Considering the fact that he is the sixth recipient of the Tierney Fellowship at the Market Photo Workshop and he has had renowned South African Photographer Pieter Hugo as a mentor, the great work displayed by Sipho Gongxeka at his first solo exhibition titled“ Skeem Saka” comes as no surprise.
The 25-year-old Soweto native is a photographer who is passionate about fashion as well as using it as a tool to communicate and raise the real critical self identification issues.
In his recent body of work – currently on display at the Market Photo Workshop – he explores the influence that media representation of fictional black gangster-type characters has on young African men.
Shows like Yizo-yizo and Gaz’lam in addition to films like Tsotsi are referenced in his recent body of work. He specifically looks at how these have played a role in shaping the lifestyles of these young men and how fashion/ clothes have become a “status symbol that separates the men from the boys.”
What started off as just a fashion interest piece took a twist and became a serious documentary of the typical lifestyle of young men in the township, under the mentorship of Pieter Hugo. Sipho believes that it’s about time we as young people tell our own stories and stop relying on outsiders to do that for us. Why? Because no one can tell a better story of a place than the person living there.
I recently met up with him to discuss the entire experience.
What was is it like being mentored by Pieter Hugo?
Working with Pieter Hugo was amazing, a great year-long experience. I learned how to be professional, mostly how to be a hard worker. Working with someone who has been in the field for quite some time really opens up one’s mind.
Before the mentorship, was he one of the photographers that inspired you?
Yes, I learned a lot from his Portraits, he has a way of framing things. Even with this body of work, I took some pointers from him in terms of my composition, [the] distance between me and my subject and my choice of lighting.
What are the challenges that you faced when working on Skeem Saka?
I chose to photograph my friends [and] one would think that would be easy because its people I’m close with, but that was not the case. Sometimes they didn’t take me seriously; I had to be patient with them. It was also interesting to see how they changed when I had the camera with me.
That choice of photographing your friends, was it because they resemble the characters in the movies or did you make them up?
It’s a bit of both, some of them are the way they are in real life and with some images I had to create the characters.
Is it an ongoing project?
Yes, the project is mostly based on men, so I would like to introduce women in it because I believe they play a role when it comes to masculinity. I want to showcase the stereotypes in gangster movies about how men treat women and how it affects us in reality.
How would you challenge yourself to developing further?
As I mentioned before, I photographed my friends… So challenging myself further would be me approaching people that are not close to me to be part of the project.
What were you planning on achieving with this project?
The aim was to create a dialogue with the audience. Skeem Saka is not a conclusion of anything, and it’s more of a foundation and discussion about black male stereotypes and gangsterism. I believe I did a great job in achieving that.
Where to from here?
I’m planning on pushing even harder, produce more work that raises a lot of questions and maybe even one day have a book out.
Advice to our Live Mag readers
Push hard, make sure you get your point out there, be yourself, be open-minded and always remember to stay relevant and most importantly, TELL YOUR OWN STORIES!
Photography by Sipho Gongxeka, for more of his work you can check out www.kingsiga.wordpress.com
Follow me @officialNqobi_M