TAXI-001 Jo Ractliffe

Jo Ractliffe is a practising artist, working with photo-based media, video and installation. She was born in Cape Town and completed her B.A.F.A. (with distinction in Photography) and M.F.A. (with distinction) degrees at the University of Cape Town. She taught in the Fine Arts Departments at Stellenbosch University and UCT between 1985 and 1991 and in 1991 took up a post at the Department of Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she teaches studio practice and theory. She has held three solo exhibitions and her work has been selected for several critically acclaimed group exhibitions in South Africa and abroad. In 1999 she was the recipient of the 1999 Vita Art prize, awarded for the multi-screen video installation, Love, Death, Sacrifice and so forth. Ractliffe lives and works in Johannesburg.

The book consists of 96 pages with 25 colour plates and a soft cover. The text was written by Brenda Atkinson and translated into French and Dutch.

Brenda Atkinson and Philippa Hobbs are the authors for the educational supplement published with TAXI-001 Jo Ractliffe.


When I was young, I would boast about my memory. I tried to remember everything, like it was happening in a film. Later I photographed every dead animal I saw.”

…Before Nadir, Ractliffe’s photography had focused primarily on loss and death. Engaging in a parallel pursuit as photographer and chronicler (mostly of evacuated spaces, derelict buildings, empty landscapes and dead animals), she came to her MA thesis frustrated by photography as “an incomplete project that doesn’t satisfy”, as well as by “the impossibility of the medium to contain the range of experiences.”

Nadir offered Ractliffe an opportunity to go beyond the traditionally marked ‘separateness’ of photography and autography. To implicate each in the other – a desire that in her later work has become a form of insistence – her task as she saw it was to enact a radical defamiliarisation of the established relations, not only between photographer and subject, but equally between viewer and image. Thus a dog straining on its leash at an obedience school becomes the snarling defender of an otherwise uninhabited territory; another found scavenging at an urban rubbish bin becomes a fearful interloper in a terrain of chilling devastation. Looking at these images, we know what we see and yet we don’t know where we are; what recognition there is between the image and us has nothing to do with familiar physical space.

In Nadir, Ractliffe symbolises that which lies outside of the frame – the psychological experience and intellectual processing of the framed ‘event’ – through fictitious landscape-situations that communicate at the level of the symbolic. The narrative contained within the format of the lithograph has a sense of the photographic still, a moment arrested and frozen in a larger ‘picture’ of events. Because you can’t get what you need from the image (a particular meaning, a sense of closure), you have to start looking at the diverse elements in relation: to project, to imagine, and to make up meaning from your own internal state. Each viewer’s ‘narrative’, such as it is, is thus uniquely constituted from a place in-between appearance and reality. It is a place that is imagined and perpetually reconstituted in the process of looking.

“I think that photographing [for me] has been largely about guarding against loss. It’s never about arresting the thing because that is not what you want to keep. Rather, you want that transitional moment – the light on someone’s face, or the wind – just this moment, which you can’t arrest in a photograph but you can arrest the sense of it. So I think so much of Shooting Diana was not about photographing a thing, but was trying to have that moment just before it’s passed.”


Author : Brenda Atkinson
Editor: Brenda Atkinson
Design: Roelof van Wyk
Production: Anina Kruger, Chris Nathan
Publisher: David Krut Publishing
French Translator: Catherine Lauga du Plessis
Dutch Translator: Loes Nas
Printing: Keyprint
Paper: First Paper House, Ideal White Silk 150&250 gsm
ISBN: 0-620-26401-2
© The authors, the artist, and David Krut Publishing, 2000


TAXI-001: Jo Ractliffe, available through David Krut Publishing