The beginning of a new direction. Work in progress.  Time will tell if I can manage to achieve what I hope I can achieve with this project I call the Soliloquist.


I knew Macau had modernized and had become a mega Chinese gambling mecca on a scale equal to Las Vegas.  The sleepy quaint Portuguese flavoured backwater I remembered from the early 90’s had long been buried under steel and concrete .  It had eclipsed Vegas some time ago in terms of revenues generated.  My interest then was to return after a 27 year absence and develop a series I would call Slot City. A sequel to the dystopian street photography series I created a year earlier in Hong Kong.  A collection of images with a neo noir vibe. Work I call Neonopolis. Slot City I thought is where I present a sort of futuristic pleasure dome, the place where Neonopolis fat cats and high rollers come to play and gamble away their illicit fortunes.  

Like with all of my street projects it often takes some time before I begin to see the nuances of place and a style emerges. I like to let what I’m seeing and feeling decide the visual narrative/style of the pictures.  For example high key, low key.  In fact my camera dictates to me how this is going to emerge stylistically.  Yes the ‘look’ almost has a life of its own.  I don’t ‘try’ to force anything.  And I don’t mean the story!  Because a lot of what I do today is less about story and more about vibe.  The vibe is the story, the narrative is the vibe.  The construct of the picture and how I frame eventually becomes central to the way the series emerges photographically speaking.  The cameras finds the frame and vibe for me.  At least it seems that way to me.  I find that a fascinating process.  Hence my love for street photography.

In the case of Slot City the myriad floors and walkways of hotels, mega shopping complexes and casinos are paradoxically the streets.  Retail high streets tucked away in gargantuan glitzy malls. 100’s of kilometers of shopping and eating strips, stuffed with nothing else but A-list brands, Gucci, Bulgari, Hermes, Prada, Kate Spade.  Add in the multi-level gambling floors from VIP to mass gaming across the 49 plus Macau casinos.  Equally the preponderance of colossal 60 floor high hotels scattered across both Macau and Taipei added another yet more levels of excess.  

Yes Slot City is about excess.  Excessive gambling, eating, shopping.  Under the bright lights the punters dream. Desire. Succumb to the illusion. Mostly they don't get it. That gambling is the ultimate bait and switch. They are presented with glamour and gucci, but what they get is loss, poverty and despair. The odds are stark and real: the odds don't lie. They get buried in existential punting addiction and greed.

And within the serried ranks of this gambling madness there are legions of Chinese croupiers and observers, and security guards from places such as Wuhan, Tianjin, Manila, Katmandhu or Cox’s Bazaar. They sit or stand watching, observing 12 hours a day. They watch the winners and losers, the big spenders.  They are watched themselves by the big bosses upstairs!  Eyes and cameras are everywhere.   Frugality is a dirty word in Macau. Unless of course you are one of the security team on a minimum wage. Uncountable numbers of tourist and gamblers from mainland China descend on the town, bussed in and out. 24/7.  The place never sleeps.  The shops never close.  Hookers linger day and night. 

Oh and it’s all so amazing stylish.  The level of grandeur is stupendous.  The quality of furnishings opulent beyond my wildest dreams.  I thought to myself.  Goodness when I walked this enclave some 25 years ago, those across the border were still walking about in blue, grey or green Mao suits.  And in many cases rags too.  Could they have ever imagined this level of luxury and sophistication? And if not, then why are they not showing amazement now as they stroll around heads bowed into their smart phones?  They seemed to be missing the miracle of it all.  I certainly wasn’t!

Ultimately there are so many sub-subjects buried within this place I call Slot City that I could never hope to complete the work I envisage in just 5 days.  The images you see here are merely just the building blocks to something bigger.  

I would like to get in much closer to the gambling tables, and capture the tempo, moods and characters of the players.  The nuances of winning and losing big money.  Cooperation from the casinos will be necessary.  Or I go in with some spy cameras.  There is the ‘hidden’ sex industry.  Massage parlous and karaoke bars.  All of these take serious time to penetrate (excuse the pun), if one can get access at all.  Therefore certainly for now, I’m more than happy to make inference to some of these no-go areas. I like to imagine what’s happening in that building, room or behind those closed doors.  Imagination is a fascinating thing.

COM-MUTE. reduce (a judicial sentence, esp. a sentence of death) to one less severe.

Commute my second body of work set in South Africa explores multiple themes; fear, xenophobia, fate, issues such as crime, urban decay, the existence of the individual in an 'unpredictable & unsafe' world.

The work intends to tussle with both literal and figurative notions of fear through objective and subjective record of place. That place for the purpose of the narrative of this collection of photographs, is the commuter railway journey from Cape Town's city central station to the quaint coastal enclave of Simon's Town.

This is not a random selection of one route over the many routes which the state run Metro Rail runs across peninsular Cape Town. Or to neglect the countless other city commuter rail services globally that cut through diverse social, ethnological & geographical zones and could be treated with equal consideration! I choose this route because in contemporary South African terms it has been regarded as a heaven and hell experience. Scenic yet dangerous. Violent crime on and off the train has been and continues to plague the route.

There are certainly social and political inferences built into it's very essence, but I don't dwell on the complexities of them here. Possibly subliminally though I do gather referrals from another period in South Africa's history.  That of the 1980's, apartheid and the 'old' South Africa.  Certainly there continues to be much social comment that, under the authoritarian and draconian ways of the apartheid regime, this very same commute was clean, orderly and safe.

Certainly the seed from which this work germinated was a flashback to riding this line during summer of 1985. Recalling the fresh south easterly wind off table bay wafting through the window......

(fore more reading, click STATEMENT above
(Portrait series) taken from the Multi-Media Film by the same name. Chosen by NAN GOLDIN for the CPH:DOX Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival 2011)


I remember the Crest Hotel way back in the 70’s. In fact it was from this hotel that I gathered my first impressions of our newly adopted land, South Africa. Emigrating here with my parents from England in January 1975, I was 12 years old when we arrived at the door of the Crest after a short cab ride from the austere Jan Smuts airport. Upon arrival at this comfortable 3 star hotel, a stone’s throw from the bustling boulevards of Hillbrow, I was awestruck by the views from our 12th floor window. Glittering skyscrapers and a zillion apartments surrounded us on all sides; our hotel it seemed was at the epicenter of all this glitz, with its lively terrace and sparkling pool.

For the two weeks that we lived in Hillbrow at the Crest while my father sought rented accommodation in the leafier northern suburbs, I gathered impressions of this ‘Americanized’ metropolis, admiring its scale & lofty buildings, sensing its economic presence and buzz, all the while searching out the exotica of black faces to remind myself that I was in Africa after all. Certainly during those first few weeks while strolling past the café & bakeries and soda pop joints of Pretoria & Kotze streets on balmy summer evenings, I could see clearly that this was the abode and playground for a predominantly white cast. I saw lots of happy white faces! An illusion of blissful living. An illusion of harmony and human equality. Yes this was a place of happy shiny white people, and I, the little white kid who’d just stepped off a plane in Africa from England, was entranced.

32 years later, I return to the Crest. Still entranced but for different reasons. The place has changed, the city has changed, and the country has changed. I’ve changed.

The Crest hotel therefore is my personal attempt to join dots, and answer pertinent questions to my own sense of failed idealism and dislocation. Projected through the presence of others, the Crest after all is where my journey to South Africa began.

For many presented here today though, this is where their journey will end, or has ended already. It’s where their relationship with South Africa is coming to an end too, but certainly did not begin. As an artist/photographer I intend to explore further themes or locations that I hope will allow me to investigate my relationship with this country and my country of birth, England. And how the two sit incongruously side by side within my own psyche.

The Crest is where I chose to begin this investigation.

Richard Mark Dobson
Johannesburg 2009
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