New Book – Wake Up, This is Joburg

A few years ago Fourthwall Books published a series of fascinating small books on Johannesburg. Beautifully designed and printed on high quality paper with colour photographs, it shone as a high quality ‘must have’ Johannesburg item. The stories pulsed with quirkiness and throb with the adrenalin of a new Joburg. There were ten books in the series. Tanya Zack is the author and Mark Lewis is the photographer. His brilliant coloured photographs captured the edginess, the dark struggles and the hopeful optimism of the inner city’s pulsating transformation of old Johannesburg into a much more diverse and more ‘African’ than it ever was in the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the small print run meant that these books rapidly became collectors items and were quickly snapped up. These slim volumes are thus out of print and, sadly, the high cost of this incredible production meant that no matter the demand, art publisher Fourthwall books could not offer a reprint run.

However, Duke University Press in the USA took an interest in the work as it was being taught at several universities there. Duke has now reproduced all ten stories in one volume: Wake Up, This is Joburg. This new edition has been published in the USA priced at $ 28.95, but if we order from abroad there is a hefty delivery charge. It was clear a local stock had to be sourced.

Th good news is that Love Books in Melville on the Old Rustenburg Road (tel. 011 726 7408) has imported the first batch to Johannesburg. The bad news is that they all sold out in 24 hours. If you are keen on getting a copy, phone Love Books and reserve your copy so that they know how many to order for the second batch.

My own favourite stories within the book are Tea at Ansteys, Master Mansions and Johannesburg Made in China. They are all here and so much more, making the single volume edition a satisfyingly thick book.

There is also a city map that locates the ten stories and orientates. Achal Prabhala has added a foreword and he opens with his story of being accosted by a cell phone thief while stopping at the traffic lights (probably happened to all of us and indeed has happened to me on the same stretch of road).

The substantial introduction by Tanya Zack draws out the important themes these fascinating stories highlight about Johannesburg. The introduction also discusses how the writer and photographer go about their work of finding stories. The total of 256 of Mark Lewis’s extraordinarily beautiful art photos are incorporated into the book, including a few that were not in the original series.

Extract from the Duke Press Promotional blurb “ A single image taken from a high-rise building in inner-city Johannesburg uncovers layers of history—from its premise and promise of gold to its current improvisations. It reveals the city as carcass and as crucible, where informal agents and processes spearhead its rapid reshaping and transformation. In Wake Up, This Is Joburg, writer Tanya Zack and photographer Mark Lewis offer a stunning portrait of Johannesburg and personal stories of some of the city’s ordinary, odd, and outrageous residents. Their photos and essays take readers into meat markets where butchers chop cow heads; the eclectic home of an outsider artist that features turrets and full of manikins; long-abandoned gold pits beneath the city, where people continue to mine informally; and lively markets, taxi depots, and residential high-rises. Sharing people’s private and work lives and the extraordinary spaces of the metropolis, Zack and Lewis show that Johannesburg’s urban transformation occurs not in a series of dramatic, wide-scale changes but in the everyday lives, actions, and dreams of individuals.

Wake Up, This is Joburg is available from Love Books at R 650. Phone to order: 011 726 7408. Do note the R650 cost is a subsidised price. Mark and Tanya had to raise R300 000 to enable Duke bring it in at that price. It is a very good price for a book that intersects with popular and academic audiences, and is an extremely high quality production that includes 256 full colour art photographs.

Kathy Munro

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