11 May Black and White Portraits Captured by Paul Samuels at Witchfest 2015
Heavy metal holds a great deal of value for photographer Paul Samuels. “It was always the place that I felt that no matter how different you were, or thought you were, you were allowed in with no second questions,” he explains. Growing up in the East Rand, most of his friends were in heavy metal bands at some point, and it just became his way of life.
“When we first heard about Witchfest all of us lost our minds. We couldn’t believe that the bands we had been listening to for all these years were actually coming to South Africa. And to our own city,” he says. “Unfortunately metal has always had a negative reputation” – part from fact, but more so from invented fictions – “and Witchfest was particularly affected by this.” The venue had changed four times due to religious groups becoming involved and the festival lost its sponsorship. Eventually, Baseline in Newtown allowed the show. “Camping in the CBD, waking up and opening your tent to the Johannesburg skyline was pretty damn metal if you ask me,” says Paul.
Attending Witchfest in April this year, Paul photographed a collection of black and white portraits. “I was looking for the confrontational; images that look back at you and allow you to see them.” While the series was inspired by a love for the dark and often foreboding atmosphere that is associated with metal, he consciously wanted to move away from the typical representation of “metal heads”. He says, “What people sometimes struggle to remember is that we aren’t all slaughtering goats and worshipping Satan, even if we do wear some of the iconography.” Showing their character, his intention was also highlight their humanness so that we, the viewers, might find a bit of ourselves within the eyes of the people he photographed – provided we’re willing to look.