Kevin Radebe on ‘turning the world into art’ one photo at a time

Kevin Radebe‘s work has been ubiquitous lately. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen the work. Although he may be most recognisable for his collaborations with influencers such as Zoliswa Mbadu and Bambatha Jones, his documentary and conceptual work is the star of the show — it is deeply layered and visually stunning. The Joburg photographer is obsessed with the concept of the eye, or as he puts it, the “capacity to turn the world into art”. Referencing the US film Get Out to help explain what he means, Kevin says, “Always remember, it was for his eye that Chris Washington [the protagonist] was abducted.” Kevin identifies with the character on a number of levels: they’re both black photographers, and for both of them, the eye is all they have. “It is all any artist has. We see the world around us, the streets of Orlando, for example, and it appeals to our eyes to find something in it. Its pain sometimes, or its joy. Its frustrations, the comedy, ugliness, beauty or both. On a really good day it asks us to see redemption. The world asks us to find these things and to capture it. That’s The Eye. That’s how art happens. And that’s what I try to do.” Kevin’s work spans a number of different areas — from fashion photography to more conceptual work — but mostly he finds himself drawn to images that challenge the structure of society. And when it comes to inspiration, he likes to look at the work of other artists (Rich Mnisi, Tony Gum,  Zanele Muholi) and see how their eye has interpreted the world. “I like how they see what can be, and how it interacts with what is.” Apart from artists, his home of Soweto is also a major source of inspo. “The dynamics of my immediate environments also allow me to create, whether it being street photography and portraits, or fashion editorials that seek to position the black body in a new light, in my Sowetan context. And much like any other photographer, the preservation of history is a key player – so naturally these ideas are filters for me, ways of seeing.” One of his main themes of Kevin’s work is that of the black male psyche: Kevin’s work often leads him back to interrogating this. “I find myself circulating back to the ideas behind how the black male thinks or how his environment influences his thinking.”  

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