Paola Loomis in conversation with Nathi Khumalo, a young photographer based in Soweto, Johannesburg.
In February Nathi won the ITWeb Brainstorm calendar competition. We are happy our interview is shortly following that event. http://www.brainstormmag.co.za/12-in-depth-analysis/12780-winning-can-change-everything
(Click any image to enlarge)
It took more than 150 years for photography to be considered an art. And maybe it is not by mere accident that it is also considered, along with cinema, the more democratic among the arts. Your work finds his place as a critical way of seeing, without losing poetry.
The first question to pose to a photographer is regarding his main tool: the camera. How do you define your relationship with your camera? Could you tell us the story about your first one?
The first camera I had was a Samsung point and shoot camera, that's where I started. But my first DSLR was canon D1000, which I still have. It gave me extra edge. It has become my thinking space; whenever I have an idea I would pick it up; most of the time I like to be by myself, and a train of thought just strikes, the camera allows to capture bits of that thought, looking at or admiring something.
In becoming a photographer, were you first attracted by the end or the means? By the pictures or by the camera? Could you tell us the story of this attraction?
The lens was my first attraction, when I studied science in High-school and I found out that it was designed as a replica of the eye.
When I was in 11th grade during a “career day”, different institutions came to the school, and I thought I wanted to become a computer technician but in the back of my mind I was really not convinced. I was very lost at that moment, I was worried about what I would study going ahead; during that time I was interested in fashion, lifestyle, I would look at magazines and a lot of fashion on TV, hahahaha...
I remember looking at an image of five people lying on the street, I was so fascinated that I then decided I wanted to pursue photography.Any chance to see that picture? Unfortunately I don't have it.
Sorry for the interruption, What happened then?
I looked at an aptitude test I did in 9th grade, whose results suggested that my strength was to pursue a creative career. I chose photography, even though a lot of people around me weren't convinced, but I believed that I wouldn't do anything else. An interesting story is that, when I was kid, my grandmother used to say she will buy me a camera when I become a teenager, so I could make some extra cash. The story is quite overwhelming, because it did happen. It was a blessing.
How old were you? I was between 10 and 13.
How many other related technologies or techniques do you use? Do you make plans and sketches?
I use a scanner and a computer. I use Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance the images. I think I'm an intuitive photographer. With the project 'AGES' (on view here) the process is quite different: I'm an investigator on a scene, looking for evidence and clues. I want the images to leave a question mark, hence I use the snapshots aesthetically merged with constructed images. The subject demands me to be more open and decisive.
Your profile picture on the 'Artists' page represents yourself shaking a black box. It reminds me of the “camera obscura” where the images are made. Is that correct? Could you talk about this interesting portrait?
This is quite a different observation, which is interesting. That particular self portrait is actually a surreal image: it is the idea of someone with a big head, which represents their ego. It is looking at how the ego becomes uncontrollable when you allow it to takeover your personality. It is the surrealist representation of a personality which is at war within itself, and it can't balance its head.
When reviewing your work, how much time do you spent in front of your images? How do you choose the good ones? What is the most pleasurable moment of your work?
I have been training myself not to have a lot of frames for one image. So the final decision comes after the scanning, or the downloading of the images on the computer, while selecting a range of images to edit, and deciding how to convey a particular narrative with the images. Sometimes, while looking at the narrative, I see repetition, where one strong image which distracts, or there is a slippage of meaning. Having a response from people, even if it is not as critical, keeps me on my toes.
Could you tell us about the BLD collective you are a part of in Soweto?
BLD (Between Life and Death) was established in 2015 by a group of photographers who saw a need for a more collective effort to showcase and support each other within the the visual culture. It is wonderful to see it growing. We have a page on Facebook, and here you can read our statement:
When using your camera, how do you know when it is the perfect moment? What happens? Are you in search of something or do you find something?
The process differs according to a particular project or a singe image. As a student at the Market Photo Workshop I was trained to understand the difference between authorship and witnessing, so I exist between both, and as photographer I can choose.
Contemporary photographers can make decisions based on the understanding of both historical and conceptual contexts. Then the viewers can make up their own minds: I don't want to spoon feed them the interpretations of the pictures.
Looking at your images, it seems that you have been able to merge both aspects, the historical and the conceptual, and that is quite an achievement.
Thank you Nathi for the interview, and congratulations for the ITWeb Brainstorm calendar competition!
You can see the 'AGES' series by clicking here.