Exhibition tells tales of cableway

Work of photographer Gary Hirson currently on at the Youngblood Africa gallery.

Do you ever wonder what happens at Table Mountain during the annual maintenance of the cableway?

An exhibition called Man, Machine, A Mountain by Sea Point photographer, Gary Hirson, tells the story of what really goes on at the top of the mountain during the annual maintenance shutdown.

Mr Hirson was commissioned in 2005 to photograph the maintenance process for future project manuals. Little did he know that, what was initially assumed to be a technical based manual, would turn into a unique portfolio of artwork spanning over 15 years.

The exhibition is part of Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) 90th anniversary celebrations.

Mr Hirson said he realised that not many people know what actually happens during the shutdown of the cableway.

“This maintenance shutdown is for the safety of people who take the cablecar to the top but the public don’t know anything about it,” he said.

He said among others, people were not aware that the cablecar gets taken off completely and striped entirely and all the working parts are replaced every six years.

“Whenever I spoke to people about the maintenance shutdown, I mostly encountered surprise and bewilderment as many people didn’t realise that it took place. That was how the idea of the exhibition came about – to showcase what it involves.”

He said the work environment is unique and the work has to be done no matter the weather conditions .

The process follows a strict international code of conduct.

“I’ve photographed this maintenance shutdown since 2005 and every year, not only am I blown away by the scale of this operation because it’s huge but by also the professionalism and the dedication of the men and women who work in all weather conditions to ensure that each and everyone of us can enjoy a safe ride to the top of the mountain.”

He said he was grateful to have been a part of the maintenance team for the past 15 years and has managed to build a meaningful relationship with the workers. He said the work is risky and everybody including him adheres to all the safety protocol.

He said he had to go for special training to do the job, including rope access training.

He said he’s learnt not to take things for granted.

“You have something of a scale of Table Mountain and the cable car that operates up and down and there’s never been a fatality and you don’t realise what actually goes on behind the scenes to make it happen,” he said.

The managing director of TMACC, Wahida Parker, said the exhibition was instrumental in educating everyone on the importance of the annual maintenance period for the cableway. “Our staff works tirelessly to ensure that the safety of the cableway is of top priority. This provides visitors with peace of mind and a sense of refuge, while experiencing the wonder that is Table Mountain.”

The exhibition is at the Youngblood Africa Gallery, 70 Bree Street, until Sunday March 29.

The cableway will next be closed from Tuesday July 7 to Sunday July 26 for its annual maintenance.