After heroin, another life
Araminta de Clermont found solace and recovery in photography, writes ZARA NICHOLSON
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.”
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.
RECOVERY: Araminta de Clermont at the Gallery where her work is being exhibited.
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.