Behind the photo

At artist Thokozani Mthiyane’s U-shaped flat in Doornfontein, I was overwhelmed by his space, his artworks everywhere and how the light was coming in. The challenge was to find a spot that would depict what Mthiyane was about.

I talk to people I’m photographing to gauge their mood and to involve them. Portraiture demands participation or magic will not be achieved.

I immediately found the right spot for him. The sun was diagonal and the room perfectly lit through big windows, which diffused the light slightly. A large part of the room was dimly lit, but one could still see paintings on the wall, oils on the table, an easel on the floor. Because I was using natural light, I had to ask him to sit down to get the light on him, especially his face. I exposed for the highlights to get details on his face, in line with where the light was coming in. Because of his co-operation, it was easy to photograph him.

We did a few frames with him looking at the camera or looking away before we came to this one. He crossed his legs and I asked him to look outside. This shot soothes my heart and reminds me of the privilege I have to call what I love to do work.— Oupa Nkosi

Oupa Nkosi
Oupa Nkosi

Oupa Nkosi began taking photos in 1998 with a pawnshop camera, before enrolling at the Market Photography Workshop. He began freelancing after graduating and has since run community projects, won a Bonani Africa award, had his work selected for exhibitions in Zimbabwe and Japan, and been invited to international workshops. He began at the M&G as an intern and is now chief photographer. He also writes features for the paper and lectures at his alma mater.

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