Radio interview with Pippa Hudson from Cape talk 567 outlining how Changing the Lines came about.
In 2005 I was contacted by the then general manager of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC). She told me that TMACC was planning for an upcoming maintenance shutdown in which some of the cables would be changed, and they wanted the process photographed to create an operations guideline manual for future cable changes.
I had no idea of what to expect.
Day one of the shutdown arrived and, with camera in hand, I arrived at the scene filled with heavy machinery, Swiss
engineers and TMACC staff in overalls ready to get to work. Table Mountain as the backdrop with the awakening city below made for the perfect setting.
Immediately, the photographer Sebastião Salgado’s book Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age came to
mind. The powerful images it documents made me realise that it’s reportage photography, whether street or travel, I’m most passionate about. Seeing the epic scene in front of me, I realised that this was an opportunity I had to grab with both camera-filled hands, so I mentioned to the general manager that she would be getting more than just an operations manual.
That was the beginning of a 13-year journey, which has resulted in this, my second photographic coffee-table book.
The idea for the book first came to me in 2015. As the only photographer to have photographed the maintenance
shutdowns in such depth, and over such a long period of time, I realised I had a treasure chest of unique images to
During the two- to five-week shutdown, a lot more happens than cable changing. This is also the time when roadworks, new builds, interior refurbishment, and staff training happens .
The question became: What to include in this book?
Every four to six years, the ‘heel’ and ‘haul’ cables that pull the cable cars up and down the mountain need to be
changed. Every 12 years, the track cables on which the cars glide need to be retensioned. And every six years, the
cable cars are stripped, serviced, checked, refurbished and refitted. Given the scale of Table Mountain, all of these
procedures are feats of engineering, unique in that they don’t occur anywhere else in South Africa. The teams work on the foothills of the mountain, tightrope-walk the cables high above, and are dwarfed by machinery and elbow deep in oceans of essential gear. For safety reasons and more, everything − from the tiniest of nuts and bolts to the most massive of major working parts – must be stripped and replaced or refitted with absolute precision. Anything overlooked could result in the direst of consequences.
Adding to the drama, everything has to be done during midwinter, and the notorious Cape weather doesn’t always play along. However, it can’t influence the deadline. Ensuring that all that must be done is completed on time often means long hours.
Changing the Lines is not a promotional book for Table Mountain or TMACC but, rather, a reportage showcasing man working with machine in an engineering feat that takes place in a unique and dramatic environment.