09 Mar Joburg from above and through portraits by Andile Buka
We’ve been captivated by Andile Buka’s photography since the moment we first laid eyes on it. All shot on film, his work is based in Johannesburg whether shooting street portraits, the CBD from above, or personal photo series shot with considered style and substance. We spoke to him to find out what makes him excited about working in the city he does, and about his medium of obsession: film.
Do you have any favourite photographs/images from your childhood that inspired you to become a photographer?
I do have favourite images from my childhood that I really like, but I don’t think they have fuelled my love for photography. Growing up my younger brother and I always looked at family albums whenever we were visiting family and in particular my mom and dad’s wedding pictures which are still some of my favourite images. From my early childhood I have always been drawing and making art but at that time I didn’t really know whether I should follow through with it.
How has growing up in Soweto and currently living in Johannesburg influenced your work?
During my stay in Soweto, photography was not very popular and this was in my early teens, instead I used to play soccer and that was the main focus, I was convinced I was going to play for the national football team not up until my matric year, when I picked up my dad’s 35mm film camera and started taking pictures in school and that’s how photography started for me. I wouldn’t say it necessarily influenced my work but Johannesburg to me was an open canvas and I’m still trying to find my voice through personal projects but I’m happy to be living and working in Johannesburg.
What is your favourite place to photograph in Johannesburg and why?
Walking the streets of Johannesburg from one point to another is still one of my favourite things to do and lately exploring abandoned buildings has been one of the things I have been doing for the past 2 years. Johannesburg CBD in particular has so many layers and there’re a few buildings that I’d like to shoot in and of course one cannot get enough of what’s out there on the streets. If I were to choose one it would probably be Ponte City – it’s one of my favourite buildings.
In your Ponte City photo series, you photograph the iconic Ponte City tower and its surrounds. Please tell us more about your motivation, process and feelings about the end result?
I had an opportunity to assist a Tokyo based photographer for 5 weeks and Ponte City was one of many buildings we photographed the Johannesburg cityscape from. Before shooting the actual project, we visited the site and on two occasions it was overcast. On our 3rd attempt we started shooting and I couldn’t be happier, the light and atmosphere on the day was amazing. We spent about 2 hours shooting and being up there was so surreal and scary. The whole experience made me fall back in love with Johannesburg again. I’m really quite happy with the end result and really fortunate to be given the opportunity to photograph Johannesburg from Ponte, I give credit to the amazing friends I have, who’ve helped me bring the project to life.
According to you, what have been the biggest changes in Johannesburg’s creative scene over the past few years and what are you most excited about in the future?
Over the past few years there’ve been a lot of initiatives available for artists to showcase their work, which is fantastic and the Johannesburg art scene has been growing bigger and better over the years. What I’m really excited about is the level of creativity and individuals are taking art to new heights, not only in photography but arts across the board. “Joburgers” are really taking pride in their city and everyone is claiming it as their own and want to take part in growing the community by creating work that’s varied
What or who are you influenced and inspired by?
People in general really influence me a lot. I’m drawn to people’s stories and amazed by the amount of zeal we as humans possess. I draw inspiration from all walks of life from music, film, books, just life in general.
Your portfolio includes striking black and white photographs as well as ones in vibrant colour. Do you have a preference and what do you enjoy about each?
I really don’t have a preference. The beauty of shooting film allows one to choose whether you want to present your subjects in colour or black and white. I shoot black and white film to show certain emotions in photographs that I wouldn’t necessarily show in colour film, I like its intensity and mood in photographs. Vibrant colour? I think that’s one of the things I enjoy about using colour film, its density and ability to make your subjects pop. The only preference I have is shooting in natural light, I’m really inspired by how photographs look in natural light.
Please tell us more about the Filmshooters Collective and what it is you love about film photography:
I have been a contributor to Film Shooters Collective since 2013 and I really love the community, we all help each other out and I’m really humbled to be one of the contributors amongst other photographers from around the globe who share common goals and vision about shooting film.
It’s the whole process that I enjoy about shooting film, I’m able to shoot images today and to only see them a few days, weeks or even months later. And I shot those images purely based on my intuition, that is really remarkable and I still can’t get over the feeling of seeing my images on a negative. It’s something I have been doing for the past 4 years and I’m not looking at changing that anytime soon. Shooting film slows one down and I pretty much enjoy cutting my negatives, putting them in a file and printing contact sheets in the lab. Looking at the photography community in the States and Europe where you have photographers who are shooting campaigns for reputable brands like Nike, adidas, New Balance, and publications like Kinfolk, This is Paper and Monocle on film, shows that film photography is here to stay. I would love to see things getting to the same stage here in South Africa. Another thing I’m excited about is that over the past few months there’ve been a number of Kickstarter campaigns to reproduce film that wasn’t produced anymore and the campaigns have been funded successfully. To add into that looking at the latest Star Wars 7 and Batman vs Superman films being exclusively shot on film is really ridiculous and really makes me happy to see it also on a commercial side.
The clothes worn by the models in your Sartist Sport Project series definitely add to the story the images tell. Please tell us more about the team behind the project and your conceptual process:
The project was styled by Kabelo and Wanda (The Sartists), shot and directed by myself in collaboration with Manthe, KK and Tebogo Ribane. The portrait series was created as a result of wanting to challenge previously edifice ideas of what it means to be black or African in modern society. Both projects started out as an idea about the untold stories of urban black sports culture and black identity. The project highlights South African athletes, people who went through difficult circumstances, the remnants of colonialism and apartheid when sports was seen as a novelty for black people, a “white man’s” activity. During those dark times there was little to no voice by black people for black people. These athletes used sports to give black culture an identity which we still use as a reference in South African history. The aim with the project is to challenge previously conceived ideas of South African black culture that have social and cultural impacts using clothes that were seen only being worn by white people. This is an ongoing project and this year we will be completing the rest of the series, which I’m excited about.
What do you like about collaborations and which South African artists would make up your collaboration dream team?
Collaborations are really important to me and for the past few years collaborations in general have been on the rise, purely because the end goals are not only about you, but also about the next person and their community.
My dream collaboration team I would like to work with is Lazi Mathebula, Themba Khumalo, Mohau Modisakeng, Tony Gum and Alma Ami Mpungwe.
In your Crossing Strangers series, you photograph strangers all over Johannesburg and Orange Farm, what has been the strangest interaction/conversation you have had during this project?
I think approaching strangers and the trying to explain what I’m trying to do is always a challenge, but once you get the go ahead everything else changes from what you had in mind, because all your fears are now behind you. So now the challenge becomes photographing them in a way both parties will be happy with and at the same time keeping a sense of authenticity. I don’t think I have one particular interaction that stands out maybe because it’s an ongoing project.
Your portraits have a very natural feel – some of your subjects are even shot in mid-conversation. Do you have any advice on relaxing a model and taking a good portrait?
It makes me happy to hear that you find my portraits to have a natural feel; because that’s the look I’m going for. I’m inspired by natural light and presenting my subjects as honestly as possible allows me to get that “thing” in a picture. I think having conversations and trying to find out more about your subject allows you to dig deeper and in that process you’re confronted with a different view from what you initially saw in that person. My advice would be to try and be true to yourself; try to inject your personality into your work, which can be difficult. I still battle with it!
What is the hardest lesson you have had to learn as a photographer?
That it’s all you but not always about you. I think I have come to terms with accepting contradictions and I think not only in photography but also life in general – there’s a lot contradiction and it’s a great thing to accept those contradictions.
You have profiles on different social media platforms, how do you utilise these platforms in your artistic practice?
Across the board I use all the platforms to showcase my work and what I do. I think it’s important to have an online presence that represents your true being without trying to be somebody else. If you were to ask me about my favourite platforms, Instagram and VSCO Grid are two of my favourite platforms.