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The Portfolio: Thandokuhle Ngcobo

My study, Exploring Identity Misconceptions and Prejudice through Self-Portrait Photography, 2019, explores how a person can be judged on their appearance. Depending on outfits, people sometimes question my sexuality and character. This series consists of 20 photos and three are of the same blank wall.

Each photograph is a reaction to comments on my appearance. I wrote statements and questions as people said them: “Are you lesbian?” “Ngathi uyiSulumane lomuntu Omnyama.” “You define femininity.” “Wawuslovas nje manje?” 

Hearing “I respect your ability to transform” was the assurance I needed to continue with the project. It was also a realisation that some can appreciate, instead of judging, your identity. I made these photographs from a place of distress, to subvert expectations of my identity. All the statements made me question my positionality in social spaces.

These conceptual portraits intentionally avoid the classic view of showing the face. I present the back of my head, arms and back to emphasise the use of the body to portray a portrait. The gestures in each frame express the different variations of my body from one perspective. My hands represent tension in one frame and a sense of direction or peace in the next. The blank walls highlight the absence of the body and moments of feeling non-existent or silent. With my hair, I wanted to reveal myself in my most bare form, without facial expressions, make-up or hairstyling. I use soft lighting to highlight my body and the movement of my hands. 

I feel a sense of calm from my movements and I am able to express raw emotion through the lens. My creative process doesn’t involve much planning. Some sessions can take three hours, others are only twenty minutes. Editing takes the most time. I’m influenced and attracted by the simplicity of the composition and lighting, which I’d like to work on going forward. This presentation of my photographs in many frames as one is something I would like to pursue.

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Thandokuhle Ngcobo
Thandokuhle Ngcobo is a photography participant in the ArtLab Durban mentorship programme, which is funded by the National Arts Council and hosted at Open Plan Studio.

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