Cape Town Production Industry and the Water Crisis

We asked Cape Town Photo Production Professionals how the water crisis affected their work & their daily life.  Here's what they had to say:



In September, I go to European cities and ad agencies, show my face again make sure they are comfortable for the next season and do some damage control. You can see the damage with Day Zero and all the politics. It is all politics. It's like when Trump does something completely outrageous and everyone says they aren’t going to the United States again. The tourists feel it and we all feel it,  so we need to do damage control. It is the same.

We had American consulates saying, "It's a no-go. Day Zero is coming." They were talking like it was Mad Max here, as if people would be killing for water.  The media has completely sold us as an apocalypse.  I keep waiting for a movie from America.

I had one client call me and when I saw the number come in, I'm thinking, "Oh! It's a job!" and it's this great photographer, so I'm excited when I pick up.  He says, "Are you alright, Julie?" and I'm thinking, "What do you mean?" He says, "It's in the news, the water and Day Zero," and I'm going, "Oh, please..." Then he says, "I would like to come and film you guys when you stand in the queue."  They want to film our misery. I was like, "Fuck that. Really! Do you think I would still be here with my family if things were so bad? I'm just going to sit here through Day Zero without a plan?" It was completely negative vibes.

I was released from six jobs because of the water crisis. A few of them were water-oriented. [The international clients] said they didn't want to come here and use water that we didn't have.(4).jpg

He goes on to say they wanted to film these women in their beautiful cars and then carrying big plastic containers, waiting in the queue for water and fighting in their Chanel outfits. They wanted to make it a whole fashion thing. No. I am not interested in feeding into this media frenzy.

There are others who don't go to that extreme, but who want to film the dams.  I said, "You can come any year. The dam is always empty." January and February are always dry months.  We are in Africa and we have dry seasons and wet seasons. It's going to start raining soon, so I have to do damage control with the internationals.

We are more conscious of water, now.  That's a good thing; it's great, but we've had some cancellations because of the international perception of our water problem.  In the end, I want people to remember that this is a mature industry in South Africa. We have decades and decades of maturity - people are buttoned up.  You know that if you are hiring local models and you have locations, things will be done by the books. It's a soft landing here.



Louise Park-Ross:


I'm quite hardcore about it.  I think I probably have more buckets than anyone else.  I've got this huge one, which I think is a rubber ice bucket for beers, which I pretty much "shower" in.  Nothing gets wasted. The washing machine drains into the 200-litre tub - my block of flats helps each other out.  Yeah. I'm pretty hardcore - at one point, I was using a spray bottle of water to do the pits and the necessaries in lieu of a shower.

As for the industry, the water crisis and the plastics issues are very linked for me. I can't handle it when you arrive on set and there are a million plastic water bottles.  It's so unnecessary. I worked with a production company that did such a clever little system. They had glass bottles with a ring with a color. So, at the beginning of the day, you were assigned a color and that was your bottle for the day. Then, they had a huge container of spring water that they collected at  Newlands Spring, and it was awesome. No plastic.

In terms of how the water crisis has affected the industry, I think internationals are a little bit scared to come here. Come, but just be conscious.  When in Rome, do as Romans do, and when in Cape Town, do as Cape Townians do, which is to not waste water. Come! We are very nice people!

As for work... I've been pretty flat out.  I've been working hard. I think when winter hits, that's more when work dries up. During the summer, that's our busy season and there's still a lot of really cool stuff going on this year.

I was released from six jobs because of the water crisis. A few of them were water-oriented. [The international clients] said they didn't want to come here and use water that we didn't have.(3).jpg

Jan Verboom:

My line of business is photography and I work a lot with production companies based here in Cape Town, so a lot of internationals come our way. We've had fantastic seasons, but for a lot of the production companies I've spoken to, I think our season has been a little contracted. Sadly, something as basic as water has impacted our industry, but winter's on its way now and I'm sure in another year or two, we will be up and running again.

Crystal Birch:

I was released from six jobs this year because of the water crisis. A few of them were very water-orientated shoots. One was under water, one was in a mineral water bottle, and one was a rain story.  So, the drought has really affected things. They ended up shooting elsewhere - one went to Lisbon, another to Miami, another to Argentina. So, the water crisis did have a big impact on people's mindset.  For some of them, it's, "What? You don't have water for us?" but for others, it's that they don't want to contribute to our crisis. The Swedes, in particular, noted that they didn't want to come here and use water that we didn't really have.

Interviews  and photos by Annika Howe

For more information about the history of Cape Town's Water Crisis, read this article

To view a photo essay of featuring signage, artwork and videos highlighting Cape Town's Water Crisis, follow this link