PHOTOGRAPHY- Searching the City with Musa Nxumalo

2015-04-26 14:30

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The black-and-white images of photographer Musa Nxumalo showcase the vivid personalities and nightlife that reflect his understanding of township life.

"For me, freedom isn’t necessarily about being able to sit at a restaurant in Rosebank as a black person. It’s about being able to do what I do, in the way I do it, and having access to spaces that allow me to share that.”

At 29, up-and-coming photographer Musa Nxumalo can’t be described as a born-free, but he counts himself lucky to be working – able to photograph the scenes that speak to his consciousness and to exhibit his work beyond the confines of his immediate community.

His exhibition – titled In Search Of... – is running at the Goethe-Institut in Parkwood. Despite the clinical white walls and his black-and-white images, the content of his work speaks about a world of incredible colour.

Combining images from a range of series, Nxumalo’s vivid portraits and nightlife photography deal with his understanding of township life through images of “real-life” events and the goings-on of ordinary people.

He prefaces the images with posts from the Emdeni Facebook group, which tackle daily issues faced by the residents of his community.

“It has always been about wanting something different. I would see the guys in the shebeen pushing crates of beer. Since I was a kid, that image stuck with me. I hated it. It’s not about being better or whatever, but I couldn’t have that for my life.”

The sense of needing to escape presents itself in subtle ways through his work.

The images of young people drinking, dancing away their troubles and, in some cases, looking incredibly vacant speak to Nxumalo’s own need for escape, physically and psychologically.

He walks me through the exhibition. While I expect to hear a detailed art analysis of the images, the techniques and the subjects, it is clear this is just the tip of the iceberg.

His process is long-suffering and rigorous, and sometimes the final photo is the end result of a long process.

“There’s a lot of stuff I’ve kept in my journals, documenting the things I see and feel. And sharing that does make me feel a bit naked. But at this stage, I’m at a point where I want to get it all out.”

But Nxumalo has opted not to simply stick his personal journal entries to the wall.

Instead, he has produced an accompanying video and will soon produce a book that carries this work.

He believes the work will not be complete until this happens, but he admits he is happy with what he has been able to accomplish in terms of the quality of the images and the response gained at a group showing at the Goethe-Institut and at a previous showing in Stellenbosch.

“It’s amazing to be able to do my work, and have young black people and old white people respond to it and engage with it.

“For some people, this is one of the few true depictions of these areas. That’s important to me.”

.?In Search Of... runs at the Goethe-Institut, Parkwood, until May 30

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