These posters exist for a day. They are conceived in the newsrooms of Johannesburg’s tabloid dailies – The Star, The Sun, The Times and others – in the late afternoon, as the paper is being put to bed. Just hours later they are visible alongside every major road in the city.
These tabloid posters – candid and often outrageous epigrams of news – have been displayed in this way since the First Anglo-Boer War. They live momentarily in the minds of passing drivers and pedestrians, and by midnight they are already defunct.
I began collecting South African tabloid posters in 2008 with no other purpose than to preserve them. I thought they were funny, clever and true. Composed in a local vernacular of shebeen English, these statements are part of the texture of our urban fabric; so familiar as to almost disappear. Loud and colourful, tough and sharp, replete with a droll wit and blunt gallows humour, their blatant iconoclasm and muscular use of language is invigorating and oddly reassuring. The newspapers themselves were not keeping an archive, and however ephemeral they might seem I thought there was a relevance in them that was not being recognised; something uniquely South African.
Constructed from political soundbites, public innuendos, colloquial bons mots and hard, bitter truths, they read like an everyman’s state-of-the-nation address, full of comedy and antagonism.
Laurence Hamburger is a filmmaker living in Johannesburg. Frozen Chicken Train Wreck, his first book, is published by Chopped Liver Press and Ditto Press. More info.