity.

    This is a whole debate in itself and could carry on infinitum. There is a balance but who decides the fulcrum point, the viewer of photographer. It was an issue very keenly expressed by a British Nurse working in Etheopia/sudan during the 80’s when being filmed and interviewed by news teams about the famine. She just wanted them out the way and thought they were just getting gratuitous images of poor staving african children for a quick news hit. It was only on her return that she realised the immense impact her very interview had in mobilising a huge global famine relief programe.

  78. Jim, “Mike R, so we watch this presentation, and we become more aware that these are fellow human beings, worthy of respect, understanding and our compassion. What damn good is that to these people?”. To these people, none. To others that we may meet who are less fortunate than ourselves, some good I hope. Photography helps me to understand the world that I live in. Is it fucked up? Yes. Do I have hope? yes.

    Sam, “sometimes (quite often actually) photographers exploit misery to there own gain.”. I doubt than many are in the business of exploitation. In many cases photographers put themselves in great danger to get their photographs. Is bad news seen as somehow more “worthy” that good news? Possibly. Ask Jim. I have a low opinion of newspapers in general; believing that they publish stories that sell newspapers rather than inform the reader and give a balanced view of world events. Jim will probably say that newspapers have to make money and therefore reflect what the readers want.

    As you say Sam, we don’t know the relationship between photographer and subject in this case but no one seems to be exploited from what I have seen.

    Jim, you contradict yourself. You say in one sentence that “All these images serve to do now is to make us aware that the problem is so widespread that we have no hope of fixing ..” and then in the next sentence you say “We must be more than observers or we are less than human.”. So which is it Jim?

    Essays such as this give rise to empathy for our fellow human beings and that can’t be a bad thing.

    As for “If this is a situation bad enough that the photographer felt it necessary to air it, what is he doing directly to make things better for those people in that hotel?” Come on Jim, give the photographer a break!
    He’s already said that it is “a personal attempt to join dots, and answer pertinent questions…”. He’s not trying to save the planet. It’s personal work and just the beginning.



  79. JIM

    certainly you bring up a point for all of us who work in the mass media, including you and your newspaper….everyone who does documentary work has in the back of their mind that whatever they are “reporting” might,just might, have some positive effect…the assumption is that information in and of itself of such high value that once readers are aware, they might “do something”….the general feeling i think is that the burden of “doing something” is on the readers…

    let’s take problem “A”….pretend for a minute that folks “out there” are unaware of problem “A”..most reporters see their job as making the masses aware of problem “A”…those readers with a particular connection to “A” may or may not do something about it depending on their circumstance, but at least the reporters thinks he/she has done their job…the reporter continuing to do a good job, then moves on to problem “B”…..if this mythical “reporter” provides information and/or insight for both problems A and B, isn’t he/she doing a good job??

    most of us take action not based on one “reportage” but on a collection or string of information…and we both know that taking action is one very slow process…however, we have both seen Jim the power of the press over time…

    now Richard with Crest Hotel is playing a new game…not working for the mass media and adding an element of film making narrative to what would appear in your newspaper headline on page 13 “Unknown Man Dies Jumping from Window”….turn to the sports page…..will the “new game” make us all run out and “do something” to alleviate the social situations in South Africa?? no, of course not…most people will have a PTA meeting to go to that night and the mind will drift away from far away South Africa…

    but, information gets stored in our personal hard drives…our consciousness….but what really really gets stored is when someone tugs at us in a way we are not normally tugged…not “information”, but emotional response…

    i think Richard has done that…he got us….what comes “out of it” we do not know yet…but Richard has done all he can do for the moment and will just have to wait and see how it all plays out…as you well know, some photographers spend their entire careers on one “cause”…others do not…both are doing the right thing….

    Jim, thanks for bringing this up…it is always an important topic….

    cheers, david

  80. I am always in favour of seeing ‘another Africa’ and Richard’s work is certainly that. I love his ideas of staying in the ‘boat’ (that is, hanging out at the Crest Hotel) and returning after a such a long time.

    Richard is showing me something different about a part of the world I care about and I’m inspired and informed.

    I read some opinions about his purpose and execution. For me, his ideas got through ‘clear enough’. As for presentation, this whole multimedia thing is newish and I’m not so sure if its the best way in general to present our work. I certainly appreciate Richard’s giving it the old college try and there is a lot of material — many, many good photographs — which could contribute to other (maybe more traditional) essays.

    Even though we work hard on making the final edit for a ‘Burn’ essay, I still see them as ‘works in progress’ and evaluate on that basis. ‘Does it communicate clearly, do I get the idea, are there some really good pictures?’ comes well any sound and video quality, the narrator’s voice, choice of music considerations.

    Richard piece communicates very well for me and for that, I say, good work. Bar raised, score one for him….


  81. i don’t think it’s by accident that the French are so enlightened about life and death. i don’t think it’s a surprise that the French find the American fascination with prozac so absurd, i don’t think any other culture could so easily corner the market on the concept of ‘c’est la vie’ and most importantly, i don’t think it’s a coincidence that the French make the best movies about legitimate real-life suffering; movies that don’t have happy endings, they have real-life endings.

    life happens; we experience it in different doses and different disguises; paramount to a healthy life is legitimate suffering. There’s something about suffering that leads to sanctification.

    some times when we’re delivered a dose of suffering we are ready for the dose, and sometimes we are not, the degree that we have suffered in the past in comparison to the next dose often decides the amount of time it will take to come back to a mentally healthy existence.

    stories, when they engage us, can infect us with suffering in small doses much the same way real life can do it in large doses. Stories can make you feel what it is like to be a person in a story and can tickle feelings and inject emotion as if it was really happening to you, and that impact often lingers long after the book is closed, or the credits finish.

    so i suppose, in the absence of real-life suffering, the next best thing is exposing yourself to stories of suffering, surrendering to a plot that will take you somewhere and maybe even leave you there to work your way through your emotions and make you understand more deeply what ‘c’est la vie’ is all about.

    suffering stories also seem to explain my own personal theory about why the French are so damn enlightened about life and death; rather than turn the channel when bad news comes on, rather than take prozac when they get depressed, the French are drip feeding themselves suffering through the very nature of the stories they seek to create. (then maybe going and starting a revolution or something else overly-dramatic!)

    This is a good enough reason for me for this story to be promoted.

  82. I don’t mind the multimedia switch between videos and stills, but if this also about the video and the stills , meaning the stills are shot by a photographer who is into the art of photography, composition and the such as well as the video being shot with that in mind, I don’t like the zooming in of the stills. I have never liked that when it is done to a photographer’s work, just my thing. Oh and I absolutely hate it when it is done to my photos. Just a thought. I don’t mind when it is done to photos that are not about the photos themselves but the photos are more pragmatic to the subject matter being talked about in a documentary kind of situation. Or if the art is the editing itself including the movement of the frame in the video. But I didn’t feel that this fit into either of those categories. Overall I also liked the subject matter and essay.

  83. Mike says: Jim, you contradict yourself. You say in one sentence that “All these images serve to do now is to make us aware that the problem is so widespread that we have no hope of fixing ..” and then in the next sentence you say “We must be more than observers or we are less than human.”. So which is it Jim?”

    It is no contradiction. We can’t “fix” things with our cameras. Take your camera to Darfur. Take a million photos. Publish them in every rag in the country. The genocide will continue. If you want to do something about Darfur, put your camera down and find out what might really help. But stop taking photos of misery and genocide. It won’t make any difference. If you won’t make any difference, it’s exploitation for money or ego…or both.

  84. Dear Jim, why do I sometimes get the impression you just like to rile things up here on Burn? Maybe because you keep saying the same provocative things time after time after time. In all these months I’ve yet to see you change one opinion, at least publically. Hey, I’m at least ten years older than you but I feel like I’m decades younger in terms of my outlook on life. Oh my friend, how I wish you could open up to all the incredible options that life holds. The older I get the more I realize that I don’t know. And that’s the joy of it all…


  85. Jim, Richard is not attempting to fix the problems in Darfur or anywhere else: that’s the point. You are laying a guilt trip on him that he doesn’t deserve. You don’t know the relationships that he built up during his stay at the Crest. From what I have seen, no one seemed to mind being filmed or photographed.

    As for Darfur; how do you know about it? Because someone took a camera there, that’s how! And because they did millions of people put their cameras, laptops, knives, forks etc. down and put their collective hands in their pockets and sent money to help. Did it solve the problem? No – but it sure did help the people trapped in such a dreadful place; perhaps even some of those seen in the photographs.

    Best wishes,


  86. just a quick thought on the thread about the Crest, (that the essay according to some focused on the depravity, and hopelessness in a capitalist way) really i thought the piece was in a way sort of humorous, a black comedy, sad but with whimsical elements that kind of lifted the energy, until i got to the suicide of course, which kind of knocked the wind out of me. but my perception of the essay was that its primary intent was a descriptive one. with wonderful cityscapes, intriguing portraits and a sense of reality thats not easy to capture. i learned something about a place that i would’ve never known. a strange and bizarre reality. also, i thought the piece was obviously personal, Richards expression, a portrait of himself in a round about way. i did not get a sense of exploitation in anyway whats so ever but more a sense of a certain dignity thats slowly crumbling away.
    i viewed the essay once and thats enough for me. certain images are sustained in my mind.

    to critisize this essay because it may not offer any positive change or benefit those wthin the piece seems like such a pointless critique. how does that critique itself benfit anything. who can say what the outcome of a thing maybe anyway.

    some people see things in one certain way only, and if what they see does not fit the mold then its written off for this reason or that. seems like a very limited, basic, or uninspired state of mind.

    hope this makes some sense…

  87. what a beautiful, heartbreaking story, told with such minimum.
    i felt, it could have been developed in any place of the world and about many people. the thread connecting all human beings: being lonely, getting old, abandoned, and death.
    thank you so much for sharing. would love to see more of your work

  88. Very powerful and minimal, yet very dense. This is for sure a new language and yes my friends the bar has been lifted. Congratulations Richard. Hope your other journeys throught places of your life will come to light in a near future.

  89. wrobertangell … perfect sense and the reactions here often surprise me for it being essentially a group of photographers. I just have a hard time with tired arguments against seeing … seems so very strange, for here.

  90. Wonderful, sad, depressing, and ultimately full of life piece. Especially good considering the photographers personal connection (makes it much more than just a “look at this crazy place” kind of essay).

    I’m a bit late to the discussion here but it’s been a good one. As to Jim: why can’t we just be curious? Why does photography need to change anything? I doubt the subjects had any allusions as to what the photographer would do for them – they probably just enjoyed the company and telling their story to somebody, anybody.

  91. 9Back home with a decently fast connection)

    Really nice, Mark. I sure did not see it as someone telling us” here’s a problem that needs fixing”, more like a long bittersweet poem, but also a window on people that absolutely no one would ever think of, let alone talk about, if it was not for you bringing them to us. Maybe it’s about Jo’burg, maybe not. And maybe it’s more sweet than bitter, after all. About getting older, about what that was that will never be, with an aura of understatement (it helped that i did not quite understand allthat was spoken1) in which resides much of the poetry of your images. What an unique and worthy contribution. BURN is great with such work.

  92. this is a powerful example of multimedia storytelling: it works, definetely… many of the images (most of them are self-standing good images and not just filler, imo) and of he situations remained with me after the essay finished. My personal feeling is that life, in some ways, transcends us and essays like this are sort of hints in this respect: that’s why they don’t need to solve problems, neither to offer clear answers.
    By the way, Crest hotel could be a darker-darker version of Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water.

  93. Pingback: Richard Mark Dobson – The Crest Hotel | Verbal Hmmm.

  94. Jim, I read it and, to me, it neither confirms or denies the text on Burn. The photographer COULD have stayed at the Crest upon his arrival in South Africa as a twelve-year-old but it does seem odd that he doesn’t mention it in the interview. Of course he may have mentioned it but it is just not reported by the interviewer.

    Well spotted Jim, you should work for a newspaper!

    Perhaps Richard could post an explanation here?


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