Photographer Reatile Moalusi delves into perceptions of beauty

Reatile Moalusi’s series Mollo Wa Badimo on the skin condition vitiligo shares an intimate account of the individual’s experiences. Pictures: Reatile Moalusi
Reatile Moalusi’s series Mollo Wa Badimo on the skin condition vitiligo shares an intimate account of the individual’s experiences. Pictures: Reatile Moalusi

Joburg-born Reatile Moalusi’s photographs reveal more than just the physical form of his subjects, they convey the soul and character of the people who find themselves in front of his lens.

Moalusi, who studied photography at the Tshwane University of Technology, predominantly photographs people who spark his fascination with the boundaries between the inner and outer layers of beings.

Recently featured in Vogue Italia, Moalusi says his work delves into perceptions of beauty: “With beauty, the standard measures tend to place darker people at the periphery, which has made visual anthropology a field I’m interested in pursuing.”

The 35-year-old’s work aims to bring about increased awareness on issues such as discrimination and ill treatment of individuals who are viewed by society as abnormal.

Moalusi is well known for his previous series Mollo Wa Badimo (Fire of the Gods), which focused on the skin condition vitiligo. He continued the series in a body of work that piqued the attention of those at New York Portfolio Review.

New York Portfolio Review critiques photography, video and multimedia. It is sponsored by The New York Times Lens blog, the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and United Photo Industries. The review is held under the banner that “only the quality of your work should matter”.

About 40 esteemed reviewers, including photojournalists David Gonzalez, Elizabeth Avedon and James Estrin looked at work by 160 talented photographers chosen from a pool of roughly 3 000 applicants, and Moalusi was one of those chosen to feature his work.

Now the documentary photographer is hard at work on Pigment, the second episode of Mollo Wa Badimo.

“Pigment and Complexion are each collections of portraits that convey a sense of character by capturing the embodied contrasts of vitiligo. The Pigment series is made up of portraits that illustrate individuals with vitiligo against the backdrop of wildlife element or symbolism,” he says.

The series that emanated from Mollo Wa Badimo is an ongoing and evolving project.

“Images from the Complexion series were photographed using artificial light in a studio utilising large format photography. The Pigment series is mostly photographed on location using mainly natural light and a combination of digital and medium-format photography,” he tells #Trending.

Moalusi’s project hopes to increase awareness of vitiligo and clarify misconception about it by focusing on beauty, identity, self-acceptance and the dispelling of societal myths.

“The project seeks to create positive and attractive imagery of persons living with vitiligo. As observed and experienced, the depigmentation of the skin caused by vitiligo is a constant change.”

Another project that Moalusi consistently circles back to is monitoring fatal road accidents involving pedestrians and motorists throughout the year.

“This project was inspired by my own road accident experiences. Through them, I realised my responsibility as a photographer to create awareness and a dialogue, and to keep people continuously mindful of the dangers of the road.

“As one drives across the South African landscape, it’s common to see roadside memorials where death occurred. The memorials mark the spot where a person or people were killed and acts as a place of grieving and remembrance.”

Often, the memorials can be identified by a crucifix and flowers, and sometimes a photograph of the person who died, which creates a place for the bereaved to remember and commemorate the lost loved one.

“Like a photograph, a roadside memorial becomes a place to remember the deceased, as well as a place of solace for family and friends, and a way to keep the person alive. Historically, it’s evident that the living cannot simply forget the dead.”

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