Photos tell contentious stories

2019-05-28 06:00
Noxolo Grootboom back stage at the Miss Drag SA pageant.PHOTOS: LEE-ANN OLWAGE

Noxolo Grootboom back stage at the Miss Drag SA pageant.PHOTOS: LEE-ANN OLWAGE

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Mowbray photographer Lee-Ann Olwage says she was very honoured to have her work exhibited at the 2019 Head On Photography Festival in Sydney along with so many incredibly talented artists.

The exhibition ran from Saturday 4 to Sunday 19 May at Paddington Reservoir Garden.

Speaking about the festival, she says the Head On Photo Festival is a bridge between Australian and international photographic markets. The festival has toured in America, China, India, Europe and New Zealand. This has introduced the international photographic elite to the wealth of photographic talent that Australia possesses. The festival is run by The Head On Foundation, a non-profit organisation (NPO) which believes that all photo artists need a fair chance to show their work.

The organisation is dedicated to promoting the work of photographers at all stages of careers, encouraging excellence and innovation, making photography accessible to all and raising awareness of important issues through photography.

“I’m also very excited to have the opportunity to tell South African stories to a global audience and to be a vehicle for important stories to be told,” she says.

Her photographic work on the Queens of Cape Town is a project that explores the world of drag queen beauty pageants and aims to look beyond the glitz and glamour of stilettos, glitter and tiaras to highlight the importance of safe spaces where queer bodies are celebrated.

“The Miss Gay or Miss Drag pageants provide a platform for individuals to express themselves in a space where the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community feels safe and where queer bodies are celebrated,” she says.

Olwage, who is self-taught, started photographing various pageants in Cape Town at the end of June last year and continued the project for six months which resulted in the Queens of Cape Town project. Over the six month period, she got to know many of the queens on a personal level and from the conversations they were having, new ideas emerged for how she would like to continue this work.

“It has been amazing working on this project. It is such a privilege to share space with so many incredible people who have taught me so much. There is something so courageous and beautiful about being yourself authentically and unconditionally in a world that doesn’t always accept and celebrate that.

“I have so much respect and admiration for the beautiful people I have met while working on this project and it has helped me to be myself more,” she says.

As a photographer for social change, she adds that working on the project has taught her a lot. “I have learned to be confident and how to be yourself unapologetically. I also picked up some great make-up tricks,” says Olwage.

Starting off her photography work as a hobby, Olwage has won awards for her work and she says she feels incredibly blessed to be doing this kind of work and for all the special people she gets to meet.

“I also feel very honoured that people trust me to tell their story through my lens. This is a very big responsibility and I constantly work at making sure that I am working in the most authentic and sincere way possible. I often take time to step away from work and then come back to it as I grow as an individual,” she explains.

V For more information visit Lee-Ann Olwage’s website on


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