Billy Monk: Shot In The Dark

Jacob Richardson | 18/05/2020

An intriguing, if not overly compelling, short documentary.

Billy Monk with a friend from the Cataco

Billy Monk was a South African photographer, known for his photographs of the Cape Town nightclub scene during apartheid. He is also known for his untimely end, shot dead in a highway altercation on his way back to Cape Town to see his own first exhibition. This documentary focuses on how his photography came to be, what was so special about his black and white prints, and shines a light on the greek tragedy of his untimely end. 


Billy Monk - Shot In The Dark is a tight 30-ish minutes, and the timing of the piece says something undoubtedly about the hold this character and his tale are likely to have on you. Billy Monk is a little known photographer, with a very niche subset of photographs, that intrigue, rather than compel you.


That being said, the documentary is very well made. With no live footage available, and utilising a combination consisting, in its entirety, of to camera interviews with related parties and still imagery from the period (including Monk’s own photography), the film faces an uphill battle to capture its audience. But capture it does, and for 30 minutes the black and white shrouded interviewees guide you through the intricacies of Monk’s life. They talk about how Monk’s use of flash threw everything in the club into stark monochrome realisation, and stripped it of its glamour, even as they sit there in the same grayscale doing as much to Monk’s life. 


Director Craig Cameron-Mackintosh keeps this pacy, and interesting over the short runtime, and evidently has a love for the subject matter - it’s this love that pervades through into every frame of this piece, and overcomes the niche nature of the subject matter to still engage with the audience. 


This is a very niche subject to tackle, but if you can spare 30 minutes of your day, it is an undeniably well made and interesting short documentary.