Help These South African Photographers Reach New York

Reatile Moalusi and Kgomotso Neto Tleane

Reatile Moalusi and Kgomotso Neto Tleane are two South African photographers whose works has been chosen for the New York Times Portfolio Review. The NY Times Portfolio Review is a two-day event in which photographers, photo editors, publishers, and video producers gather in New York to meet and trade ideas. Applicants are encouraged to apply from all around the world with around 3 000 people applying. About 160 participants were chosen to attend the conference. The Review takes place on the 21 and 22 April 2018.

Moalusi started off his career in marketing before switching to photography. He got into because he wanted to be able to own his work, to be able to work anywhere, and work independently.

“My creative process comes from an uncomfortable space for me first of all, something I don’t understand or that is misunderstood about me,” he says of his journey, in an interview this week with The Daily Vox.

Describing himself as an awareness photographer, Moalusi said he looks at things that are misunderstood or that are not understood or that have misconceptions around which he then engages.

The two main bodies of work that Moalusi has worked on are series on vitiligo, Mmollo Wa Badimo, and Roadside Memorial. These were the works that were sent into the review.

Pigment: part of the Mmollo Wa Badimo series by Reatile Moalusi

“Photography can sometimes objectify the subject so how I’ve worked their narrative and experience into my work is most times when I photograph, at least the individuals that are alive, I create an environment where they are comfortable and feel comfortable with me as a photographer. Now I’m in a phase where I photograph them and I want to tell a story so have them talk about their experience. I realised photography was not giving me that.”

Complexion: part of the Mmollo Wa Badimo series by Reatile Moalusi

Moalusi said while he is not confident in his writing, he does accompany his photography with videos where the subjects can talk and give their experiences.

Tleane, who goes by Kgomotso Neto, has been a photographer since 2013, when started off on his phone but then progressed to a camera. He was a law student for three years but left and started working at a call centre and while working there bought a camera. He started off documenting his and his friends’ lives in the township.

Hustle by Kgomotso Neto

“My work gained traction on social media and it was mostly because of what I was shooting: the township, the taxi ranks and taxi drivers,” Tleane says.

Tleane says he was trying to reimagine black spaces and change perceptions about spaces.

“I love to shoot people. I love shooting in the township and I think I realised this after awhile I like shooting what I have access to. It’s always been my immediate spaces. It’s always so nice seeing people react when you’re actually just telling their side of the story.” Tleane says about his favourite subjects.

Unsung Heroes by Kgomotso Neto

Tleane says he wants to create images about people who look like him, who are the same age and colour as him, and who have the same experiences as him. He also creates pictures that are relatable for those whose experiences aren’t really out there especially the black experience.

Regarding the NY Times Portfolio review, Moalusi said he sent in an application after seeing the advertisement through social media. He said he was interested in the institutions involved with the review.

“Yeah, I am so excited. Kind of nerve-wrecking obviously to eventually meet people who I’ve studied extensively and to have them review my work.” says Moalusi.

He is also excited to hear what the reviewers think of his work.

The way the Review works is that photographers who have been picked will have a chance to display their work to the 40 reviewers who make up the curatorship of the Review and get feedback regarding their work.

Tleane says he found out about the Review from a friend who had entered the contest last year and encouraged him to apply. He said he is really happy that he was accepted.

“At this point, I’m excited but I’m also nervous because I am just trying to raise funds to got there. It’s working out but it’s also really nerve-wrecking at the same time.” says Tleane. He is also happy for the support he has received.

Advice for young photographers? “Let the photography fund your studies, don’t put that burden on your parents. It is viable to make money with photography quickly even with your smartphone.” Moalusi says. He does advocate for education saying studying photography helps with tackling issues in a deeper way.

“As photographers, we have a responsibility to represent the environment and the world we live in an honest way. So I’m not saying don’t do fashion photography but be able to reflect people in a very honest way because when I take a photograph and start chopping and changing, the effect that is having on some kid who is idolising me or Kgomotso Neto […] I feel like it become cancerous to the society over a long term. Then the kids start thinking this is perfection when perfection is how you are.”

Moalusi says photographers have a responsibility to the audience and to other photographers as well.

As for advice for aspiring photographers, Tleane says: “For me, if you’re a photographer, then don’t stop. I feel the more you keep doing it, the more you find out what your work is about and why you’re doing. You find your purpose for why you’re creating this world.”

Moalusi and Tleane are both crowdfunding for their trip to New York by selling their prints to be able to raise money for their venture. If you would like to find out more or contribute, more information can be found here.