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Roger Eberhard

SHANTY TOWN DELUXE



Photography draws me in the most when I get that push-pull feeling—the tension that occurs when, just as I think I’ve gained all that the image has to offer me on both visceral and conceptual levels, it digs into me even more deeply and forces me to wrestle with my previous assumptions and interpretations. When I encountered the work of Berlin-based, Swiss-born photographer Roger Eberhard, I was amply provided with such an experience.

Within his series Shanty Town Deluxe, nothing is as it appears. In 2014 Eberhard traveled to South Africa to document a luxury resort that offers guests the opportunity to experience living in a township, deprived settlements once reserved for non-whites. Its group of guest houses is modeled as a shantytown, replete with abandoned tires and hanging bare light bulb fixtures, but the shanties also have Wi-Fi and radiant floor heating, as if offering safe sanctuary within a game preserve. The shanties, politely spaced at a distance from one another (something that would not be feasible in a real township) are constructed on the surface with the familiar corrugated sheet metal, assembled in a patchwork manner to resemble those structures that housed South Africa’s poorest citizens, particularly during the Apartheid era, and that continue to exist in impoverished regions throughout the world today. Eberhard employed an overexposed romantic palette, using a vintage Polaroid 320 Land Camera to shroud his subject matter in the ether of “some time ago,” mirroring the revisionist romanticism the proprietors may have had in mind when creating this sanitized form of poverty tourism. The images Eberhard created for this body of work both complete a false narrative and also leave clues that ultimately question the facts they proffer. Building on his ongoing exploration of “artificially contrived settlements” —places that are built more with the image of what something is or ought to be in mind than what exists in reality—Eberhard takes an indexical photographic approach that emphasizes the two-dimensional nature of his subjects and reveals their false promise of authenticity.

A second form of tourism is called into question through Shanty Town Deluxe—our own. For those of us who are steadfast purveyors of photographic imagery, scenes of poverty, desolation, and destruction all too regularly fill our walls, pages, and screens. Such images and the photographers who seek them out have a vital impact. Their power can spark a call to action, remind us of those less fortunate living amongst us, or invite viewers to consider and celebrate the ingenuity and strength (in this case found in the pop-up architecture) of the impoverished. The reality, however, is that more often than not they provide the majority of their audience with but a brief sense of awakened consciousness. We feel our hearts swell, but then we move on to more universal points of discussion around the image.

The twist with this series is that both the structures and the images were made for the cultural and visual consumption of those who are better off than those for whom a shantytown or a favela is their actual home. What Eberhard’s work does for me is two-fold: it not only calls attention to the great disconnect from actual poverty that the resort and its clientele are displaying, but also invites us as viewers to consider our own “visual” tourism.

Ariel Shanberg, Independent Curator, United States

BIOGRAPHY

Roger Eberhard was born in Zurich in 1984. After graduating from high school, he moved to California, where he studied photography at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.

In 2009 the Swiss publishing house Scheidegger & Spiess published Eberhard’s first book, Wilted Country, which was edited by Walter Keller. The following year Scheidegger & Spiess, in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, published his second book, In Good Light, a collaboration with renowned writer Bernhard Schlink (author of The Reader).

In 2013 Eberhard received his master’s degree in fine arts from Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK) in Zurich. During his time at ZHdK, Peperoni Books in Berlin published two further books by him: Tumulus in 2011 and Norma in 2013. The latter is a study of a street in Hamburg where forty houses were bought up by the German government to avoid legal actions from their owners when the local airport was later extended. So that this street would not look like a ghost town, the government maintained the empty houses for ten years: heating them in the winter, installing automatic light switches that turned on the lights in the evening, planting trees, etc.

For his Shanty Town Deluxe series, Eberhard traveled to South Africa and photographed a luxury hotel that was built to look like a township, where rich tourists could experience “poverty,” albeit with underfloor heating and WiFi. In his work Eberhard often explores artificially contrived settlements, places that appear as something they might not be. A recurring theme in his work is the hotel, which he often uses as a placeholder, allegories for various social and political aspects of how people and governments define “home.”

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