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Born Free

Staff Riding


Staff riding, the local slang for train surfing, is a widespread phenomenon in South Africa. Katlehong is one of the largest townships of the country and has played a key role in the history of the struggle against apartheid. The population is almost entirely made up of blacks, but strongly multiethnic: all the eleven South Africa's official languages are spoken in the township. This urban area has been for many years a dormitory-town for workers employed in the Johannesburg's factories. Poverty is widespread, and there are still vast areas where houses are shacks without electricity or basic services.  The almost total majority of surfers are kids under 25. Amputations and death are really common. Train is historically the conveyance which accompanied workers from the township to the Johannesburg center. The Prasa Metrorail, the SA train company, is one of the foundations of the townships society.This connection between train and citizens remained very strong over time. The spectacular and risky act of train surfing becomes the framework to tell the Katlehong's young people social fabric.

In a context where violence , rampant poverty , abuse of alcohol/drugs and infant birth/AIDS are the masters , the train surfing is configured as the search for a social redemption for youngsters from Katlehong.


Oct.-Nov. 2013
Katlehong, Johannesburg


- World Press Photo Multimedia Contest, 1° prize in the Short Feature category
- 2014 30under30by Magnum Photos
- Lucie Foundation Emerging Scholarship
- -PDN- Photo District News Photo Annual Award in video category
- Burn Magazine Emerging Award
- Fotocrati Found
- Premio Ponchielli ( made by GRIN, Italian picture editor association)


- Pulitzer Hall, Brown Institute for Media Innovation. NYC, USA.

- 4° Cortona On The Move Festival, off circuit. Cortona, IT

- The Royal Photographic Society, 157th International Print Exhibition. London UK

- Leica Galerie. Milan IT

Main publications:

- National Geographic Proof (USA)
- Time Lightbox (USA)
- Wired Photos (USA)
- CNN Photos (USA)
- D di Repubblica (IT)
- Tages Anzeiger (CH)
- LFI Leica Fotografie International (DE)