Sipho Gongxeka is the most recent of the six Tierney fellows that have been produced by Market Photo Workshop. This list includes Lebohang Kganye, Thabiso Sekgala, Simangele Kalisa, Tracy Dyan Edser and Mack Magagane (who is no stranger to Between 10and5). Sipho is a fashion documentary photographer who has been under the wing of none other than Pieter Hugo, one of South Africa’s most celebrated documentary photographers. We recently got a chance to chat to Sipho, here’s how it went.
Please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sipho Gongxeka I was born in 1989 in Soweto, Johnannesburg. From 2011 to 2013 I was studying photography at the Market Photo Workshop. In between those years at the Market Photo Workshop as a student I was featured in two group exhibitions, Identikit and Show Us Our Land. In 2013 I became the sixth Tierney Fellowship recipient. Oh, I love photography and fashion.
How and when did you get into photography?
After the 2010 world cup I started developing love for photography, I used to take pictures during the world cup with my friend’s digital camera. It was a year later when we looked at the pictures and in just that moment I realized how important memory is. A friend told me about Market Photo Workshop and since then I’ve never looked back.
How, if you had to, would you describe your photography style?
I would describe my photography as fashion documentary photography.
Can you please tell us what being a Tierney Fellow has meant for you and your work?
I was fortunate enough to get the Tierney Fellowship during my Advanced Program in Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop. Part of this year-long programme is to create a body of work and that’s where Skeem’ Saka actually started. The Tierney fellowship is a great platform for any upcoming young photographer, for me personally it has given me a chance to share my childhood with the rest of the world and more importantly a chance to tell my stories. We can’t depend on outsiders to tell our stories of the township. We have a responsibility to tell our own stories.
Your mentor is renowned fellow South African photographer Pieter Hugo, how has the experience of being under his wing been?
Working with Pieter Hugo was amazing. I learned how to be professional, learned how to take criticism constructively, learned not to be too attached to my work and most important is that hard work always pays off.
Can you please tell us about your recent exhibition at the Market Photo Workshop, ‘Skeem’ Saka’?
Skeem’ Saka is a body of work focusing on the representation and the stereotype of black gangsters in South African films and television shows, mainly looking at how they use clothes to identify gangsters. Briefly in this body of work, I photograph i-Skeem’ Saka (a tsotsi-taal/slang term meaning a close friend or ‘homeboy/girl). I chose this title because it speaks about relationships that go beyond friendships. Skeem’ Saka speaks about a shared brotherhood and sisterhood in ekasi (a tsotsi-taal/slang term meaning township). These are men and women who identify with my childhood in that we were collectively exposed to the popular images seen in the gangster television shows and films.
Since your exhibition, what have you been working on?
Skeem Saka is just a foundation of this issue I’m facing at the moment, the issue of black representation through popular media. Right now I’m planning on developing a body of work looking at how men view women and the influence media plays in this, again like Skeem’ Saka I will be highlighting the stereotypes we see on popular media.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I guess you can expect more work! Also, if there are talented artists out there who want to hone their skill in photography and become professionals like me; they can enroll at the Market Photo Workshop for a year’s course on Advanced Programme in Photography by visiting the website, call their office on 011 834 1444 or follow them on Twitter (#APP) and on Facebook.