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The Portfolio: Tshepiso Mazibuko

A year before his passing, Market Photo Workshop founder and world-revered photographer David Goldblatt reflected on the motivation behind his work, saying, “I was very interested in the events that were taking place in the country as a citizen but, as a photographer, I’m not particularly interested, and I wasn’t then, in photographing the moment that something happens. I’m interested in the conditions that give rise to events.”

It is the spring of a new South African administration, October 1999; people gather on Thokoza’s Khumalo Road in the southeast of Gauteng, to commemorate the death of the 688 people during the early 1990s, which saw conflict between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC.

A leaf-flight away, a four-year-old is playing beneath a budding peach tree. Almost two decades later, she will dedicate her life’s path to the tale of Thokoza’s fallen people and the conditions that give rise to their falling.  

“In my work I’m mostly interested in the political, the historical and, of course, the landscape. I often try to create links between the three subjects through photographing everyday life,” says Tshepiso Mazibuko, Market Photo Workshop alumnus and award-winning photographer.  “I don’t have a particular style: I just photograph. Normally when I am doing a body of work I prefer on-site research. I feel the side stories always catch my eye.” 

Mazibuko, who received the 2017 Tierney fellowship, and the Prince Claus Fund Award Grant for 2018, focuses her lens on unrestricted self-expression, even if it’s unconventional.

“My first encounter with Market Photo Workshop was during a school trip initiated by Of Soul and Joy project: that’s where I initially got introduced to photography. I remember so well, Sanele Moya was leading the tour of the old Market Photo building. 

“It was then that I started playing around with the idea of actually doing photography for a living, I mean as a form of career.” 

When the fallen Thokoza people were commemorated in subsequent years, Mazibuko captured this, as can be seen in her exhibitions around the world, from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Ethiopia (Addis Foto Fest) and Belgium (Ghent photo-festival). 

The image above, however, was taken during Mazibuko’s residency in Reúnion in 2019 and captures, in a sense, a summation of her interests and approach to photography.

“Besides politics, history and landscape, I am interested in the black body — how that is represented in my work,” Mazibuko says. “I’m more of an artist at heart. I let the imagination take control and the conceptual framing kind of comes afterwards. The image captures men holding chickens participating in a chicken fight.

“Each and every image I create I have a different attachment to it; it could be from the goings-on of the day, the conversations shared with complete strangers in the process leading up to taking it, or the image itself,” she says. 

“The image serves the purpose of documenting that I was there and this is how I saw it.” 

Applications for the Market Photo Workshop 2021 courses are open. For more information, visit marketphotoworkshop.co.za.

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