Andile Buka | Photographing South Africa for the World to See

Photographer Andile Buka. Image by Khotso Tsagaane.

Most people were first introduced to Andile Buka through Tumblr — a microblogging social network that was once what Instagram is to creatives now. He would share well-curated images of Johannesburg, his Japan expeditions, portraits, and much more. 

The Johannesburg-based photographer is no stranger to the creative scene, both locally and internationally. His contributions to the industry have offered him the opportunity to travel the world; exhibit at the Lagos Photo Festival and further afield in shows in Germany, the UK and the US; publish his photo book ‘Crossing Strangers’ which explores his long-term relationship with Johannesburg and the people who live there; as well as photograph the likes of Nelson Makamo, a prominent South African visual artist who, like Buka — is pushing the envelope in his field.

Four years have passed since Buka first picked up a camera professionally. In that time he has also formed part of The Sartists, a multidisciplinary creative collective established to challenge parochial ideas about blackness in modern society. Buka, Kabelo Kungwane, Wanda Lephoto and Xzavier Zulu all take a considered, autodidactic and documentary approach to style and identity.

The Sartists has been running as a business for the last six years and many of Buka’s brand collaborations come through the collective. Individually and with the crew, he’s shot campaigns for the likes of adidas South Africa, Levi’s, Superga, Maxhosa and Asos. Both in his own capacity and with The Sartists, he uses PayPal to reach and connect to millions of shoppers worldwide and accept payments safely and easily.

Keen about the possibilities on offer for the year ahead, Buka says he is currently shooting a lot of commercial stuff, shooting projects that he’s crazy about, for publications that he has always wanted to work with for the longest time. 

Photographer Andile Buka. Image by Khotso Tsagaane.

Marvelling at artworks and photographs at galleries and/or exhibitions is tradition when one finds oneself in those spaces, however works that provoke emotion and leave your soul ablaze are what has both sustained and signified the culture of local art. Some would go as far as saying Buka is one of the most exceptional and important contemporary photographers of our time, but he challenges that.

“Great, exceptional, incredible? On what basis?” he asks. 

“Thank you, but I am just a photographer. It’s like this thing of being labelled an ‘angry black photographer’, or ‘an angry black man’. I would rather be called that actually, an ‘angry black photographer’ because I am. I am not really happy about a lot of the things in the creative field, I try to push the envelope, but there are too many things prohibiting that. Issues that I don’t want to talk about right now.”

Instead, he answers questions about how he first started his freelance career, and where it’s about to take him.

Photographer Andile Buka. Image by Khotso Tsagaane.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Andile Buka, I just turned 29. I am a photographer, based in Johannesburg and I have been shooting for the past four years — full time. I was born in Soweto and raised further south in Orange Farm. I went to the University of Johannesburg where I studied Marketing, before working at Thompsons Holidays. I later joined MOAD (Museum of African Design) in Maboneng. 

Why did you leave your 9 – 5 job to do photography full time? 

I wouldn’t say I quit my full-time job, it happened that we closed for renovations for six months, and I decided to try photography. I said to myself: if this works out, I’m not coming back, and I am still here, freelancing.

How do you make money from being a freelance photographer? Would you say this is a viable profession? 

Shortly after the changeover, I started worked with Bag Factory on a short-term basis, teaching kids how to paint and draw. This being the last job I worked on that offered a monthly ‘salary’. 

I make my money by selling prints and getting commissions to shoot, be it an event, a campaign, or an advertorial. It has been cool, interesting, and there has been growth in a sense that I am now looking at other avenues I’d like to explore. 

Andile Buka Photography is a business and so is The Sartists. We do consulting, photography, art direction, scouting. I use PayPal for both. I think the service is cool and it’s about time that businesses in our market can enjoy all the great possibilities that the global e-commerce space has to offer.

You have been shooting stills and video for some time now. Although it’s not foreign for photographers to get into video and directing, how has the transition been for you? 

I would like to get into directing because I think it’s a good transition. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it makes sense. The two worlds are completely far apart, but I am trying to have different streams of income and gain other skill sets in the midst of it all.

Can you talk us through your creative process? 

There isn’t really a formula behind my artistry. Sometimes I make images first, then the story comes after, and sometimes it’s the story that creates the images, but in most cases, I am sitting on something to work with. Most of my collaborations are through The Sartists, which has been running as a business for the last six years.

Why did you choose to start your own business? 

I can’t picture myself doing anything else beside what I do. The reason behind what I do — I’m an artist first before a commercial photographer. 

What are you currently working on and what can we look forward to? 

I started out in the streets, but now you see less of me shooting in the streets. Times have changed, I think it was easier for me to make images on a bicycle on the streets. I think using an Uber or a car is quite difficult.

Right now, I just visit people’s homes and photograph them, which I love, I love making portraits. My craft has changed because I travel — living in different parts of the city also dictates the images you make.

My own personal projects are really slow, I am shooting nudes of myself. I would publish them once I feel like I have material worth showing. I have also been applying for residencies and hopefully something will come up.

Interview by Thabang Buthelezi

Photos by Khotso Tsagaane 

Photographer Andile Buka. Image by Khotso Tsagaane.

This interview and been edited and condensed. 

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