Walking in Jozi, Going Nowhere

This weekend I participated in a workshop on urban exploration in downtown Joburg, sponsored by Dérive app. Dérive is a new online application that encourages people to explore cities in a unique way — following a set of random instructions from a virtual deck of cards.

The cards in the deck say things like “Follow something red”, “Use public transport”, “Find a dog”, etc. Each time you complete an instruction you ask the deck for a new card, and keep going until you decide to stop.

derive card

Example of a Dérive app card.

During the two-day workshop we split into groups and took a couple of “Dérives”. Then we went back to our meeting space and designed a deck of Dérive cards that are specific to Joburg. The cards we created have been integrated into the app, so that anyone who downloads it and takes a Dérive in Joburg can use them.

hair salon card

Card created by Fiver Löcker and me — I came up with the idea and Fiver drew it.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love walking and taking photos in downtown Jozi. But usually my walks have a specific purpose — learning about Joburg history, exploring a particular neighborhood, or taking photos of a certain subject. The Dérives were great because there was none of that. There was no purpose to our walks whatsoever, other than to follow the cards and see where we wound up.

Most (although not all) of the places we walked were places I’d previously been. But since my attention was focused differently, I noticed things I’ve never seen before. Here are a few of the shots I took, mostly with my iPhone.

yebo yes driving school

Driving school car in Jeppestown.

camping zone

Car parked in a “camping zone” in the Maboneng Precinct.

waiting

Following a card that instructed us to “wait for two minutes”. Note that we chose to wait next to a penis enlargement sign.

At one point our Dérive landed us inside the Collector’s Treasury, a seven-story building packed floor-to-ceiling with old books and collectibles. I’ve been meaning to visit the Collector’s Treasure for years, literally, and I’m so glad the Dérive app finally got me there.

book pile

Books.

Collectors Treasury doll

I had to pull out my real camera to properly capture the Collector’s Treasury atmosphere.

vanessa camera

This woman’s name is Vanessa. In the Collector’s Treasury she found a camera called Vanessa.

Collectors Treasure pen nibs

A box of antique pen nibs. (Naturally.)

We didn’t get past the first floor of the Collector’s Treasury. I need to go back and write a longer blog post about it. In the meantime here is a Collector’s Treasury post from a friend’s blog.

cool old building

Pretty building near the Kerk St. market.

fabric shop guy

Streetside fabric shop owner with an amazing face (near the Carlton Centre).

pampers sign

Another funny sign.

nails

Weird.

One of the cool things about the Dérive workshop was that it forced all of us to go out of our comfort zones in one way or another. People around us were also forced out of their comfort zones. We received quite a few strange looks.

hiding dead body

With this card we were instructed: “Somewhat suspiciously, look for a place to hide a dead body.” Note the two bystanders.

When one of my Dérive groups — four white women — was walking through Jeppestown in the rain, a car screeched to a halt beside us. The woman on the passenger side of the car (who also happened to be white) rolled her window down and exclaimed, “Are you all OKAY?”

I wish I’d had my camera ready. The woman’s eyes were like saucers and the look on her face said: “I am terrified to be riding through this neighborhood in a car I can’t believe you ladies are walking you are bat-shit crazy.” We grinned and waved.

Dériving in Jozi is not like dériving in Paris. Joburg isn’t a city designed for aimless walking. You need to be aware of your surroundings and I wouldn’t do it alone. But meaningful experiences often require a bit of risk.

don't touch the samples

My favorite shot of the weekend.

group shot crazy

The Johannesburg Dérive Workshop crew. (Photo: Ashleigh Jacobs)

The Johannesburg Dérive cards that we created are going to be on display for a few weeks on the second floor of Arts on Main in Maboneng. The exhibition opens next Sunday (21 April). Keep an eye on the Derive app website and Facebook page for details.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Meruschka April 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    great project Heather! Sounds like so much fun randomly exploring the Joburg! Would have loved to be involved in something like this. Looking forward to trying out the Derive app.

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Thanks Meruschka, We should do one in Pretoria!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish April 15, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    That sounds like such fun! I’d love to work one up for our local town and I wish I could find a bunch of friends who would be willing, but every photography buff I know is all into “professional” type stuff they can make money on, and I have a feeling following random quirky prompts like these would make them sniff and go back to their cool outings at the wildlife preserve and garden show. Anyway, I don’t have a smart phone or IPad. So what would I do, carry my laptop and my Olympus?

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Hey Eugenia, at the workshop we actually talked about the option of printing the cards out. I think Eduardo, the creator of the app, is planning to do that eventually and sell the decks in hard copy.

      • Reply Eugenia A Parrish April 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        Fantastic! Please let me know or send me a link if (when) he does!

  • Reply Timmee April 16, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Yes let’s do Pretoria

    • Reply 2summers April 16, 2013 at 7:08 am

      I’ll ask Eduardo, the guy who invented the app. I’m sure he’d be up for it.

  • Reply urbanecaveman April 16, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I loved this idea – seems like playing treasure hunt! You must have had an awesome weekend..!!
    Any chance of this app coming up for Indian cities?

    • Reply 2summers April 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      Well, the app is available for anyone to use now, you just won’t be able to find city-specific cards for your specific city. But I think eventually it will be possible for users to create their own city-specific cards. Keep an eye on the website!

  • Reply Ashleigh Jacobs April 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    So chuffed Heather ! Exciting stuff

    • Reply 2summers April 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for your contribution Ashleigh 🙂

  • Reply elegsabiff April 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Wow, all those years I lived in JHB and never knew about the Collectors Treasury! It looks amazing.

    I used to work in downtown JHB, my gut reaction was that you were insane but I guess a small group would be safe enough although I’ve been mugged twice while walking with one person (chased and got the bag back both times, too) *determined face*

    Nice post. Memory city.

    • Reply 2summers April 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, a lot of people don’t know about the Collector’s Treasury. It’s quite a place.

      Wow, mugged twice and got the bag back both times! That’s quite a track record. What years did you work in Jozi?

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