The Portfolio: Puleng Mongale

The first time I did something related to photography was 2015. It was with Bantu Mahlangu and Kgomotso Neto Tleane. I came up with the Intimate Strangers series and worked as the art director while they captured it. 

Then I started out with portraiture myself. I knew nothing at all, yoh. I wanted to express myself real bad, but it wasn’t working out with straight-up photography. 

After a two-year Instagram break, I stumbled on Natalie Paneng’s collages and they resonated with me immediately. I’m never trying to make people think of one thing and I could express that with collages. There’s never one way of looking and capturing things.

Collages would allow me to mix the old with the new. They would allow me to reinvent images and give them new contexts. I had to learn how to do it. My partner introduced me to collage-making through Photoshop and that’s how I started. It allows me to be as complex and layered as I want to be. 

I don’t think I’m faced with any limitations in my practice at all, except money. My skill set meets me where I’m at. That’s the beauty of being self-taught. You can do things the wrong way and get away with it. When I got into portraiture, I didn’t know what I was doing with the camera, but I knew what I wanted to capture. Even if I do it wrong in terms of camera settings, it doesn’t matter, because the work exists the way I want it to. 

Doing the kind of work that I do made me abandon the idea of perfection immediately. I know that I am not the most skilled. I know I don’t know everything about the tools I am using but I work with them anyway. I am surrendering to something bigger than me, so it doesn’t matter whether my work is technically correct.

In terms of the messaging behind Lord Lift Us Up Where We Belong, I wanted to capture the complexities experienced by the black working class. I’m from a working-class family and I wanted to use collaging to talk about it. The images that I used here are from a series that I did in 2016, When The Madams Are Away, The Help Will Slay. 

I felt that a single photograph didn’t allow me to express the complexities of help. So I remade the series using a collage. Take the women in the water, for instance. Some of them are practically drowning. Others are walking on the water. It’s all the same person and that is testament to how trauma and joy co-exist in our spaces.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Working alone, together: presenting the Wits Young Artist Award 2020 winners

Vick Bester, Pebofatso Mokoena and Jade Palmer, this year’s Wits Young Artist Award winners, each engage with with the particularities of the places where they live, inviting us in to their personal spaces

Kamogelo Lebotse: The Portfolio

Photographer Kamogelo Lebotse has been documenting the effects of the national lockdown on the people of Mahikeng

Reframing women in Namibia’s early history of photography

Women photographers, and black African women photographers in particular, are largely absent from early histories of the medium. This is slowly changing

The Portfolio: Jamal Nxedlana

The national lockdown provided photographer Jamal Nxedlana with a chance to push the boundaries of his practice as he transitioned into a new creative cycle

Phumlani Pikoli and the art of quitting school to make it

Writer, skater and filmmaker Phumlani Pikoli says his artistic intention was ‘to play’

On Jackson Hlungwani: A close encounter with an artistic deity

A survey of Jackson Hlungwani’s practice presents a transcendental experience, even for non-believers

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

SAA in talks to recoup R350-million in blocked funds...

The cash-strapped national carrier is in the process of recouping its blocked funds from Zimbabwe, which could go towards financing the airline’s business rescue plan

The natural resource curse in Cabo Delgado

A humanitarian crisis looms as a violent insurgency continues to sweep over northern Mozambique. As many flee to safety, the question remains: who, or what, fuels the fire?

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’

Gas: SA’s next “battleground”

As government pushes for a huge increase in electricity generation from gas, serious questions are being raised about the logic behind the move

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday