29 Oct Featured: Mack Magagane
Twenty-three year old Soweto-born, Johannesburg-based photographer Mack Magagane is one to watch. Since his studies at the Market Photo Workshop, his work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions locally and abroad in Paris and Portugal, and at the FNB Joburg Art Fair 2011 and 2012.
Currently, Mack is completing a residency at the Centre Photographique d’Île-de-France in Paris as part of the French – South Africa season 2013. We got chatting to find out more about his background, his style and his future plans.
When did you first pick up a camera?
It happened professionally when I was studying at the Market Photo Workshop back in 2009. Though I think (if I remember), I’ve held compact cameras in my early childhood. When my family used to ring the ‘camera guy’ to come visit us at home, requesting pictures from him for family-memory purposes.
Did you always know you wanted a creative career?
To be honest, I really did not. I thought I would be something between a doctor or a scientist. I grew up in a society where growing up it was put up in bold letters, up in-your-face that you need to choose a profession that will enable you to sustain yourself. Being a doctor, architect or an attorney were the top stereotypical careers one had to choose in the society I grew up in in order to have a good and prosperous future.
I did not want to conform to this stereotype. That’s when I discovered architectural studies. Rather than conform, I was on a quest for something/a career I would love passionately and architectural studies hit the spot – this was back in high school. Then I suppose, the passion I had or still have for architectural studies altered my path a little bit. I ventured into photography, reasons being – my family could not afford university tuition fees that year and I was still figuring myself out.
I honestly did not know what to do with my life after school. As many kids after matric don’t (pardon me generalizing). I did not have the luxury to just ‘sit’. It’s either I make a plan or I get a job. Which I think if I got a job it would have probably been a post at a call centre or at your local McD’s to save up for my studies. My sister introduced me to the Market Photo Workshop, which was affordable and in line with a part of what I initially wished to do. If it weren’t for my sister pointing me in that direction I don’t think I would be doing what I now love most of all.
During my photography study years, I found the two to complement each other on certain levels – photography and architectural studies. I guessed I could study and conjure up a building with photography. For that is how I saw it until I learnt in-depth uses of photography and now I use it to tell stories/narratives about not only myself but also the world I live in.
Your projects Southern Suburbia, Light Hours and …in this city are all explorations around Johannesburg and Soweto. What inspires you about your surroundings?
Every little particle that conjures up Johannesburg and Soweto inspires me. For one, it’s where I grew up. I’m fascinated by the rapid change and the people going about their daily activities within the two places. How does a place become so vibrant during the day and completely (maybe not including the party scene) dead at night? Johannesburg and Soweto have so much history. I want to show things how I see them. Especially being part of a new youth that needs to find its significance in the current time and affairs. And maybe being part of this new youth, not only do I want to reflect my own views, but also of others who can relate to the photographs I take.
I see Johannesburg and Soweto as avenues. Alluring avenues and sometimes repulsive. It’s life and it’s complexities I suppose. I just want to show the in-betweens, evoke emotions and awareness with the ‘spaces’ (Johannesburg and Soweto) I live in. Further I would like people to relate to them and wish to see them as any other place without the stigmatization of broader society.
One of the characteristics of your photographs, but your night images in particular, is your beautiful use of light. Did this ability come naturally or was it something you had to cultivate?
I think it’s both, I would say. I learnt and got familiar with my camera as if it were like driving a car. From that I guess the interest of night time came in conjunction with how I familiarized myself with my camera. Again, it was a thing I had to master (which I feel I’m still learning) especially in my work dealing with concepts of night. We are always learning every day and I feel I’m still learning even if it’s technique or the use of photography in other perspectives.
How would you describe your style?
I particularly dislike this question. Not in a bad way I though. It’s because I haven’t figured a certain style or aesthetic I deem myself to yet. I’m still learning and discovering new forms of representation and what many call ‘style’. I still have a long way to go. Who knows 5 years from now my “style” could be something different than what is perceived at this present time.
You’re currently on a photographic residency in Paris. What have you found different about shooting there compared to in your home city and what have you found to be similar?
Paris is great! But I sometimes miss home. Just had to throw that in.
What is different about Paris is I guess the society. It’s a tad different as it would be anywhere. I love the youth here though. They fuck shit up! Speaking in the terms of doing work and creating. I’ve chosen to base my research and work on them.
The other is the architecture and history. It’s amazing. In fact way too overwhelming. Photographing here is like a privilege of some sort. Most things are well conserved (architecture, infrastructure etc.) There is not a day I walk out and don’t see something amazing. Or maybe again it’s because I’m an outsider and everything’s new to me.
Similarities? The everyday life of commuters and pedestrians is one of the similarities. Everyone is on a hustle (not only profitable). Either they’re going somewhere, meeting someone, reading the paper, reading a book, doing something. I kind of love that.
What have you learnt so far while there?
I learnt a few French key words to get around, I’ve also learnt how to make a croque monsieur (a fried or grilled cheese and ham sandwich) and most of all, how I see my work in relation to the world. I’ve not only bettered my knowledge of photography, but art in general too. I can see my work in a broader perspective now rather than the usual I was exposed to.
Your portfolio spans art, music, fashion, documentary photography and portraiture. Which do you most enjoy?
I will be honest and say I love them all. I cannot remove one from the other. I’m trying to work my way around different genres of photography. I enjoy them all as I always know I can fall back on either if the other does not work out too well for me. Though my goal is to be recognized in probably all the mentioned above (if possible) and interlink them as so one day they are not categorized but seen as one project of some sort regardless of it being commercial or personal work. And again…I’m still learning and figuring out the different ways/forms I can use the medium of photography. In a way I’m still figuring out how to break into other different art mediums, breaking certain boundaries with photography as my primary art form.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment I’m just concentrating on my residency at the CPIF. Though expect some new projects soon!
Big Tings Only!