Billy Monk worked as a bouncer in 1960s Cape Town. Armed with a camera, he also managed to photograph inside the club, The Catacombs. Housing revellers of all creeds and colours, this dockside spot illustrated both forms of the word 'underground'. His access to this cross-section of society allowed him to photograph scenes of uncensored joy, passion and debauchery not often associated with apartheid-era South Africa.
A decade later, Paul Gordon, who had once shared a studio space with Monk, handed the meticulously labelled negatives to photographer Jac de Villiers. Intrigued by what he saw and with David Goldblatt on board too, an exhibition was staged at The Market Gallery in Johannesburg in 1982, with Monk's blessing. The show was a critical success and Billy Monk took leave from his job as a diamond diver in the north of the country's shoreline, to attend. A pit-stop in Cape Town along the way, however, proved to be the full stop in Monk's story. He was shot dead in a drunken argument. His photographs, though, live on and continue to give the world a rare glimpse into this period in Cape Town's history. In the words of art critic Ashraf Jamal;
The story of Billy Monk and his short life, well lived, has become somewhat of a myth over the decades. His compassionate quest to photograph the world that he himself was a part of, is probably best captured by journalist Lin Sampson in her defining 1982 essay, ‘Now You’ve Gone ’n Killed Me…’