Grad Guide 2020: Abongwe L. Booi

Filmmaker and photographer Abongwe L. Booi’s passion for visual language convinced him to abandon his business science degree in favour of something more expressive. The journey he is now on leads him in search of meaningful African stories and intimate moments, captured both in motion and, in the case of photography: an aesthetically-charged single frame. As part of our annual graduate showcase, we had the pleasure of chatting with Booi about his creative practice, completing his studies at the University of Cape Town and plans for the year ahead.

Abongwe L. Booi

What and where did you study? What was your experience like? 

I had the privilege of being able to study at the University of Cape Town (UCT). It’s funny because initially I was studying a business science degree in Information Systems, even though my passion for visual storytelling had always been my strongest attribute. But after a year, I made the decision, with the incredible support of my family and friends, to switch over to a BA in film and screen production, which was the best decision I could’ve made! 

The screen production stream was very selective of the candidates who made it through, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of the most interesting, driven 24 creatives in my production class. The environment was very supportive because of my classmate’s passion and, although the screen production stream at UCT isn’t as practical as other film schools, we were inspired to enter into film festivals outside of class, working on projects for festivals such as 48-hour Film Festival and Encounters film festival. My experience of UCT as a whole was incredible, not without its ups and downs and the constant need for night-before all-nighters to finish procrastinated assignments, but I made some of my best friends, who are now family to me, experienced the beautiful sunsets and breath-taking silhouettes of Cape Town and all of Table Mountain in its glory. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Why were you drawn to photography and what do you love about the medium?

I was drawn to photography early on in my early high school days. I started my journey with the love for storytelling through film, which inherently goes hand in hand with photography, but I loved the ability photography gave me to tell full stories in a single frame. I think photography is such a challenging medium because it is storytelling with no motion or words, but that’s what makes the final image so much more worth the fight. The feeling of encapsulating the emotions of a moment in a single timed frame that tells a story a thousand words wouldn’t be able to. That’s what I love about photography.

Tell us about the work you created during your final year. Any projects that stood out for you?

As a final year film student, and the director of photography on my final year assignment, my job was to find the frames that represented the necessary filmic language to tell the story. Working with a script that was so heavy on the cinematography with less dialogue and use of filmic language was a challenge I took with both hands. Designing an aesthetic to compliment the writing and performances was the most exciting part of the project as I worked with the director to create a world that the story and the characters would inhabit. 

How would you describe your style to someone who’d never seen your work before?

I think I’m still in the pursuit of understanding my style as I continue experimenting with mediums and formats, but I would say that my style could be narrowed down to intimate, reminiscent and experimental. My style consists of my love for portraiture and intimate up-close moments, paired with my love for the vintage 35mm film medium. I find my photography is constantly in search of an intimate moment, whether the subject is alone in an expansive landscape or in a crowded room. My technical and creative curiosity push me to experimenting with light, filters, distortion and framing and finding a new, different way of expressing emotion excites me!

What are you currently interested in exploring through your work? 

I think my work aims to explore the conditions of love. My attention is drawn to exploring the effects of love, the effects of loss and the intricacies and complexities of the love found in a single moment. This is something I’ve found to reflect in all of my script writing and my work, and I thoroughly enjoying unravelling this internal and external dialogue.

What are your plans for 2021?

Create more African stories. The representation of our nation and continent has been skewed by the problematic hegemonies sustained by Western media of what an African look like, what our experiences are and who we are. We have been boxed into a one-dimensional narrative that disregards so much more of what this nation is. My goal for this year, and I think for my whole career, is to tell the African stories to the world how WE want them to be told. Our truth. I want to create stories that represent us for who we are, who we can be and who we want to be.

Follow @abobooi on Instagram.

Grad Guide is an annual series from Between 10and5, profiling some of South Africa’s most exciting creative graduates across the fields of fashion, art, photography and design. Find the full 2020 Grad Guide here

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