GALLERY | Marc-Gregory captures AKA as you've never seen him before: 'Thoughtful, calm and vulnerable'

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Photo: Marc-Gregory

Famed South African photographer Marc-Gregory has paid tribute to Kiernan 'AKA' Forbes by releasing new portraits of the rapper taken before his death. 

AKA was shot and killed on 10 February outside a popular restaurant in Durban. 

Earlier this month, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the SA Police Service are close to cracking the case after they recovered cellphones pertaining to the murder and are looking into data that will help piece things together. 

READ MORE | AKA murder: 'We are cracking the case,' says Cele as cops piece together cellphone data

Following his death over a month ago, Marc-Gregory released images and behind-the-scenes videos of AKA during a photo shoot in February 2021 – two years before his death.

"I reached out to Kiernan in December 2019, and he immediately agreed to be involved," Marc-Gregory tells News24.  

When asked what his experience working with the rapper was, the photographer uses one word – "intense".

"AKA came into studio, backed by his crew and own brand of hip-hop music, which blasted through the studio. He was all about elevating the vibration in the room. 'Let's pick up the energy!' he roared. It was this sense of intense energy that inspired the 'SUPA MEGA' photograph."

Marc-Gregory adds that the rapper settled down when they conducted the post-photo shoot interview. 

"It was like AKA had left the room, and Kiernan had taken his place," he continues. "Kiernan was thoughtful, calm, and vulnerable. It was here that I got to appreciate the two sides to him."

In a behind-the-scenes video, AKA shares more about a graphic image of him seated at a piano. 

"It's very poignant… The picture says vulnerability to me, and that's what I think you are and have to be when you make music," Supa Mega says in the clip.

Speaking of the image, Marc-Gregory says, "Kiernan mentioned his desire to play the piano but thought it would never be possible in his lifetime. We brought that idea to life in the art piece, which captures his deep emotions and vulnerability, with the piano and paint around him representing the limitless forms of creativity that are available to all of us."

Sharing more about the inspiration for the iconography included in his art, Marc-Gregory says he "dove deep" into AKA's life before the photo shoot to understand the rapper.

"I listened to his music, read his lyrics, and watched interviews with him to gain a better understanding of who he was." 

Marc-Gregory adds that a lyric in AKA's song Heavy Drank inspired another of the photos, titled Ghost.

The lyric, 'I'm a ghost, now you see me, now you don't,' AKA says, emitted his feelings of not wanting to be in a place for too long but making sure his presence was felt when he was in the room.

Another image, titled Babylon, was inspired by the meaning of the word, Marc-Gregory says. 

"In modern times, the name Babylon is often used metaphorically to describe a place of great wealth, luxury, or power," he explains. "AKA utilized the name often in his music and viewed Babylon as a simulation, similar to the Matrix, that represents the pursuit of influence and material possessions and a place in which we are all currently living."

In a final tribute, Marc-Gregory says his vision for the images was to "capture AKA's purpose and the various sides to him – AKA the music star, The Supa Mega; and Kiernan the man – his vulnerability and a deeper understanding of what fuelled his creativity."

"Through these photographs, we are given a glimpse into Kiernan's life, purpose, and legacy. While his passing is a reminder of life's fragility, his Purpose Portraits serve as a testament to his spirit and the lasting impact he has left behind."

The released portraits will feature in Marc-Gregory's second edition of his celebrity portrait book, In Good Company II. The book showcases public figures who have, according to the photographer, achieved greatness and will be released in 2024.


Kiernan 'AKA' Forbes
Kiernan 'AKA' Forbes
The Supa Mega
The Supa Mega

Also included in the edition is beloved radio presenter Mark Pilgrim, who died earlier this month after battling stage 4 lung cancer.

GALLERY | Mark Pilgrim's final portraits by Marc-Gregory 'befitting of a true South African icon' 

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