The Portfolio: Lindokuhle Sobekwa

I had been focusing on Thokoza for a long time, and I wanted to move out of my comfort zone. I thought of Daleside, because my mother had been employed there as a domestic. When I was growing up, I’d help my mom out with stuff; maybe do the garden or help in other ways.

For some reason, we weren’t allowed to go inside the house. I was always curious as a kid as to what was inside there. I didn’t look at it as racism back then, but more like, “What are they hiding from me?”

So when I went there as a photographer with my friend Cyprien Clément-Delmas, with whom I collaborated on the project, the camera became a “passport” to see, intimately, the daily lives of the people. 

Daleside is known for farming, so I was also interested in looking at racial issues. 

Interracial relationships have become more common but, in general, the racial issues in Daleside are similar to the ones one would find anywhere else in the country. For instance, the white farmer’s kid with the black workers: that is a new association I have with that community, because it was very rare when I was a child.

In our first year of going to Daleside, no one wanted us to photograph them, so we had to think of a different way to approach the community. We started going to the church, and gained the trust of the pastor and he started introducing us to the community. 

Even then, there was still a dynamic of suspicion; of people thinking the black guy walking around the neighbourhood is a criminal. Sometimes they would confuse me with someone looking for a job. The camera always saved me in moments such as those. But slowly, we connected with the people of Daleside and were able to portray intimate moments. 

With different bodies of work, especially this one, I spent a lot of time getting the relationships right and showing my subjects the images (it took us five years to produce the book), but my approach to the work itself is always simple. I use one camera and one lens (a 35mm), which allows me to be closer to the people I’m taking photographs of. You still want a certain amount of distance, but you also have to be able to sense that closeness. The intimacy between myself and the people I photograph is important, no matter how far I’m positioned.

Compositionally, I always pre-visualise a moment. So it boils down to selection. Whatever is in that image — it doesn’t matter how big or small it is — it’s always important for it to be there.

A lot of my influences come from South African photography; people like Santu Mofokeng and Ernest Cole. Daleside was influenced by David Goldblatt’s In Boksburg and Mikhael Subotsky’s body of work, Beaufort West. I could say both of them influenced my approach in documentary photography. I also draw from American photography, people like Jim Goldberg, Robert Frank and Dawoud Bey.

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Lindokuhle Sobekwa
Lindokuhle Sobekwa is a South African photographer born in Katlehong, Johannesburg in 1995. Sobekwa came to photography in 2012 through his participation in the Of Soul and Joy Project, an educational programme run in Thokoza, a township in the southeast of Johannesburg. He studied with Bieke Depoorter, Cyprien Clément-Delmas, Thabiso Sekgala, Tjorven Bruyneel and Kutlwano Moagi. Sobekwa’s early projects dealt with poverty and unemployment in the townships of South Africa, as well as the growing nyaope drug crisis within them. His ongoing works, as well as revisiting those early themes, also deal with his own life – for example his relationship with his sister, Ziyanda, who died after becoming estranged from her family. In 2013, Sobekwa was part of a group show in Thokoza organised by Rubis Mecenat at the Ithuba Art Gallery in Johannesburg. His essay Nyaope was published in the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian in 2014. The work was also published in Vice Magazine’s Annual Photo Issue, and the De Standaard the same year. In 2017, Sobekwa was selected by the Magnum Foundation for Photography and Social Justice to develop the project I Carry Her Photo With Me. In 2018, he received the Magnum Foundation Fund to continue with his longterm project Nyaope, and has been selected for the residency Cité des Arts Réunion. Sobekwa became a Magnum nominee member in 2018. For Sobekwa’s full bio, visit magnumphotos.com

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