Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Ark, Durban

Pin It (The Ark was a controversial christian shelter in the Point Road area of Durban; a refuge for homeless people. The Ark was closed amidst considerable press debate. This photo essay and article was published in Camera and Image Magazine, Dec 08/Jan 09 issue)

The evolution of landscape in photography
Reflections on landscape and a photo essay

The landscape is a recurring theme in art over the centuries, and in the more recent medium of photography, that also holds true.

But like all creative expression, be it in literature, painting or photography, ideas move on, evolve and shift. They do so partly because the world around us has changed, and partly because our consciousness of that world has altered. If one looks at the expansive English landscape paintings of the 18th and 19th Century, they expressed a form of grand idealism about the world, firmly based in the creator and creation, sylvan in their depiction of world. Green fields, pastoral scenes; the golden glow of a perfect landscape; canvasses that are almost heaven on earth.

In a similar vein, photography in the earlier part of the 20th Century developed along similar themes, and these themes still endure today in many forms. Consider, for example, the work of Ansel Adams – those beautiful landscapes that celebrate the romantic vision of a virgin American West. In many of his images of Yosemite, taken in large format in black and white, the lighting and composition reinforces the essences of the Great American Dream; a pioneering affinity with the outdoors and the creator.

The romantic landscape endures today, and it evokes strong feelings in all photographers, even if those emotions are sub-conscious. I don’t think there is a photographer who hasn’t, at least once, been able to resist the compelling attracting of a golden sunset or the reflections of trees in the water of a perfectly still morning lake. There are thousands of offices and homes adorned with wall calendars depicting perfect scenes bathed in idyllic light to uplift us from our dull desks and piles of papers. As a youngster, I remember my relatives keeping chocolate boxes with alpine and lakeside scenes to store the sewing kit in – a visual break to remind one of how life might be if one wasn’t sewing on buttons or darning socks.

While those photographs are pretty and romantic, many photographers in the latter part of the twentieth century began to question their relevance to the world most of us actually live in. It’s one thing to construct and present this perfect world, and another to find that when we frame the image, we have to duck to avoid the electricity pylons in our viewfinder, or move a little to the left to dodge a factory or cluster housing estate. And then, there is always Photoshop to correct those blemishes on the landscape in a digital era.

The fundamental shift in landscape photography came about when a number of photographers started recognising that we live in a world that has been altered by man; that it is almost impossible to go anywhere and find the unspoiled idealistic romantic environment that earlier artists so tenaciously clung onto. In the 1970’s photographer Stephen Shore published a groundbreaking book called “Uncommon Places”. In “Uncommon Places”, Shore shows a very different set of American landscapes to those of Ansel Adams. They are images of small towns in America, detailed photographs of supermarket parking lots, shop fronts, housing estates; natural scenes all imprinted with the influence of man and the cultural landscape on the natural landscape.

Shore calls this “conscious attention” “It is,” he says ”a condition of seeing the world in a heightened state of awareness. I think most people have walked down the street and for a few minutes everything looks brighter or more vivid, or space and time feels more tangible; things seem more real.”

Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joel Sternfeld and William Eggleston are all great photographers who revolutionised the medium in the latter part of the 20th Century with similar approached to the medium. Photographers such as Robert Polidori have also created wonderful landscapes in his books on Havana and ruins of Chernobyl.

I can distinctly remember when I first saw these images in a 1977 Time-Life Photography Yearbook so substantial was the impression they made on me. In the world of art and photography, however, that was three decades ago, and there has been substantial evolution since then. On one end of the scale, recent landscape photography has been concerned with realism in everyday life, on the other, the manipulation of imagery that has become so much easier with the digital age has allowed the construction of completely imaginary and fabricated landscapes.

Realism versus fabrication is a whole moral and ethical debate in photography, but that’s a debate we can pursue in the future……

The traces we leave behind…..

“…these old buildings are about to undergo a construction metamorphosis that will see the Point Waterfront area become home to a brand-new brick and glass shopping centre topped by modern offices and serviced by undercover parking.”
From, 2006

Cities are continually changing and evolving, with parts of them destructing and reconstructing. Like most of life, they never reach a stage of completion, as does a baked cake. As cities and the buildings within them evolve organically, they leave traces of their former uses behind. Sometimes those uses are memorised in whatever new use the building is put to. The form is retained but the use changes, as in the case of an old warehouse that becomes a shopping mall.

I’ve been fascinated by the traces of people that once occupied spaces that are now abandoned and awaiting transformation, in part because those traces are fleeting, and I wanted to record them as urban landscapes in a documentary way.

These images were taken at a shelter, known as the Ark and located in a former barracks for stevedores in Durban’s once notorious Point Area. Run as a Christian mission, it provided shelter for homeless and destitute and desperate people. It was, over the years, shrouded in controversy, but remained a landmark in Durban for the urban poor. When the city redeveloped the Point area into a modern precinct of luxury apartments and office blocks, the Ark residents were served with an eviction order. Plans to move the residents to an area in Montclair, a residential community, were met with considerable resistance from residents. In the end, and after all the debate, the residents of the Ark were dispersed across the city, some even ending up in Cape Town. They were never moved en masse to a new location.

The promised new shopping and office mall complete with wine bars, restaurant and exhibition space was supposed to have been constructed by the end of 2007. At the time of writing most of the internal fittings have been removed by demolishers; little else seems to have taken place.

Despite this building having been in the hands of the demolishers, I’m amazed at how many traces of its emotional content has been left behind. Slogans on the wall testify to the occupants recording of their religious beliefs on walls that once towered above beds, old cards and posters have been faithfully photographed exactly where I found them, and signs of human habitation are still to be found in the small detail and in the spaces people once occupied. Plants and weeds grow through the rubble, testament to the power of nature to finally re-conquer all that man builds.

Whatever is built there will also have a lifecycle, and an end date. No matter how bright the chrome, or shiny the glass, it too will in years to come, be a pile of rubble, and a collection of memories, both good and bad, for the people that occupied and used it.


EneMan said...

Wow, powerful words and images!! I still have lots to learn about how to visualize and process what I see and the words "conscious attention" is a wonderful way to describe it. Thank you so much for your post.

Stuart said...

A fairly impressive portrayal of the remnants of what was a thriving community of 900+ people.

If you knew what to look for, you could have captured a lot more of what was in effect a small village with many productive departments.

All was ruled with a rod of iron by a disgraced pastor.

I actually lived there for 2 years before finally escaping back to the UK.

If you need any more info or have any photos to share for my upcoming book on the Ark, please don't hesitate to conact me.

Roxy said...

Wow... These pictures made me emotional. I grew up in The Ark. I live in Australia now. At the time of living in The Ark I never thought of it as a homeless shelter. It was just my home. Wow... I am just so moved. It's incredible to see pictures of my memories. It's not just a story I made up in my head - it's real!

I would love to have a chat with you, Stuart. If anyone has any more photos or memories or any thoughts at all about The Ark, I would love to hear from you. Please don't hesitate to contact me.

Wow, thank you again for the pictures.

Elize said...

Stuart and Roxy,I lived in the Ark as well, in fact I was a pastor there.
Your book interests me, but what concerns me, is the possible motive behind your book, considering your words about the "disgraced" pastor. That pastor was my friend.
There is a long and amazing history of God's miraculous provision of almost a decade prior to your stay at the Ark. Hundreds of homeless and destitute people had a roof over their heads and a plate of food to eat. You are welcome to contact me if you wish, but I can honestly not allow statements like yours to go unchallenged in the open media this way.I trust that you are doing a thorough job of your research before you put your hand to paper,and that you are in contact with the relevant knowledgable people?
Looking forward to hearing from both Roxy and Stuart.
God bless you both.
Elize Pieters
South Africa

Anonymous said...

My name is David, I lived in the Ark aswell but was fortunate enough to leave and come to England. I enjoyed my time living there. I was staying with one of the Pastorial families and they made me one of their own. Yeah I admit there was alot of Bad Drama going on there but if it wasn't for a place like the Ark i would iether still be homless or even worse..... dead. So I say thanks to the Ark and am truly sorry that it has been closed down....

Rod said...

Iam a South African / Aussie
In March 2004, visiting SA, I was robbed several times in Durban Central and South.

Disorientated,I spent perhaps 2-3 days at the Ark - if there is a hell, I was in it !!

Such a depressing, oppressive place
- a place that could swallow you up if you did not get away asap !!

Stuart said...

Re. Elize Pieters...

Your defensiveness is interesting but unwarranted as I am focusing more on the positive aspects and impact that The Ark had on peoples lives.
Such good works by so many good people was eventually undone by the greed of the management and effectively put 440 people back on the street when it was forced to close by the Ethekweni Municipality in 2004.
I lived through the whole end process as resident and departmental manager and attended all the court hearings so I can assure you that any specifics will be well referenced to existing legal documentation.

To reiterate, my focus is on the day-to-day lives of those who lived and worked there and not on the politics, giving the world an insight into South African street life it's daily struggles.

The proceeds of the book will be used to set up a properly managed and supervised, self sustainable homeless unit in Durban.

Anonymous said...

My dad lived at The Ark for many years. My sister and I moved to Canada with our mother and lost contact with our dad around 2003. Gathering bits of info from our family, he was one of the residents that was displaced. None of us have heard from him since then. Do you know if there is any way to find out where a resident may have been sent. (For those that were lucky enough to be sent somewhere.) Being involved in The Ark, you may even know him: Ben (Barend) Cromhout? We miss him terribly and now that we ar older want to find him. Please help in any way you can...
God Bless.
PS: I will be checking this site for a reply, but am having difficulty setting up a 'name' so will have to publish this 'anonymous'.

Anonymous said...

In relation to Ben.
I was there at the end and I may remember a Ben.
The Ethekweni Municipality Housing Department had a list of all 440+ final residents so they may be a good place to start.
Residents were sent to Ethekweni Clinic in Cato Manor, Strollers Backpackera Durban,A housing development in Welbedacht (where I moved with Ben and think he should still be there) and some moved to the Ark in Capetown.
I may be going there next year so I'll keep you posted.

Wendy said...

My name is Wendy, The Ark was my home in it's very early stages...when residents shared one shower cubicle per gender. Cold showers were the norm and you soon became immune to modesty, to the eyes that watched on as they waited their turn. The smell of parafine lamps and the taste of black coffee still brings a warm, happy nostalgia to my veins. Memories of my little brother pushing plastic drums of water from the single tap on his skate board, down the corridor to the loving little space we called home brings nothing but a smile to my face, albeit, he pushed plenty of potties (or to be honest, what my dad called, the piss-bucket) back in the other direction. This was a place where one experienced realism in it's most raw form, and for me, utmost happiness in it's simplest and most precious form. For the youth, our days consisted of true comradie, frequent swims in the nearby ocean, joyful sounds of praise and worship, miracles of food, stale sweets, yogurts and ultra mel custard that had to be eaten quickly because if they had not reached their sell by date, you could be sure they were about to. We got to rummage through your endless piles of unwanted clothing, determined to put together a funky little wardrobe. But most precious, we got to experience genuinly contented smiles on our parents faces as we watched very positive changes take place in their lives which meant safety for us. My siblings and I chose to leave foster care and it's creature comforts for this, after spending many weekends at the Ark...we knew exactly what we were getting into, and I can in all honestly say I had never felt happier and safer....In writing this I am reminding myself that my own children only need the simple things in life to be happy, they have way too much of the things that don't count...and I know I am not the only one guilty of this. Happy Days that can't be replaced is what I remember. Humour was always at the forfront of everything and Stuart, if you want to add lots of laughs to your story, between, myself and my family I am sure we can recall many a funny story that will have your readers in stitches, like many with diahrea vs few toilets. ...I remember how it felt to see lights for what felt like the very first time, when we finally got electricity, and to have a warm shower as opposed to boiling water on prima stoves and bathing in iron bathes (all this in 1989-92)in our little 'kitchen'...My dad had built us what felt like a tree house...he partioned (the walls were not allowed to touch the ceiling for fire hazard reasons) a 3 bedroomed flat with care and precision out of make shift 'carpeted' and 'carpented' walls....Wow I could go on an on....and through it all smile. There were lots of sad stories too, but in my time I only saw good things come of them. In saying all this, we eventually left the Durban Ark (very sad) but eventually landed back in the Cape Town Ark, which has nothing but icky sad memories for me...I am sure though that there will be others that will have seen it as a piece of heaven as I did the Durban Ark...Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Love and Light xxx

Wendy said...

P.S. Stuart...I am in the UK if you would like to get hold of me.

Roxy said...

It is wonderful to read about the happy memories people have of the Ark. I have many happy memories myself. It was definitely a positive experience for me. Thank you, all, for sharing what you have. :)

Stuart said...

I would love to chat with you or anyone else who have experienced the Ark in order to give a balanced view on the place.
Since you were there, it went downhill rapidly through greed, exploitaion and corruption.
Hot showers and decent food were the privilege of only the Pastors related to Derich and Blue bread was the norm (As donations were re-directed or sold on)
Despite this and more, what all of us residents had in common was the ability to stick together and survive whatever was thrown at us - regardless of race or politics.

Devan Anne said...

Hi there

I wonder if you can help me, I am looking for my dad who was at The Ark in Durban, then was moved to Cape Town! I cannot not get a number for them! Could you help? Maybe you new him Neville Henry Mans.
My name is Devan and if you can help please call me on 072 693 2432.

Anonymous said...

Re Devan
Best I can suggest is use the contact details here.
The website is down but the numbers could be valid....

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am also looking for my dad. He was involved in the really really early stages of the Ark. His real name is Johannes Hendrik Barnard but went by the name Shane Barnard. It was in the 90's there abouts. My email address is I last saw him when i was about 3 years old when he and my mom split up. and i have this insatiable need to see how hes doing etc. I am now 27 (born in 83) Please please if you have any info.. i would love to know if he is still alive even.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful images!

Does anyone remember Chris Du Preez who was a frequent visitor to the Ark? He was disabled in the sense that he was born with only one leg, and he had two stumps as arms? It is my husband's brother, and he has been missing for the past 14 years. He is often spotted in Durban in the point road area. If anyone can help in finding him, can you please mail me at dupreez dot dorothy at gmail dot com. We really need to find him!

Daya Pillay said...

Hi Stuart.
I have not experienced your pain as I was not at the Ark. I belong to the Maranatha Family Church who has just purchased an 8 hectare property in Ottawa ,Verulam, Kwa Zulu Natal.
We were informed by Dr Peter Munns of the, Ark of Compassion, that an amount of R25,000,000 belonging to the Ark is in the possession Of the City council, and he indicated to us that some of this money can be used to house homeless on the church property. You have mentioned that opening an Home for the homeless in Durban is one of your goals. Like to hear more about this matter. Daya Pillay

Kaz said...

Hullo Daya

Did you ever get feedback regarding your last request ie. info on starting a shelter of some sorts?

Anonymous said...

Hi! I am interested to know if there is a possibility of another shelter such as the Ark, being opened again in Durban.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I am interested to know if there is a possibility of another shelter such as the Ark, being opened again in Durban.


Anonymous said...

Hi there
In 1999 a new girl came to my school. Her father belonged to a motorbike club that hired one of the rooms at the Durban Ark Christian Ministries. My first experience with The Ark was when we attended a morning service there. very enjoyable. After that we started attending the youth meetings on a friday night and the Saturday night praise and worship. During the school holidays we used to assist either in the kitchen, crech or in the office answering the telephones. We met many friend there, young and old. It was a great experience. Me and my friend (Michelle) then started our weekend with coming from school and going to the ark to assist with cooking, etc. We also stayed over and the rooms first had no windows and we slept on the floor on blankets. There was no electricity but what a lovely time. Coming from a good home where I did not lack anything and coming to the ark made me humble. I will never forget the friends I made there although I have forgotten some of their names. I remember Karen and her brother Garth. Conrad Reincker. Oom Gert that used to take us home after a Friday night youth meeting. Richard, Stanley, The Marx brothers, Jenny and her hubby Mark. A lady and her babby called Damian. An african lady who touched my heart with her sad story and having heart trouble at such a young age. Michael Du Plessis and his girlfriend Irene. The workshops that was run by the some or other Government department. There was rooms and each room was a different trade, eg: needlework, woodwork, school, building teaching the people there skills. Outreach that was done and bringing the word of God to the people in the streets. The praise and worship leader Cathy sang so beatiful as well. I met amazing people there and always wondered what happened to them. Sad that it had closed down. I don't know if anyone will remember me, I was the one that like to sing on a Sunday evening Christa. Thinking of everyone there and keeping you all in my prayers. Have heard of other things not so good about people that defrauded the Ark and saw some irregularities here and there, some even got arrested and did time. but it was a haven for those that had no abode. Strict yet in some instances understandable due to the situations that some people came out of, therefore it necessitated more stricter rules. i am taking away good memories of the ark and leaving behind the bad ones i have heard.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Juliet and I was one of the strong female vocalists in the band at the Ark (some of the guys that have written to you,I know them personally. Living in the Ark for me was an eye-openerani found direction , purpose and desire to live. The motivational talks and preachings were innovative and highly I hold a Post graduate Degree in Forensics..all the glory goes to the Almighty God for His anointed servants He sent across my path...iam greatful because God has taken me from "Zero to Hero"

Peter Bendheim said...


When I originally did these images, it was to record the traces of memories that places such as the Ark leave behind.

Over the last year or so, I have been moved and interested in many of the comments left here by people who lived in the Ark.

I think there is potential here for a book or publication that with a mixture of words and images would tell the story of the Ark.

So I would like to encourage people to tell more of their stories here, and if there is anyone still living in Durban who was resident of the Ark who would allow their picture to be taken in the now for inclusion into such a project, I'd really like to hear from you. I will probably be leaving South Africa from the end of 2012, so don't delay!

Contact me

Cherelynn said...

Hi can anyone remember Lauren Hilder-schaeffer(Lollie), she was there around 1990(not sure if she worked there or lived there), she had a little baby boy at the time. She was my best friend from Rosehill Junior Primary. Her sisters were Celeste, Desiree(died of cancer) and Rochelle, her mom was Margaret. if anybody knows here whereabouts or what might have happened to her, please can u contact me at Thank u, Cherelynn

Aingeal said...

JULIET please tell me you are JULIET XULU, I have been looking for you hoping to find u on facebook. please email me
I was at the Ark for about 6 months I used to go to the services and then fell in love with what people did there and at a tender age of 17 i moved in. it is one of my fond memories and also alot of not so great memories. Belinda xx

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of an elderly gay Canadian man called Frank who lived at the Ark in about 1993. My late brother took him there as he was homeless and poorly. At one time in his life he worked as an Air Steward for Air Canada. A few months after he arrived at the Ark I made enquirires as to his well being and was told that he was very depressed and struggling/refusing to conform to the strict Christian principles taught there. Was he moved in 2004? Does anyone know if he is even still alive?

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am looking for someone by the name of Allen Gardner who would have stayed at the ark anywhere from mid nineties onwards. Pls mail me any info to

Anonymous said...

Right... you want photo's of the Ark when it was alive not dead..I have tons and tons and tons. I was there from 1997 to 2000. So email me on I worked with the youth their and will be retuning to SA to have a catch up with those I found on FB. If we can make a book on the positives of that place in order to cherish memories I'll help. Yes there were very real negatives their and institutionalism but hey if you want to make a mini microcosm of a society thats what you get.


Anonymous said...

Stuart, I am most interested in details regarding the last few months of The Ark's existence, just prior to closure by the council.

Anonymous said...

My name is Thomas...and I used to go to the Ark...every Saturday night,for praise and Worship,it was the best,better even than some churches were....and I got to know the late Minister,and even filmed the Praise and Worship on Saturday nights...having said that,does anyone know of the songs sang,and titles..its a long way back,but I am in the UK, now,but returning home early next year......"
Christ my Lord and God,as Thomas claimed when he saw his Lord!

Anonymous said...

Hi all ...this is my second comment,and I meant to ask,if Juliet still in touch with this site.....perhaps she knows something of the praise and worship songs as she was part of that brilliant team....she was in the front line,and the drummer,who had longish hair,plus the lead guitarist.....this praise and worship,thumped against the cold walls of Point road,every Saturday night,and drew many outsiders to its loving reachout capabilities...
As mentioned...I cant find the ability to grow roots in the UK,been here since 2005,and plan to return home early next year.....being now just almost 62(oct 19th),I want to live the last few years of my life,where I grew up....the land of Milk and Honey!get back to me...Juliet.." that word I use here as it means to ...go away please.....thats what I tell this culture,when I am told,as a South African,I come across as aggressive?:-(..xx to all who remember Thomas...

Mark Harley said...

Hi I am looking for Karl Marx who apparently lived at the Arc till it closed down....anyone know what happened to him? His brother Stephen Marx as well as some old school friends are trying to get in touch. I was at Teen Centre in Rosebank, Cape Town with him and have not seen him since 1995. Please contact me at or get in touch with Salesian Boys Hostel.

Anonymous said...

Hello all

I currently stay in the Ark and also work here. The ark In Cape Town. A lot of the people from the Durban ark moved here to Cape Town ark so get hold of us and I'm sure you will find out about who you are looking for. I recognize a lot of the names mentioned here of people you are looking for. The ark is an amazing place. There are currently 800 people staying here. Go to the website or better yet, our Facebook page The Ark city of refuge. God bless you all.

zoe Gough said...

hi my name zoe gough live ark 1998 married willam alan smith now passed away in 2003 ok but still found friends family ??

Anonymous said...

I lived in the ark in 1993. Have so many great memories. I'd love to get in touch with Chrystal Gosling. Her mother was Pat and father Tony. please if anyone knows where she is or how to contact her please let me know.

Bella said...

Wow ladies and gents....
I have tears in my eyes......this was home and family and memories to people...thank you for opening my eyes....

Mthokozisi IC Zuke said...

Durban Ark ministries was a home to most of us I remember the skills I've learned there and those skills put food on my table as we speak. plumbing, carpentry, brick laying and tilling. I'm so thankful for everything more especially good hearted people I met in 1998, my plumbing teacher a humble and down to earth gentleman, I can't remember his name but I have his picture in my mind, I'm what I am today because of him. I was there for a period of 4 months and God blessed me with knowledge that worth millions in that short space of time.
Humanity will always play an important role in our lives.
It was so painful to hear that E.M is closing down the place.
May God almighty bless you all.
I'm Israel Charlie Zuke.

Conrad Reinker said...

My name is Conrad Reinker, and I am one of the persons Christa wrote about on the 3. March 2012. Please excuse my english, but I live since 25 years in Germany. I totally agree with Christa, that the Arc war a great place to be! I too have wonderful memories from the Arc. Myself I have opened something similar in germany, and it is "emergency exit". It is a christian ministry, reaching out to the people in need. However, I do have to admit, that I miss Durban, the Arc, Christa und Micelle. Sometimes I wish to turn back the good old times!
But we will see each other lastest in heaven.
God`s blessings, Conrad Reinker

Unknown said...

Did he go by the name of Henni Marx?

Unknown said...

Think I remember a Johan Barnard who had a son called Shane Barnard ...