The untold story around the evolution and technological feats achieved between 2005 to 2020 by the Table Mountain Cableway is now on exhibition at the most visited museum in Switzerland, The Swiss Museum of Transport. The cableway is the first African engineering feat to be showcased at the museum.
Every year the company that runs the cableway system on Table Mountain shuts down for anything between 2-6 weeks for maintenance. During this time massive engineering feats take place to ensure the safety of the millions of tourists who travel to the top. Cables are changed and cable cars refurbished. This is engineering on a grand scale set in a very unique environment. In 2019, for the first time ever, the 2 cables that pull the cable cars up and down the mountain were changed at the same time as both cable cars were stripped and chec ked. Since 2005 I’ve been photographing this engineering feat and these are the pictures from 2019’s shutdown.
Gary Hirson – photographer
“We approached Gary Hirson, one of South Africa’s most recognized photographers, to visually document our annual shutdown activities,” says Wahida Parker, Managing Director of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC). Parker adds that even though they transport thousands of visitors daily, the public does not get to see what it takes to keep them safe.
These shutdowns are a major exercise that forms part of TMACC’s commitment to the safe operation of the cable car. Hirson spent long hours with the technicians as they went about their work, capturing the maintenance work and offering a visual insight that few others can match.
“The idea of being the only photographer to be able to capture the ‘behind the screens’ of the people, working in a unique environment, in extreme weather conditions to ensure the mechanical safety of the cable cars was an adventure I could not pass. It has been one of the highlights and honour in my working career,” says Hirson.
Displaying his work in Switzerland is a significant move, he adds. Firstly, Switzerland is seen as the international benchmark when it comes to cable car safety. The International Regulatory Body is based there, and its strict operational safety rules are why TMACC closes once a year for maintenance.
The second reason is that it was an opportunity to take one of the seven wonders of the world to Europe and showcase how TMACC makes it possible for people from around the world to get an insight into the challenging work it takes to make sure everyone gets to the top of Table Mountain in safety.
The Swiss Museum will highlight 32 of Hirson’s images. Eight images have been printed and framed for exhibition, while the remainder is on display in a digital touchscreen format, allowing visitors to browse some of his work capturing the maintenance shutdown work. The exhibit started at the end of April and will be on permanent display at the museum.
“To demonstrate a narrative through visuals, you must have an emotional connection and bring to life the human element of man versus machine. To many, this may sound very technical, but I was allowed to portray it through my own art.”
The cableway has been transporting visitors since October 1929, with several upgrades and expansions over the years. TMACC operates in strict adherence to the maintenance and safety regulations set down by the Swiss Governing Body for Cableways.
“Hirson did a spectacular job over these past 15 years in capturing the essence of the demanding work our team does,” says Parker.
You can see the visuals here.
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There is no one way to explore all of the Cape Town Big 6, and much of what makes each of them so special is the variety of things to see and do at each. So if possible, take your time to explore each of the city’s most visited tourist attractions in as much depth as possible – as any local will tell you, you can spend a lifetime at each of the Big 6 and still not tire of them. Find the 3 and 4 day itineraries and tips here.