Af­ter heroin, an­other life

Araminta de Cler­mont found so­lace and re­cov­ery in photography, writes ZARA NI­CHOL­SON

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IT HAS been a long road for pho­tog­ra­pher Araminta de Cler­mont from the dark days of drug ad­dic­tion in Lon­don to cap­tur­ing iconic im­ages of Cape Town’s school prom scene. At first glance De Cler­mont is a typ­i­cal mother of a tod­dler, dressed ca­su­ally, with her house full of toys.

A closer look re­veals the ser­ra­tions on her skin and the black marks on her lips, the map of her 12-year heroin ad­dic­tion. But De Cler­mont, 38, has come a long way from the days of dark rooms, wild par­ties and ev­ery-day heroin con­sump­tion.

At 20, De Clere­mont started us­ing heroin with ini­tial days of “feel­ing good and hav­ing fun”. She had com­pleted a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture and started a photography course which she loved, but did not fol­low through.

“I just went to too many par­ties and of course it’s quite fun and glam­orous in the beginning and I thought I was in­vin­ci­ble. I al­ways thought I could cope, in fact I don’t know what I was think­ing,” she said.

Her fam­ily cut her off and not hav­ing known her fa­ther, there was only her mother, who had also dis­tanced her­self from her daugh­ter’s drug ad­dic­tion.

“I re­ally iso­lated my­self, I didn’t like my­self and I re­mem­ber walk­ing in Lon­don and see­ing peo­ple hav­ing cof­fee and laugh­ing and I just couldn’t un­der­stand why they were laugh­ing. That was the end of the ad­dic­tion for me, where my un­der­stand­ing of life ended,” she said.

With black hair and fair skin, her nat­u­ral beauty has not faded ex­cept for the grooves in her skin where her self-in­flicted scars once were and the black marks on her lips that still re­main from 12 years of smok­ing heroin pipes.

Six years ago, in a fi­nal act of mercy, her mother sent her to Cape Town for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and a break away from her friends with an ul­ti­ma­tum: “This is your last chance.”

This time, De Cler­mont was ready to stop as she went to three re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres – pri­mary, secondary and ter­tiary.

“Can you imag­ine go­ing from some room in Lon­don to be­ing in a bikini on Camps Bay beach – that was a re­cov­ery.”

Dur­ing her re­hab ses­sions an ex­ten­sion to her treat­ment was found: photography.

In 2005, af­ter more than two years in re­hab, she went back into photography at the Ruth Prowse School in Wood­stock.

“I had the most bril­liant teacher be­cause he re­ally wanted us to work on our­selves, which is what I was do­ing with treat­ment, and in that way photography be­came an ex­ten­sion of my treat­ment. I was so shy and iso­lated my­self, but the act of tak­ing a pic­ture is quite bond­ing.

“Dur­ing the ad­dic­tion I couldn’t even read a book or watch a movie prop­erly. It was amaz­ing to use my brain and do some­thing I had a pas­sion for.”

Once she grasped the skill again, she be­came fas­ci­nated with life in Cape Town and one of her first projects was pho­tograph­ing mem­bers of the num­bers gangs. She was amazed by their tat­toos.

“It was close to me be­cause of the scars on my face, but it was min­i­mal com­pared to the so-called brand­ing with the tat­toos. They are fas­ci­nat­ing – on the one hand it’s their mes­sage but it also lends to re­jec­tion by so­ci­ety. I felt comfortable with them, so ‘streety’, it was heal­ing. I tried not to talk too much. In­stead I fo­cused on how they felt about the tat­toos and a lot of them don’t re­gret it, it was a big part of their lives.”

Other work she’s done in­cluded mis­sion­ary bik­ers and free­lance news photography stints.

Her lat­est project high­lights pop­u­lar cul­ture in Cape Town– ma­tric balls on the Cape Flats.

Th­ese are the sub­ject of her lat­est, bril­liant ex­hi­bi­tion called Be­fore Life, where the con­trast­ing im­ages show cou­ples in their themed, stun­ning out­fits against the back­drop of the raw, bro­ken in­fra­struc­ture of the town­ships and coun­cil flats.

De Cler­mont was drawn to the way the youngsters pre­pared for the night to make the ex­pe­ri­ence as in­tense as they could with gowns, suits, cars, hair and make-up.

“I saw a pic­ture of a cou­ple on some­one’s wall and they looked so nice, the for­mal­ity and the hap­pi­ness just stood out.

“I got into con­tact with some schools who pointed some kids out for me. I couldn’t be­lieve the enor­mous fam­ily par­ties, all the pic­tures they take and all the ef­fort they make.

“It is re­ally im­por­tant be­cause for many fam­i­lies this is the first per­son in ma­tric in their fam­ily, or the girl, for in­stance, has never worn a pretty dress.

“Th­ese are the same neigh­bour­hoods the gang­sters come from and th­ese kids are ris­ing above places like Elsies River and Ma­nen­berg.

“They know they de­serve more and this night they start do­ing that.” Her ex­hi­bi­tion shows cou­ples pho­tographed in place like Mitchells Plain, Khayelit­sha and other Cape Flats ar­eas. The Be­fore Life ex­hi­bi­tion opens on Wed­nes­day at the João Fer­reira Gallery in the city’s Loop Street.

She has also ex­hib­ited in other part of the coun­try and in Eng­land, Wales and Ger­many. She calls her photography “a pass­port to re­cov­ery”. De Cler­mont is now mar­ried and has a son. “I didn’t think I would ever have a child – I thought I would die an ad­dict.”

PIC­TURE: ARAMINTA DE CLER­MONT

FLATS FASH­ION: Crys­tal Eras­mus shows off a tight pink dress with feather and flower de­tails – her out­fit for Ma­nen­berg High’s ma­tric ball last year.

PIC­TURE:TRACEY ADAMS

RE­COV­ERY: Araminta de Cler­mont at the Gallery where her work is be­ing ex­hib­ited.

PIC­TURE: ARAMINTA DE CLER­MONT

RETRO: Roys­ton Hal­ford and Tracey Abra­hams keep things clas­sic with a mod­ern edge with a cane, gloves and hat with some bling on Hal­ford’s shirt. Muizen­berg High ma­tric pupil Abra­hams does a fig­ure-hug­ging dress with flared lay­ers at the bot­tom. They were pho­tographed in Mitchells Plain this year.

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