Fundiswa Ntoyi's fascination with portraiture

Fundiswa Ntoyi’s photographs portray emotion so vividly and each image becomes a translation of a South African story. (Fundiswa Ntoyi)

Fundiswa Ntoyi’s photographs portray emotion so vividly and each image becomes a translation of a South African story. (Fundiswa Ntoyi)

Manifesting out of the fundamental human desire to document, archive and celebrate our own existence, portraiture has been around since the beginnings of civilisation. First taking shape through paintings, drawings and sculpture, early portraits focused on telling the stories of nobles, royals and religious figures – revealing that our obsession with status reaches far back into history.

With the development of photography, however, the traditional definition of the portrait changed from a nearly exclusive experience for the powerful and those they commissioned to a medium that captures everyday human lives and emotions. Telling such stories is young Bloemfontein-born and Cape Town-based photographer Fundiswa Ntoyi.

In the 21st century it is far from uncommon to use photography, and specifically portraiture, to document the everyday, but what makes Ntoyi’s portraits captivating is the emotional connection she orchestrates between her subjects and the viewers. Her work is not simply focused on photographing ordinary people beautifully, but rather she works to capture the emotions and the stories behind their faces.

Intrigued by faces from a young age, Ntoyi’s fascination with portraiture began with drawing portraits from photographs taken by other photographers and noticing that there is an art behind an interesting image. This epiphany inspired her to start photographing her own portraits from which she could draw and, being a proactive millennial, she taught herself the ins and outs of photography. 

A “self-taught photographer”
“All I did was google photographers,” she says.
“I literally learned to take photos by looking at other people’s photography.” On her journey to becoming a photographer she took a detour in the form of a degree in communication science, which further inspired the narrative style in her photography. Still drawing, but now from her own photographs, Ntoyi has found a harmonious balance between her two creative outlets. 

She explains that her next shot always has to be better than her last drawing, which keeps her humble and motivates her to keep improving. Ntoyi believes she has a lot to learn before she can fully accept the label “self-taught photographer” and is focusing on producing consistent work and staying dedicated to her craft. To date, Ntoyi’s body of work is made up of photographs of people she came across without actively searching for specific characters. 

Personal space and boundaries 
This unforced, natural way of finding her subjects is reflected in her aesthetic. She never asks her subjects to pose, but mostly shoots portraits in an unstaged environment, with natural light, creating a quietly significant moment out of the found. While her approach might seem effortless, it is definitely not careless. She is always conscious of personal space and boundaries, especially when taking portraits of strangers.

Even within these social boundaries, Ntoyi’s photographs portray emotion so vividly and honestly that they are able to connect her subjects with the people who view her photographs. Each image becomes a translation of a South African story. It is her intuition and emotional awareness that make her pictures so intriguing. “When it’s the right one I know,” she says. “My heart tells me.”

For more information, visit

This article is adapted from an interview that appeared on the creative showcase site

Client Media Releases

Property mogul honoured at NWU graduation
Intelligence is central to digital businesses
One of SA's biggest education providers has a new name: Meet PSG's Optimi
A million requests, a million problems solved