Today I was introduced to an amazing project called Bicycle Portraits, which investigates bicycle culture in South Africa, and in particular, the lack of cyclist commuters on the roads. Its run by Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler, who travel around South Africa meeting fellow cyclists and taking pictures of them and their bicycles.
Stan explains the project as follows:
“As you’ll see we are not photographing people who ride purely for exercise or recreation, but instead we are focusing on those who use bicycles as an integral tool in their day-to-day existence. We’ve noticed that in South Africa, especially in the major centers, very few people use bicycles as mode of transport. This is very strange since we have no proper public transport infrastructure, and that which does exist is expensive and unsafe.”
He then goes on to make the point about how finding ways to support cyclist commuters can be an act of empowerment:
“Given all the benefits of cycling – independence, health, fitness, cost-effectiveness, environmentally friendly – we would love to encourage the use of bicycles in South Africa amongst all social classes. We’ve noticed that as our major centers develop there still seems to be a trend to make cities more friendly for cars, not people. While this might be happening in many places around the world the effect on individuals seems to be very dramatic in a country like South Africa, where there is a growing divide between those who can afford motorized transport and those who struggle to. Owning a bicycle in this social climate can be very empowering, if the correct infrastructure exists.”
Stan combines his advocacy for more people-centred cities and towns with his obvious passion for cycling:
“As you might know, South Africa is a world within one country, home to various cultures, with a tragic history of segregation and racism. Through this project we hope to give people a glimpse into each other lives through a well-known object of movement, practicality and joy – the bicycle. Looking at individuals through their, sometimes unconscious, involvement in bicycle culture, we will inadvertently touch on many charged issues like the implementation of public space, lack of infrastructure development and also social problems like class division and unequal wealth distribution, but also perhaps bring those unfamiliar to each other together in their love for a simple thing…”
This project is a must-read for anyone with a love of cycling, and in particular, anyone in the business of designing cities for people, especially municipal NMT planners. Please check out the Bicycle Portraits website, and see how you can support this project.
Better still, get that bike out of the garage and cycle to work – you never know who you are going to meet along the way!
(All pictures courtesy of the Bicycle Portraits project)