• 01. Omar

    Omar, also known as “Chappies” after a well-known South African bubble gum brand, was a “king” in prison, commanding absolute respect. He now sleeps rough beneath an incomplete flyover and sells wine to other street people.

  • 02. Martin

    Martin, whose alcoholic mother neglected him as a child, prompting the farewell tattoo to her on his forehead, is captain of a homeless football team that beat Australia 9-1 in a Melbourne fixture of the 2008 Homeless Football World Cup.

  • 03. Frank

    Frank, 52, was sentenced to three years in prison but after murdering an inmate spent a total of 27 years in prison. The faded tattoo on his forehead reads, “the money is mine the bullet is yours”.

  • 04. Stranger

    Stranger, once a highly respected member of a prison gang, is the subject of mythmaking and conjecture: some say his curled first is the outcome of his first visit to prison when he desperately attempted to hold onto all his ill-gotten gains.

  • 05. Moerse

    Moerse, a scrap-metal collector, spends his days with other strollers in the middle of a traffic circle in a Cape Town industrial area of Cape Town. According to prison lore, a tattooed insect, especially on the face or nose, indicates a dangerous person, something Moerse tearfully denied during this shoot.

  • 06. Ali

    Ali, a cleaner/handyman at St George’s Cathedral, lives in a bare room at the rear of the church. It is always scrubbed clean, his blankets neatly rolled-up. The crowns on his shoulders identify him as once having been a high-ranking figure in the 28’s.

  • 07. Fahiek

    Fahiek spent 27 years in prison. He was released in October 2007. A hit man, he spent a year living rough (with his dog Sheeba) before returning to his old was profession. He was recently murdered after collecting his fee for a contract.

  • 08. Charles

    Charles has been in and out of prison since he was 13. The penis tattoo is specific to the 28’s gang and relates to their practice of taking wives (“wyfies”) in prison. The small tattoos MUM and DAD are acronyms for “Man Under Money” and “Day after Day”.

  • 09. Mr Green

    Mr Green, an inmate for 18 years, got his nickname from the colour of his prison tattoos. A resident of Capricorn settlement, he earns his living as a car guard on Sunrise in Muizenberg.

Body of Knowledge

Araminta de Clermont

A record of one photographer’s dogged pursuit and respectful encounter with former prisoners living in Cape Town’s “hidden places” – homeless shelters, derelict tenements, bus stations and township shebeens.

About Araminta de Clermont: Born in London (1971), De Clermont studied architecture before enrolling in photography at Cape Town’s Ruth Prowse School of Art. Her photojournalism, which focuses on the visual currencies of group identity and formation, has been widely published. After Life, her debut solo exhibition, presented at Cape Town’s João Ferreira Gallery and excerpted here, is a document of ex-prisoners and their tattoos. The bodily marks convey various meanings. For instance, tattoos showing hand salutes – three or two fingers or a thumb – indicate membership in one of the three chapters of the Numbers prison gangs. A recovering heroin addict, De Clermont says the project made her consider her own biography and “how it would be if we all had our past mistakes permanently emblazoned across our faces”. Araminta de Clermont lives and works in Cape Town.