I studied photography at the Market Photo Workshop in 2010, after seeing Musa Nxumalo’s Alternative Kidz exhibition sometime in 2008.
Seeing his work, I knew I had to get my message out there through images like that. So, in 2012 and 2013, I entered the Elle style reporter competition. I didn’t win. I was a finalist two years in a row and I couldn’t understand why I didn’t win, especially the second time around.
So for a while I stopped shooting altogether because I thought I wasn’t good enough.
A few months later, I was selected as one of, I think, seven female photographers to photograph a DKNY campaign. I really believed my images were good. But I got an email informing me that unfortunately they couldn’t be published and that I wasn’t allowed to use them.
I was so shattered that I deleted my blog and I stopped shooting.
This year, I sent a series I had shot for my lookbook, Sibadala Sibancane, to an online publication and was told my work wasn’t “quite right for them”.
I wasn’t fazed. Maybe it’s because I got used to being told that my work isn’t good enough. I’m also no longer trying to create work for someone else. I create work for myself, work that speaks to me and I am content about it. Now I use my Instagram account as a platform to create all the things they said I couldn’t.
I want to tell stories based on how I grew up in the township, how we speak in the township, how we dress in the township. I use examples from ko kasi. Even my subjects and location are ko kasi. I don’t compromise. I can’t compromise because that’s where I’m from.
This is not an anthropology project. — Photographer Lebogang Tlhako, 30, as told to Zaza Hlalethwa