This book is dedicated to the house-proud women of rural southern Africa

Mark Smoot, professional Landscape architect and passionate photographer from California, took a job in South Africa in 1982 at the height of Apartheid. Fascinated to learn about this new world, he began taking road trips, exploring dusty roads and remote villages with his Nikon on the car seat beside him.


Mark’s focus soon became the self-built, rural homes of the indigineous peoples that he found to be meticulously maintained, decorated with loving care and fitting in complete harmony with their surroundings.

The resulting portfolio of 577 full-colour photographs, taken over seven years and poignantly capturing a time and cultures that no longer exist, remained boxed away for decades as Mark continued to travel and work around the world.

Finally, while locked down during the global covid-19 pandemic, Mark took out the photographs and put them together with 26 sketch illustrations, construction methods, tribal histories and his memories of adventures into this 303 page volume.

Mark’s work provides a rare insight into the lives (at that time) of indigenous peoples from 14 tribal groups of 6 different countries and the complex historical forces that impacted their traditions and vernacular architecture.

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This book is my expression of gratitude and tribute to all those amazing people, mostly women, who allowed me to enter their wonderful homes with my camera.

Mark Smoot

'A house is made with walls and beams. A home is made with love and dreams.'

– Unknown 

Mark smoot portrait

Tribes . villages . regions . countries

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AmaNdebele

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AmaNguni

South of the Limpopo

From Botswana to Kwarrielaagte

Lesotho

The Highveld

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Namibia

crossroads

my life solo in the most remote
and exotic parts of africa

The project had its beginnings for me in 1982. I was 27, in California, and just starting my career as a landscape architect. Not content with prospects at home, I ran away in search of adventure. I easily found a good job in London but at the onset of the first miserable winter, determined that the money I’d saved was enough for me to up-root myself once again. Heading south, I traveled solo through many of the most remote and exotic parts of Africa, encountering amazing nature, wildlife, mysterious cultures and many warm, welcoming people at a time before mass tourism or mass population shifts toward urban centers had affected the pace of life in much of Africa. I was able to absorb the African life-spirit at its best and felt most connected when I was among rural peoples, interacting with them at their pridefully created earthen homes.

 

In order to stay as long as possible I took a job at the only landscape practice I could find on the entire continent, in Pretoria, South Africa. It proved to be a good decision, but this was 1983, during the height of apartheid. At first glance the city seemed to have more in common with suburban California than the Africa I had grown to appreciate, but it didn’t take long for me to see the effects of its sorrowful repression. Planning to stay no more than a year, I bought a cheap car to explore the country as much as possible in that short time. What I discovered kept me so intrigued that I found it difficult to stop and ultimately drove down countless thousands of dusty backroads – keeping a visual record with my camera – not only in South Africa but also in five of its bordering countries. If Mozambique hadn’t been in the grip of a devastating civil war, I’d have crossed that border as well.

Mark’s focus soon became the self-built, rural homes of the indigineous peoples that he found to be

The process of photographing tribal peoples and their homes became my addiction. I sketched village layouts and learned the construction method used in building the many different shelter types. Their well-maintained dwellings always impressed me as being at one with nature or in some transitional adjustment to cultural change and it would tug at my heartstrings every time I encountered a creative, house-proud matron decorating the walls of her own, cozy, earthen home.

 

I stayed in South Africa much longer than planned, but when I did move on – to new career opportunities, first in Malaysia, then the United Arab Emirates, and then Sri Lanka – I stashed all my slide transparencies, sketches and research notes into a tidy cardboard box. That box moved patiently with me as I made each subsequent relocation, but whenever I caught sight of it, at the back of some closet or dank storeroom, I couldn’t help but hear the unified voice of all those homemakers back in Africa asking me if I was ever going to show their handiwork to the world.

 

So now I’ve finally done it. I re-opened the box at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic while locked-down at home in Portugal. First I digitised the hundreds of old, yellowing slides, editing out some forty years of accumulated scratches, dust and mold. With a fresh perspective I rewrote all my previous accounts of tribal histories and building traditions, adding to these my own memories of adventures.  Everything has now been arranged into this one, three-hundred-page book that, in my humble opinion, is worthy of a place on any coffee table. Finally, with my long standing duty fulfilled, the pictures can now speak for themselves.

Nine examples of the book’s 150 double-page spreads

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02:12 minutes-long promotional Video

Customer review

"This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. We proudly present this book now on our table for everyone to read. The cover is beautiful and from high-quality material, the pictures that have been restored from the 1980s are just amazingly beautiful, and the writing in the book so personal and touching that it makes readers experience Southern Africa through Mark’s eyes. This book offers a unique insight into the self-built and rural homes of the indigenous people in Southern Africa in the 1980s, told and captured beautifully through Mark’s lens. Would highly recommend."
Amy F

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Aiming to show the world the immense creativity that I was fortunate to have discovered all those years ago, I have compiled everything into one book, sectioning it in a way that gives a thorough understanding of the people from various regions and countries of southern Africa, their tribal histories and their struggles. I then added my personal memories of adventures while exploring each region.

- Mark Smoot

"It has taken nearly forty years to bring the project to fruition"

This photo documentation has been created to display the unique, and quickly disappearing, shelter-building heritage of indigenous southern African societies. It has taken nearly forty years to bring the project to fruition but I am happy with the end result.

"It has taken nearly forty years to bring the project to fruition"

This photo documentation has been created to display the unique, and quickly disappearing, shelter-building heritage of indigenous southern African societies. It has taken nearly forty years to bring the project to fruition but I am happy with the end result.

Aiming to show the world the immense creativity that I was fortunate to have discovered all those years ago, I have compiled everything into one book, sectioning it in a way that gives a thorough understanding of the people from various regions and countries of southern Africa, their tribal histories and their struggles. I then added my personal memories of adventures while exploring each region.

- Mark Smoot