Matchbox Houses. Soweto, 2012.
by John Downey
Earning the nickname from their simple design, these houses grid Soweto’s “middle class” neighborhoods, a marginal economic notch above the more haphazard shabeens, or tin-roofed shacks. I made several images from the Oppenheimer Tower, a good vantage to survey the varying townships of this uniquely historic locale. This frame in particular appealed to me because at the time of photographing, I knew immediately that a tilt-shift effect would work well to exemplify the matchbox simplicity of the colorful homes. It was early afternoon with high sun and partially overcast, so color and light were problematic. I intentionally overexposed by 3/4 stop and lowered contrast in-camera to keep shadow detail and later augmented color using a Lab color action I built into Photoshop CS5, overdoing the color to heighten the miniturization effect you see here. Also in PS, employing the gradient tool to create a mask and then apply lens blur to all of the areas beyond the road and first row of homes involved some trial and error but I finally achieved what you see here, save for the road, which was still too blurry. Note, whenever I modify an image in PS, I always maintain the original, unmodified on the bottom layer in the event I want to later experiment with different techniques. In this case, I thought I’d achieve more impact by erasing the blur on the top image to sharpen the road and a few window frames of the subject houses. For me this draws greater interest along the road and makes the person standing next to the truck appear as a stick figure. Overall, I think the effect works to exemplify the matchbox house style of this interesting Soweto neighborhood.