It is with great difficulty that I find myself writing about a friend so recently deceased and who was so much part of my life for over forty years. He was a man of impeccable integrity and gentleness. Paul was a highly disciplined and a complex person who touched so many lives. I shall try to recount my friendship with him.
Our friendship began at our digs, a commune in Harfield village in 1977. I was in my first year at Michaelis School of Fine Art and he, his fourth year in architecture at UCT.
We warmed to each other from the start. I was fascinated by his almost obsessive energy and creativity; he had covered his bedroom walls with rolls of paper and was forever populating that space with fantastical cityscapes, drawn with fine architectural rotring rapidographs. The detail therein was truly mesmerising. It was clear that architecture would not satiate him. I remember encouraging him in his quest to go beyond the confines of architecture.
By the end of the year he decided to discontinue his architectural degree and began first year at Michaelis, even though he had only a year left to go. Thus his career as painter and photographer was born. Since those early days we continued to share our passion for documentary photography, always approaching each other for critiques on our work.
While in Harfield Village, I remember Paul would return from visiting his folks down the road, bringing huge pots of split pea soup with copious amounts of bacon to feed us hungry students. He already had difficulties with arthritis and one day declared he was going vegetarian! He began his strict non- inflammatory diet way before we became aware of the health benefits. You are what you eat, he believed.
Paul majored and then did his masters in painting. I remember he struggled to resolve his monumental paintings that took up half of the Roodehek communal Studio space in Gardens. He was never satisfied. In the end, he did not finish his masters despite its imminent completion, as had been the case with architecture. His focus had changed. He had become passionate about the medium of photography; it’s immediacy, versatility and ease of dissemination, as opposed to painting.
I moved into two other digs with Paul in Vredehoek. We then both joined the collective organisation Afrapix in Jhb. This marked the beginning of our working relationship on a number of projects. We had mutual sentiments and approaches, both coming from an art background yet passionate about documenting the struggle against an unjust system. We were both known to be sticklers for perfection as well as uncompromisingly principled.
Although we sometimes grew apart during periods of our lives, we nevertheless continued meeting to share our ongoing work. He was very private, perhaps even hesitant about his work but felt at ease and keen to share it with me. Later, Paul, Graham Goddard and myself established darkrooms at Roodehek Studios and the three of us formed a memorable working relationship. At the time, Paul was working on his project in Namaqualand, an iconic body of work, with the NGO Surplus People’s Project, amongst others.
Apart from the numerous Afrapix projects we worked on together, Paul was involved in multiple disciplines at Community Arts Project in Chapel Street and at Community House, as well as numerous other organisations. Always brimming with enthusiasm and energy he continued his selfless activist work at District Six museum with his beloved partner Tina Smith, right until his passing.
Paul was forever pushing the envelope in his photography and although eventually having to put down his much loved analogue Leica, dived into digital photography with great panache. Up until recently he frequently mailed me his latest images for comment. I too, would send him images that I wished for him to comment on and greatly appreciated his insight. Unlike some of us he was able to reinvent himself creatively and adapt to new technologies.
It goes without saying that Tina and I (as well as many others) would constantly nag Paul to allow us to assist him to publish his work but as usual, he humbly claimed it was not worthy enough.
Recently I managed to visit Paul to give him some medicine to help clear his chest infection. Surprisingly, he obliged and we spent our last few hours together poring over images and scans. I shall forever cherish that last interaction. Recovering admirably from his operation, he was looking forward to returning to an active life. Devastatingly, by some stroke of fate, this was not to be.
Dear Tina, my only wish is that his oeuvre be deservedly published and his archive preserved for posterity. Perhaps this might help many of us come to terms with our sudden tragic loss. May he rest in peace. Camagu.