04 Feb Phatstoki’s poignant photographs investigate and reimagine space and place
Despite being discouraged to pursue art as a career, Gontse Phatstoki More was a lover of art from a young age. After coming into contact with the medium of photography through high school art classes and subsequently joining the Market Photo Workshop, Phatstoki’s art began to take shape and become what it is today – striking, poignant work that engages with space and place and posits ideas of shifting perception and interpretation of the everyday.
The 23 year old artist also experiments with music, sketching and painting, and has exhibited her work both locally and internationally. We spoke to Phatstoki to gain a better understanding of how she sees the world through her lens.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I’m a photographer and artist from Soweto, currently working at ROOM Gallery in Johannesburg. My work is about being open to seeing differently in the spaces I’m commonly in.
When did you first realise you had a passion for the arts and was it always photography?
I was sketching from a young age. I still remember how exciting it felt when I completed a drawing of some of my favourite cartoon characters. I don’t know if it was passion then as I was still really young, but I think it’s safe to say that it was in high school when I knew for sure. Visual arts was the only class I never bunked. Choosing art as a career was never encouraged but I couldn’t shake the feeling, drawing, painting, I loved it. It was a little later in high school when I bumped into photography as a medium and I’ve never looked back since. Took a gap year, worked at a music store, got a camera and a laptop that same year and began doing what I love.
You were part of the Market Photo Workshop. How much did you know before you joined the programme and what did you learn along the way?
When I finally got a camera, nothing fancy, just a digital point and shoot, I’d come across words like Aperture and ISO, and I didn’t know what the phuck all that meant but I knew that kind of information was vital if I wanted to create images as best I could. I started school hunting, almost squashing the idea of studying because of how expensive studying photography was. A friend of a friend heard I was school hunting, he mentioned the Market Photo Workshop, and so I went to check it out. It seemed great for people like me who could not afford to study photography elsewhere. Also, other schools were mainly teaching commercial photography, The Market was the first I bumped into that focused on documentary/press photography and at least touched the surface of art/conceptual photography, which was fantastic for me.
At the Market I learned about the history of photography, and walked out feeling like I could possibly change the game a bit. What I was taught and what I learnt may clash sometimes, but on occasion disregarding what you’re taught is part of learning. It’s okay to have work that doesn’t look like everybody else’s, I walked out knowing that what I had to say with my work was valid, even if it was not entirely understood, it is valid.
You’ve spoken about creating your own spaces through your work. Can you expand on this?
Still in the process of finding out what it all means…but for now I’m at a point where I just want to create. My photographs derive from everyday spaces common to most people. These are spaces that are usually ignored, or seen to have little to no visual importance. I try and create something out of what is already there, my own interpretation of it. I am not representing what it is I’m showing, the subject is not particularly of primary importance, it is my composition and personalised viewpoint that is. Not to say it has no meaning, I would disagree if that was said about my work. I am aware that I deal with social-political issues by just merely existing, whether I address these issues directly or not is not the point for me, maybe not yet. My photography is about a head space with the use of actual physical space; call me a minimalist if you must.
For a young photographer, you’ve already exhibited quite a bit. Can you tell us about some of your exhibitions and how you managed to exhibit internationally?
All small group exhibitions, the first was in Soweto, titled Photography meets fine art under the curation of the Mashumi Arts Project. I was also part of an exhibition curated by artist Asanda Kupa titled Young Capital for the Joburg Fringe during Art Week. There were also a couple of others including an exhibition, the Photocopy Club Collective Exhibition from the UK, during the Joburg Photo Umbrella. My most recent was in Mannheim. I managed to show in Germany after the curator of the exhibition got word about my work from a Joburg based artist, she went through my blog, liked my work and thereafter we met up.
Who are some of your inspirations, both locally and internationally?
That’s really hard to say. It ranges from close family to painters, musicians, film directors and cartoon characters, there’s just too many to choose from. Locally, I only recently got to be acquainted with Mbali Mdluli, I think her work is amazing and very necessary. Internationally, I’ve always enjoyed viewing Alec Soth’s work.
You have a fairly active Soundcloud account. Where does music fit into your art?
I’m not sure I’d be an artist if I didn’t interact with music as much as I did growing up and do now. The Soundcloud account was a platform where I could share music I liked with my chommies. They suggested I start mixing, so I started making short mixes that I could share with them online.
Where do you hope to see your work going in both the short and long term?
Short term: push’i spaan…I would like to show my work a lot more, more blog posts, more mixes, more dancing with “Bo Love”. Hopefully get to travel for artist residencies.
Long term: open a space in a predominantly black area that is part gallery space and part music/art project space that will be a safe enviroment for the LGBTQI community, dedicated to showing young black talented artists and playing innovative music.
Any tips for young, black photographers such as yourself, looking to create a unique style of photography?
Don’t doubt what/how you see. It’s valid.