Last year I took part in the 24 Hour Project for the first time and it was so crazy that I professed I would not do it again.
Low and behold, this year I found myself slap-bang right in the middle of co-organising a group for the 2018 event. How did that happen? Well, I asked myself the same question.
It all started with a camper van.
Some time ago Stanley and I were chatting about how awesome it would be to do a group photography project with a camper van and before I knew it we were no longer talking about a pipe dream, but an actual project. And not any old project, but the 24 Hour Project.
What is the 24 Hour Project? It’s the world’s biggest street photography event where photographers from across the globe take and share one photograph every hour over a 24 hour window. The aim is to document humanity and make a difference by raising awareness. This year's focus was on women's rights in support of ShaktiVahini.
It turned out that he had been entertaining the thought for a long time already and by the time I finally "got with the programme" he had the entire project already laid-out.
After a slow warm-up phase, knowing that a 24-hour photography marathon is an amazing challenge for any photographer's skills and creativity, I became more enthusiastic about co-organising this event with Fujifilm South Africa.
The rest is history.
FUJIFILM Non-Stop was born and the hunt for the perfect camper van began. This was more challenging than we expected it to be but in the end we secured our vehicle.
We had also organised two drivers, Cedric and Itumeleng, who would be responsible for getting the team from one stop to the next on time, and manning the vehicle while the photographers were out in the streets.
The team included other Fujifilm photographers of which two would join the core team every 6 hours. In addition to a videographer who would create interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, brought the final number of team members to a magical 13:
Research had been done prior to the event to find out what was happening in and around Johannesburg on the day, and which areas would offer good street photography opportunities. We finalised a route of 12 locations we would visit:
This event was a first for Fujifilm South Africa and everyone was excited. Branding for the vehicle and goody bags, as well as passes were organised for each participant.
So many things had waited until the last minute to fall into place that I could hardly believe that this was actually happening, that when we picked up the camper van from the depot, it suddenly became very real.
A few hours later, the fridge was stocked with drinks, the cupboards stuffed with snacks and the van was branded.
Standing in front of the vehicle, a few hours before the start filled me with such a weird mix of excitement, relief and accomplishment. It made up for the lost opportunity for a power nap that I was supposed to have had that afternoon.
By 19h00 the vehicle was ready, but we were not. We still had to go home, eat, shower and check equipment before meeting the team at 22h30...
It was a scramble, but we did it!
When we arrived back at the Fujifilm offices everyone was charged with excitement.
And so here we were, at the start of 24 long hours of one of the craziest photography projects I can imagine. And I was loving it!
Let’s go already!!
While the drivers got us to our first location we did our final checks on our gear, set up and work flow. Why? Because for the next 24 hours we had to be efficient at capturing and posting our images and it was important that the process was quick and simple.
I would be shooting on my X-H1 using the 16mmF1.4 and the 90mmF2. In addition to 4 batteries and a battery grip for charging, my other tools would be my iPhone (and a battery pack) to post my images to Instagram. There was a charging station in the van so I would be able to recharge batteries from time to time.
I was going to transfer my images from my camera using the “Fujifilm Cam Remote” app to my phone. “Snapseed” was my go-to app for editing my pictures before posting them through to my Instagram feed as per the project’s requirements. It was the same workflow I had used last year and it was the easiest workflow for me. It would, however, mean that I would have to edit all my RAW files once I got home afterwards, but I was prepared to pay that price.
Enough tech talk – time to dive in…
00:00am – 1st Stop: Melville
I was hoping it would be busy with people enjoying the weekend and giving us some good photo opportunities. When we got out the van I realised we had chosen well. The streets were teeming with people having a good time. It reminded me of a street party. I couldn't believe our luck! Perfect! Spoilt for choice, we started walking in search of our first shot.
We had had such a rushed day that, even though high with excitement, I felt like it would take a while to find my groove. However, the people in the streets were so friendly and open to having their picture taken, that it made for an easy start.
In keeping with this year’s theme to focus on women, I decided to photograph women's hands. As soon as I got started I realised that the street party vibe here didn’t lend itself to this.
So I decided to slowly ease into the night and just focus on a decent street scene.
I had been watching a couple who were taking lots of photographs of themselves and each other in front of a beautifully painted wall and they were now admiring their work.
Happy with the look and feel of the scene I took this shot and chose the image as my first post:
We were all amped and the atmosphere was awesome. One guy outside Ratz Bar was in such a festive mood, he invited us to a round of shots!
What a way to start…
In high spirits and full of energy I dived into my interview which was to officially kick-off the project.
Drawing from last year's experience on how quickly one hour goes by, I knew that I needed to keep my eye on the clock at all times. As soon as an image is posted it's time to start thinking about the next one.
By 1am I had spotted this lady who was enjoying herself while doing a little jiggy in the street. I loved how this scene expressed pure enjoyment of life. Exactly what I was looking for in my images. Luckily for me she was happy to engage with my camera and I bagged this shot:
Nightlife in the suburb of Melville had been good to us. At no point was it a question of finding a subject to photograph but rather to decide who to photograph, the party people were still going strong but we decided to move on.
Our team members Liezl and Quentin had organised an early-morning visit to the Black Forest Bakery in Juta Street so we boarded our camper van and made our way to Braamfontein.
Driving there gave us an opportunity to check the 24hourproject Instagram feed as images were flying in from all over the world.
I loved seeing the vast variety of images submitted from across the globe enabling me to experience a glimpse of what life is like in all these other countries. As the day progressed I would keep going back for more and more images from all over the world.
02:00am – 2nd Stop: Black Forest Bakery, Braamfontein
We arrived in Juta Street and found a good parking spot with relative ease. The challenge of travelling in a camper van would be to find suitable parking while under time pressure. But so far, so good.
We had to wait a few minutes in front of the bakery, so I grabbed a few shots of the people in the streets.
Once inside the bakery I realised that their staff on duty was made up of men only. My images were to involve women or their hands. Maybe I could try and focus on someone's hands and get away with it?
I did enjoy the busyness of the bakery and being able to observe the different work processes but it was quite challenging to share the cramped space with five other photographers, all focussed on capturing a unique moment.
I was not convinced that I had managed to capture anything vastly different from everyone else and definitely no hands either. Slight panic was trying to set in as I had to choose my submission for the hour when I remembered a photograph I took of two ladies on their way home before we entered the bakery. I checked the time stamp of that image on my camera and when I confirmed that the image had been taken within the hour I chose this one:
Thanks to the beautiful staff of the Black Forest Bakery, we had left there with two bags filled with still warm, freshly baked goodies straight from their ovens. What a special treat. Exactly what my body needed to get me through the last couple of night time hours.
Even though we had just spent time with people at the beginning of their working day, there were a few more hours left before the sun would rise. We would make our way to Braamfontein in pursuit of nighttime lovers and party people still out and about at this time.
03:00am – 3rd Stop: Kitcheners, Braamfontein
Kitcheners didn't disappoint. The Red Bull Music Festival was underway and had attracted a huge crowd. Lots of people were hanging around outside. There was so much going on, my eyes were struggling to focus on a particular scene...
After reviewing a couple of likely candidates I chose to post this image. I loved the message on the back of the ladies jacket and the atmosphere around her:
The night-time scenes offered a big variety of photo opportunities, so we decided to stick around.
I was on the look-out for another female subject but struggled to capture anything convincing. I just couldn't nail the shots I was aiming for. Maybe it was an onset of tiredness or the inability to focus on one scene at a time. Whatever it was left me with having to chose a male dominated image.
I would have loved to share below image but had seen that one of my fellow photographers had also captured this scene so I opted for another one.
I made my final choice based on colour and general feel of the image rather than the subject matter:
The streets were starting to empty out. Only a few party people were left here and there. Time for a change in location and time to check my gear. My camera, the X-H1 was performing beautifully and the batteries were holding up nicely. My phone battery was being challenged the most but all in all I was all set for our next spot.
05:00am – 4th Stop: Ghandi Square, Johannesburg CBD
We didn't want to admit it, but we were early. The plan had been to get some photographs of early morning commuters catching a bus on their way to work. As it turned out, the first busses were not going to arrive for another hour, so we had to try a bit harder for our next image.
Despite the early hour, there was some activity around - a funny mix of people on their way to work or on their home after a long night:
There were people walking by, but photo opportunities were far and few between. When I saw two ladies walking towards me in the brightly lit streets I knew I really had to focus to make the most out of that opportunity. I anticipated they would stop at the red traffic light and grabbed a shot when they turned towards each other.
Happy with my shot I went straight into my workflow. I converted the file into a jpeg, then pushed it onto my phone for a quick edit and posted it to my Instagram feed. A routine I would be repeating another 18 times after this.
We had finished our first six hours of the challenge when Vivian and Lourens arrived to start their "shift".
Now already awake for 24 hours, my body felt out of sync. I could feel it mostly in my eyeballs and my body's "heating system" wasn't functioning all that well either. I was freezing. Luckily, the sun started creeping up over the horizon and the gradual increase in ambient light was a welcome distraction.
Next up on our schedule was the Fresh Produce Market. Time for a drive and a quick recharge (for body and camera batteries) in our camper down to City Deep.
06:00am & 07:00am - 5th Stop: Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market, City Deep
My legs felt rested as we arrived in our next location and were ready for some market action. The market was much bigger than I anticipated and it was busy. Yay! Maybe now would be a good time for some women's hands?
I had to adjust to the busyness of the place:
And then I spotted my subject. The lady was very happy and extremely patient in posing for her photograph while I tried to get the best angle for my shot. No photograph is easy to take when one is sleep-deprived and under constant time-pressure, but I was happy with how this image turned out:
I had been so immersed in the task at hand - no pun intended - that I had lost sight of the rest of my team. I decided to walk back to the camper, but when I got there, I was still by myself.
With a few minutes to spare I decided it was time to unpack the Instax Printer we had been given. It was time to put it to good use.
With more negotiating power in the bag I zoned in on my next photo opportunity. I had already seen her when we entered the market an hour earlier. A lady was busy preparing breakfast. She was happy to pose for me and I focussed on her busy hands for my next shot:
With my result in the bag I took another photograph which I proceeded to print for her. This was the first time I used an Instax Printer and I think I was as excited as the lady was, when the printer spat out her picture.
It was time to re-group at our camper. Back together with the gang, I learned that I had been the only one so far that had managed to bag the 7 o'clock shot.
Pushed for time, everyone had to instantly switch on their creativity and find a way to create an image. All I could do at that moment was watch and capture the posting frenzy going down:
Nothing quite like a bit of pressure to bring out the best out of everyone! Who would have guessed that these images were created in the exact same location:
And as soon as the 7am post was sorted, 8am was lurking around the corner - such was the nature of the challenge! Time to find a new location...
08:00am & 09:00am - 6th Stop: Jeppe Train Station, Jeppestown
Hoping to have more luck with capturing commuters we headed on over to Jeppe Train Station. When we got there, at first glance, it seemed very quiet... so we all spread out.
There were some vendors behind the train station and one of the ladies kindly posed for her picture.
When I pulled out our Instax printer and printed her image the smile on her face was priceless. It can't be said often enough: "There is nothing quite like a printed photograph!"
I was starting to grow very fond of this little and powerful printer companion. And it wouldn't be long before it became useful again.
However, the day was starting to take its toll. This challenge was hard and we were all feeling it. Going through the motions we were taking turns in taking some time out:
While Stanley decided to take a break, I joined Vivian and Lourens on a walk around the block to scout the area for the next shot...
The pixel gods seemed to be on my side. I heard loud music blaring from an apartment up ahead of us... some residents were celebrating their weekend. Perfect!
When I offered the lady a printed photograph she let out a loud squeal and disappeared. After a few moments she reappeared from around the corner with her bestie in tow. How could I not take their photo, print it for them and make it my hero shot of the hour!
10:00am - 7th Stop: Maboneng
Nine o'clock in the bag... and we were off again. A quick, unplanned stop in Maboneng. Time for a group shot:
The jump shot helped us put some life back into our weary bodies and got us ready for another round of photos. The streets of Maboneng made for some interesting street scenes:
Still in search of my flavour of the hour, I spotted a shop where three women were busy getting ready for their lunchtime customers. They happily agreed to be photographed, especially when I offered to print it for them as well. I loved all the detail in this shot, from the tins on display to the meat marinating in the far corner that I decided to make it my upload:
11:00am - 8th Stop: Neighbourgoods Market, Braamfontein
It was time to proceed to our next meeting point and the next group of photographers to join us. The busy streets of daytime Braamfontein made parking difficult and time consuming, but we eventually found a safe space to park and meet the others. It was time to say good bye to Lourens and to welcome Kathleen, Ryan and Rebecca.
It was also time for a bathroom and coffee break. I couldn't believe that, me of all people, had managed to keep going without coffee for all these hours.
On my way to one of the coffee shops to pursue my needs, I encountered this scene and my next image in the making. I got so distracted by this colourful roadside vendor, that I forgot all about my coffee needs and got engrossed in the moment.
Realising that I was standing in the exact same place in which I had taken my fifth image 7 hours earlier, I captured my eccentric shop owner holding his precious little girl. No hesitation about which image would make for my next upload:
12 o'clock. We had reached the half-way point.
I had secured a good shot but lost the time to grab some coffee. We had to travel to Soweto for the afternoon. A 30-minute drive ahead and time was flying.
12:00pm to 03:00pm - 9th Stop: Vilakazi Street, Soweto
The drive gave us time to regroup, induct the new team members and do some recharging of batteries. We arrived in Vilakazi Street with 10 minutes to take our next shot. The pressure was on. I wasn't going to let time beat me, so I rushed off to chat to some vendors to find out who would be willing to be photographed. Luckily, I had the bargaining power of an Instax print and managed to win this lady over:
With two minutes to spare, I managed to uploaded my image and let go of the rush of the past hour. I took a deep breath and looked around me.
Our new team members, full of energy and enthusiasm managed to rope us into one of "those" shots - thanks Kathleen, I love our Soweto Group Selfie:
Heat and fatigue were setting in, but I wasn't going to entertain any messages from my tired legs and sore feet. "Keep on keeping on" was all I could think. And so for the next few hours I operated as by remote control.
I managed to convince two friends to let me capture their image and they were over the moon when they received a print for "mahala":
I snagged a shot of a lady who seemed tired of her job:
And spotted another lady jiving to the music played outside the Mandela House Museum:
I was ready to move on, surprised at how quickly the last few hours had passed by. It was still a long way to go, but another crowd of people was waiting for us and we were excited to meet up with yet more people and more fresh energy to feed off of.
As part of the overall project, we had also organised a photo walk in the CBD for other photographers to join us and to share in a few hours of our day.
04:00pm to 06:00pm - 10th Stop: Johannesburg CBD, 1 Fox Street & Ghandi Square
We weren't quite sure how many people would be joining us and were blown away by the turnout when we arrived at 1 Fox Street, our meeting point.
After a welcome and quick introduction, we were on our way.
Anton Bosman regularly takes groups of photographers on photo walks into the city and had kindly offered to lead ours too. This gave us time to focus on our challenge. Five o'clock was uncomfortably close, but somehow I managed to bag a shot:
Over the next hour we made our way towards Ghandi Square, navigating the mostly-empty streets. All the other photographers were focussing on the architecture that surrounded us, but I needed people. I walked with my eyes peeled and patiently waited for an opportunity, when a lady appeared from behind me. I didn't want to miss the opportunity for a good photo even though I had realised that she had been watching me when I pressed the shutter. In silent consent she smiled at me and walked passed me. Thank you for being such a good sport:
With my image uploaded so early on in the hour I had some time to take in the streets and people around me:
Light was fading away as the last quarter of our day was fast approaching. Now we had arrived at Ghandi Square for some sunset shots. Tired and sore, I found a quiet spot on the side of the square to take in the moment and be still. Night time was setting in. What a day it had been. So many impressions gathered already and still six more hours ahead of us. The thought started to overwhelm me, so I decided to get up, shake it off and get moving again.
I spotted a lady sitting down with her child. Her colourful top caught my eyes. She looked unhappy, yet her cute daughter by her side seemed oblivious of any hardship her mother might be facing. The mixed emotions in the scene made me take the image:
I had a whole hour to spare and re-united with the rest of our team who were busy creating their shots, while my X-H1 was dangling of my shoulder also taking a break.
My eyes were taking strain after so many hours stuck to the camera's view finder and glued to the phone screen while editing and posting. It felt good to just look and observe the others.
The photo walk was coming to an end and so we headed back to our camper van.
Our team mates also changed one last time. We said good bye to Kathleen and Rebecca and welcomed James and Nicholas who were taking their place, bringing a welcomed dose of fresh energy with them.
07:00pm to 11:00pm - 11th and final Stop: Maboneng
The finish was in sight and arriving at our final destination felt almost soothing after the rush of the past, long and crazy hours.
Regardless of all the happy thoughts that this realisation was putting into my head, time was running out, yet again, for creating the next image.
I took the very next opportunity that lent itself for a shot - literally the very first scene I laid my eyes on as I stepped out of the vehicle. I think my subjects were as surprised as I was taking this photograph, and one can see it in their faces. With no time to consider other options I proceeded to upload the image:
As expected, the streets were teeming with people so I didn't need to worry about running out of subjects to photograph. Time to slow things down and take stock.
I had managed to boost my phone with a charge which would hopefully last for the next couple of hours. My camera batteries were performing fantastically well.
It was just my own batteries that were taking strain.
My feet were so sore I couldn't feel my toes anymore and I had lost my appetite hours ago. Soft drinks were about the only thing I was still able to get passed my lips. Even though I don't normally drink this kind of stuff, at this point, it was life-saving.
All the members of the team were doing their own thing, just Stanley and I left at the camper. Time for the two of us to catch up and enjoy ourselves, by ourselves, in amongst Maboneng's street life.
My next image presented itself without me even trying. Two ladies approached me and asked me if I could take their photograph. It doesn't get any easier than that now, does it?
I was pondering my next image when I remembered our favourite Ethiopian restaurant "Little Addis Cafe" which was nearby. The two waitresses who work there are wonderful and would surely appreciate their photograph being taken and, thanks to our secret weapon the Instax, printed.
When we got there, the restaurant was empty and the ladies were busy closing up. Perfect timing. They were happy to see us and even happier when we explained to them why we were there. The restaurant is small and the end-of-day emptiness of the room was very beneficial for the photograph.
I asked the ladies to take a place in between all the Ethiopian wall art to make for an interesting environmental shot:
It felt, yet again, very satisfying to be in a position to offer a printed photograph. The fact that the process was so quick and easy to get the photograph onto my phone and printed made it even more enjoyable and impressed the ladies.
So near, yet so far to go still. I had no more words left to describe my state of exhaustion to anyone that would listen. Even the easiest task was now a mission.
We headed back to our camper to check on the others and take a break from the busy nightlife. Even climbing into the van was now almost impossible. It felt like my legs had shrunk.
We had just two more to go.
Trying to distract myself from my thoughts, I focussed on the people out and about. Halfway present, halfway caught up in my own emotions, I took my next shot. The guy I had been watching looked as deep in his thoughts as I was in mine, and so I made this my next image:
The final hour had arrived. It seemed so far out of reach for such a long time, it was difficult to believe it was actually here. Just one more photograph and it would all be over. I gathered what strength I had left, for one last push.
I wanted to make the most of the last shot. I was on the lookout for a "Home Time" scene, realising that I had titled my image before I had actually taken it. I waited at a street corner nearby until I saw a couple on their way home and framed my final shot of the day:
And there it was. Image number 24 was posted. Oh my word! We had done it. It's was hard to comprehend.
Completely overwhelmed with a mishmash of feelings, we gathered what was left of the team for one last group shot:
What a crazy 24 hours it had been. My brain was bursting with impressions and exhausted from processing it all at the same time. There was a sense of accomplishment, relief and gratefulness in the mix of emotions: I had completed the challenge, again. One image every hour in the hour, no gaps, no omissions. 24 new images on my Instagram feed.
The last few images had been really hard work, but all in all, it was an amazing, albeit surreal and crazy experience. Everyone's buttons had been pushed, boundaries tested and a stack of photographs shared.
Despite the fact that I had not been able to fully convert my plan of publishing photographs of women only, or even women's hands, I was very satisfied with my 24 images.
Thanks to all the FUJIFILM Non-Stop team members (Earl Abrahams, Farrah-Diba Sing, James Worwood, Kathleen Naidoo, Liezl van Rensburg, Lourens Swart, Nicholas Grobbelaar, Quentin Barkhuizen, Rebecca du-Pont, Ryan Cumming, Stanley-Carl du-Pont, Vivian Bester) and also the drivers Cedric and Itumeleng, for your awesome energy, enthusiasm and fabulous images which made the event a roaring success.
Thanks to Fujifilm South Africa for running with this crazy idea from the beginning and especially for all the support during the event. Thanks also to Instax SA for enabling us to share our images with our subjects.
And lastly, thanks to my husband Stanley, without whom none of this would have happened. Your vision, enthusiam and knack for planning photography projects are second to none. I commend you for your tenacity and your perfectionism in helping to make the project the success it was!
After so much hesitation to begin with, I can't believe I find myself saying: "Bring on 24 Hour Project 2019!"