Since childhood, artist Elsa Bleda moved around a lot. This gave her the early inspiration to capture what she saw during those travels. Bleda told In Sight, “Documentation of the places I lived eventually turned into something more artistic in my late teens. For the next decade, it became my full-time passion.”
Bleda’s project “Fragments of Nightscapes: Johannesburg” is a body of work shot from 2014 to 2019 that delves into Johannesburg at night. The work, which is ongoing, was made in Jeppestown, Hillbrow, the central business district and Newtown. It is divided between a few segments, such as “Joburg Gothic” and “Fragments.” And according to Bleda, each segment has a distinct style.
Take “Fragments,” for example. It takes the architecture of Johannesburg as its canvas, juxtaposing electrifying colors with night and the gritty exteriors of some of the city’s structures. The effect evokes a barren, apocalyptic cityscape. Once she is finished shooting, Bleda says long hours of postproduction is involved to get the images to look just right.
As for how the work ends up looking, Bleda told In Sight, “Someone I respect in the film industry once called my work post-future gothic, and I resonate with that a lot in terms of low-light photography. Beyond this, I don’t ever recall my work in a certain style, but describe it with feelings.”
When asked what inspired “Fragments,” Bleda told In Sight that it came from various sources in photography, cinema, painting and literature. With that in mind, artists from Diane Arbus and Brassaii to Tarkovsky, Lynch, Argento and even Philip K. Dick have all informed her work. But perhaps the biggest influence came from the many years she has spent living in Johannesburg.
As Bleda told In Sight about her work: “This is a conversation I had with the city I live for a long period of years. And it’s the longest time I ever lived in the same place, so I had a lot of years exploring, getting to know it to the best of my capabilities. It is home to me. Inspiration behind this city is purely Johannesburg itself. Johannesburg’s isolated world and unpredictable nature but also liveliness in itself behind walls what actually influenced my work overall, beyond this series. This city is a collection of paradoxes, and my work is a lot about how I feel about it, sitting in an alternate reality.”
You can find more about Bleda on her website.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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