Love is the universal truth that connects us all. We fall in and out of it, feel the butterflies in our stomach and the stabs of jealousy in our gut, whether we live comfortably in the suburbs or sleep rough on the streets. That’s the message behind Noncedo Mathibela’s new exhibition, To Love or Not to Love: A Street View, which brings together beautiful, intimate portraits of homeless couples living and loving on the streets of Cape Town, in a way that celebrates love, where it happens.
Celebrating love in all its forms
Many of the portraits are bold and striking, like that of Jerome and Madelensia, a couple who had just welcomed their child into the world, five days before Noncedo captured the proud parents. Other images tell a lonely love story. Like Caroline, who we see being pushed in a trolley, all smiles and laughter. But we soon learn that Caroline beds down on a makeshift plastic bedding, dreaming of the day her husband and father to her four children, will return from serving 18 years in prison. But even Caroline is willing to wait for love.
“There are all these common stories in relationships, like cheating, and it leads to all these other things,” says Noncedo of the threads that run through the collection and love itself.
Giving pause for reflection
The project, which is currently being exhibited at Amplify Studio in Cape Town, is already making people think and talk differently about the people we see, but pass over, on the streets that we share. “Many said it made them stop and reflect,” says Noncedo. “Like this one lady who said, ‘I’m one of those people who just sees homeless people and look at their clothes and get irritated, [but] now seeing a picture of how exposed they feel just gave me a different perspective.’”
And that’s exactly the point. “For me,” says Noncedo, “it just makes you stop and look at your life and your privileges. It makes you think differently, if you’re not a shallow person.”
Subjects not objects
Convincing her subjects to be photographed wasn’t a big challenge for the Cape Town-based photographer, who spent five years with Media24 before quitting to become a fulltime artist in 2015. “I was very open,” says Noncedo about her approach to the project. “The common question was money, and I was very open that I wouldn’t pay them, but hopefully the project grows and becomes something else that would enable all of us to benefit financially.”
Noncedo also made sure they knew the portraits would be exhibited in public. “I invited two of them to the opening and I’m hoping to invite more,” says Noncedo who, along with the couples, hopes the exhibition will bring positive change to their lives.
To Love or Not to Love: A Street View runs until March 17 at Amplify Studios, 153 Loop Street, Cape Town.
Check out more of Noncedo’s work on Instagram, Tumblr, and her website, including her ongoing Carbon Copy project, in which she and her twin sister cast the lens upon themselves to express how they see themselves as twins.