The intensity of the sun and nearly silent wind inspires locals and tourists to this seaside town for what may be one of the last warm days of autumn. Shop owners stand by the front door, encouraging passers-by to venture inside for a drink, lunch, or a look around. Homeless kids welcome those with full stomach back onto the streets, asking for something to warm their insides in turn. Some simply point to their belly, their face and gestures needing no words. Others rattle sand and pebbles in an empty soda bottle, singing “Oh when the saints go marching in” out of tune and a few stanzas confused. Like fish in the sea, when one received food, the others swarm, begging, sometimes taking without asking from their friends.
The closest beach to downtown lies below the arch supported train bridge, at the bottom of the marina. That day the beach was used primarily by blacks and coloureds. A white man walked across the top, just behind me and to the left, saying “I don’t understand Why they don’t erect a fence, to keep those kids out. Just look at them.” Tents and umbrellas sheltered parents who keep careful watch over their children a play. Chicken and burgers grill over open coal fires, the smell of a meal in preparation enough to call those who wade play to shallower water. A seal breaches just off shore, a child laughs and tries to splash it. Too late, for the seal submerges again, releasing its breath an incredible distance from where it was last spotted.
I stood from my kneeling position after taking a photo of a girl sitting among the sandstone formations (above) when a man with two small girls approached me. He asked for two or three minutes of my time. I assumed he would soon ask for money, the children a ploy. I didn’t mind the conversation, so I invited him to continue as we walked together, his young girls running forward and then waiting, criss-crossing between our legs once we caught up with them again.
He asked if there was money to be made in photography. “No,” I answered honestly, “it is far, far too hard a business to break into. I would not recommend it to anyone at this time. Too many people with high quality cameras, even if they are not the best photographers, they make it work.”
He continued, sharing his vision for a photography exhibition which tells the story of his people, the Malay, who were brought to this continent as slaves more than two hundred years ago. We continued to walk and I was engaged. I kept waiting for his request for money, but it never came. I asked questions. He shared. I learned a great deal. He was direct and well informed, his historic research impressive, to me.
I recognized the coincidence, that he should have approached me, one who is always seeking this very kind of story. As we neared the end of the beach I explained that I am documentary film maker and am interested in continuing the conversation. We exchanged contact information. I encouraged him to record his story in the coming weeks in order that we might prepare a rough script.
I then asked why he approached me. He answered, “I watched you, how you photographed. You took your time … that’s all.” Perhaps the story of his people displaced will generate something more far reaching than what he intended when he approached me. We’ll see …