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Block A, Jacob’s Men’s Hostel

Print Format
Artwork comprises 561 C-type machine prints 10 x 15 cm each
Print Size
Complete installation, 48cm x 19 metres

Jacobs Men’s Hostel is commonly believed to be the oldest remaining hostel in Durban.

Since the first Togt barracks were completed in 1876, hostels have been a fact of life in the city. The original purpose, during the Apartheid era, was to confine workers to specific areas within Durban and to discourage the permanent settlement of Africans in ‘white’ towns whilst ensuring the availability of a cheap migrant labour force.

Post 1994, there has been the political desire to transform the hostels and the lives of the hundreds of thousands of residents by turning them into so-called family units.

Although the hostels themselves are relatively inaccessible for non-residents, lack of privacy within the hostel (and by implication, security for one’s person and possessions) is one of  the biggest issues. The only private space is one’s actual bed, and even that is usually in a dormitory.

In 2002 Buckland started the difficult process of gaining access to Jacobs Men’s Hostel to capture images. She wished to explore the themes of privacy and intimacy, distancing herself and her subjects from the more obvious political agendas on offer. Permission to photograph was eventually negotiated on the basis of her intention.

By focusing on the personal details and the artefacts contained within each bed space, the installation explores the human need to personalise one’s living space, and to make from whatever is available, something of ‘home’. Some of the beds spaces contain microcosms of whole lives whilst others are clearly only a place to sleep.

After exploring various photographic approaches, Buckland adopted a fairly radical strategy. She allowed herself less than a minute, and a single frame of film, to photograph each bed. What makes these photographs particularly extraordinary is that they are photographed ‘as is’; there is no careful styling; no attempt to organise or re-arrange the material, no subtle manipulation of light source, or technical manipulation. What is at work is a highly refined visual sensibility and sensitivity to the material. Although most of the hostel residents were not there at the time, their presence is almost tangible in the images. Buckland’s work presents an image of the hostel that reveals human richness, and a complex social order, even in an impoverished place.

In 2002 Buckland completed this installation and it was purchased by the Durban Art Gallery.


Posted on

November 17, 2016