Matt Kay: Shining a light on Durban’s beaches

Matt Kay. Oasis Beach. From the series The Front. Durban

Matt Kay. Oasis Beach. From the series The Front. Durban

OPENING at the KZNSA Gallery in Bulwer Street, Glenwood, on Wednesday, October 28 at 6.30 pm is The Front, a solo exhibition by 2014 Tierney Fellow Matt Kay.

The 2014 Tierney Fellowship at the Market Photo Workshop, in partnership with the Tierney Family Foundation, was awarded to Market Photo Workshop’s alumni Matt Kay.

The aim of this project is to award an emerging photographer the opportunity to develop their career and skills through this mentorship programme, an ideal space for a photographer to develop a body of work.

Matt Kay. Snake Park Beach. From the series The Front. Durban

Matt Kay. Snake Park Beach. From the series The Front. Durban

The Front is a body of work investigating the Durban beachfront as an ever-changing space and the people that frequent it.

Matt was mentored by Market Photo Workshop founder and renowned South African photographer David Goldblatt.

The promenade on Durban beachfront was constructed in anticipation of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Approximately 6.2 km long, the promenade stretches from uShaka Marine World until Blue Lagoon in the North.

Durban’s beaches have undergone a rapid transformation in the past 20 years. Holidaymakers, locals, fisherman, surfers, runners and religious groups share the area.

The promenade seems to have evolved into a truly shared space within South Africa. However, the nature of the beachfront shifts constantly, as the day progresses the flow of people constantly changes, and the function of the beach transforms.

The beachfront seems strangely impermanent, as if in a few years it will either be an arcade for tourists, or lost to the degradation and squalor that thrives just behind the promenade. That or the ever-encroaching sea will take it.

Matt Kay. North Beach. From the series The Front. Durban

Matt Kay. North Beach. From the series The Front. Durban

That said, at present it is a truly distinctive place in Durban, outside the determination of class, race or wealth restrictions, the beachfront is free to all who wish to use it.

However, in this body of work, the artist seeks to challenge preconceived notions around Durban beachfront. What the beachfront represents shifts decidedly depending on expectations and memories.

At first the promenade appears to be a truly integrated space, however looking deeper the lines of segregation are lingering just below the surface. This now shared space is a front. Nothing is what it appears. The history of Durban beachfront is an inescapable backdrop, a point of reference intrinsically located within the various bodies that now occupy the space.

The Front is an investigation, a revealing, of space. It documents the people who use the beachfront. It seeks to record the rapidly changing nature of the promenade by placing a marker as to what the space is now at this point in time. The Front confronts, diversity, identity, and multi-functionality of shared public space.

Matt says, “this body of work was about looking harder at a space I thought I knew and understood. The harder I looked the more I realized that I understood very little about a place that clearly was significant to so many people in so many different ways.

“The beach has a strangeness to it that is constantly visible but only when looked for. This project finds relevance in that it is often the quiet and disconnected moments we see that stay with us and challenge our perspectives.”

For Matt, photography is about searching for a way for him to make sense of the world and then express what is important to others. His process very much revolves around photographing instinctively and then really discovering the narrative through the editing process.

Speaking about the Tierney Fellowship experience he says, “As a photographer who normally works very much alone it was a big challenge to open up and allow others into the process of making this body of work.

“At times it made me feel vulnerable and at others great to know that there is real knowledge and experience guiding you in the right direction. The whole experience is very grounding and although sometimes confusing I feel it is a crucial part of moving forward in my career.”

Matt was born in 1985 and completed the Intermediate Course and Advanced Photography Programme at the Market Photo Workshop.

He has received numerous awards and mentions that include: winner of the 2011 CIT:Y award for photography, finalist for the International Salzburg Summer Academy of Fine Arts (ISBK) residency, finalist for the GUP/Viewbook International Small Stories Competition, recipient of the Ithuba Arts Fund and nominee for the 2014 Hel –Ved new Talent Award. Matt recently showcased his work Losing Ground during the inaugural Joburg Photo Umbrella.

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