These are the People was billed as a photographic exhibition aimed at showcasing and selling the work of young photographers in Johannesburg, and took place in the nascent art precinct of Newtown at the Mills, a day after national Youth Day.
The idea itself is unique when it comes to Youth day celebrations, and photographic prints pegged on thin metal wire in the shell of what used to be the popular club Carfax signaled the brave charting of relatively new territory.
One of the organisers, director and filmmaker Bucks, explained that the aim was to provide a “platform for talented photographers to showcase their art … and because many people haven’t had the opportunity to see photography in this way”.
The exhibition consisted of five photographers who had a selection of their photography displayed in various print-sizes for revellers to view and purchase.
Between the music and mingling amongst the small crowd that had gathered, Bucks called up each photographer to come up on to the makeshift stage in the centre of the room and say a few a words about their photographs.
Unfortunately, most of the photographers had little to say about their works and seemed almost shy to express in words what they had captured in images. A common refrain though, was that of photography as expression.
Kamogelo Mokoena, a strategic communications student at the University of Johannesburg, said that she started taking photography seriously after she won a competition held by Head Honcho clothing store, which saw her photographs being printed on a limited range of tee shirts.
“It’s my form of storytelling. I talk a lot and taking photographs helps,” she said.
Her photographs varied in theme, from portraits of human faces juxtaposed with side walk statues, shots from the backstage of a fashion show to a street staging of a Jack and Jill scene .
Mokoena called this “liking where we live” – her own form of street photography.
Another photographer, Bakang who hails from Mafikeng, said he had only been taking photographs for eight months, and said that because photography was an “art”, it was about showing people what he sees and how he sees it.
Bakang said he did not focus on any particular elements in his photography, and rather preferred to “go with the moment”.
Brian Molepo, a photographer who specialises in black and white portraits, said it was his “eye” that made his photographs unique.
His part of the exhibition was series of half-length portraits, which he described as “personality shots”; photographs which “captured the spirit” of the subject.
Brian echoed a common sentiment among the photographers, one where theme took second place to expression.
It was, however, the lack of a theme unifying the different photographs that limited the full expression of the photographs from being realised.
Some themes screamed out from the photographs, fragments of life that captured moments, landscapes and emotions but stopped short of suggesting something more profound than that moment itself.
Other themes hid beneath the surface of the photographs and merely required, perhaps, the subtle hand of curation to draw a viewer’s attention to them by placing them in a sequence that formed and spoke to a wider narrative context.
Without this, unfortunately, the exhibition had the feeling of a random, chaotic collage, of photographers and their photography.
Or perhaps this was the theme; to show in its full diversity the kaleidoscope of perspectives, bearing down on every and any fragment of Johannesburg, like curious insect eyes bristling with the curiosity of seeing.