On 7 May, PDBY attended a photo exhibition titled “Names in Uphill Letters” by Jacob Mawela. The exhibition is hosted by the Pretoria Art Museum and features photos of a wide range of topics starting from Mr Ples, a Hominid fossil currently on display at the Ditsong National Museum of Natural history in Pretoria to past and present figures who play roles in politics, music, photography, academia, science and law.
Mawela hails from a lineage of educationists on his father’s side and his career has, inter alia, had him being commissioned by the US Consulate General to teach photography in Soweto – in addition to some of his work being featured in the book, A Bigger Picture: A Manual of Photojournalism in Southern Africa, by Margaret Waller. Mawela stated that his main purpose, since his early days in journalism, was always to give African people the opportunity to see themselves. His work is a way of expressing his own message, and views about the events that take place in the world – making his work authentic. This authenticity is why his work has been featured in various SABC documentaries, and why he has gotten the chance to work with a number of prominent figures.
One thing that was most evident in photographs, was Mawela’s ability to capture every subject at their most vulnerable and authentic state. A great example of this is the picture of South African music legend, Brenda Fassie, getting her hair done. Mawela captured this moment and showed Fassie at her most authentic state without the make-up, poses, extravagant clothing – just her on a random day. Towards the end of the exhibition, the media were given the opportunity to ask Jacob Mawela a few questions, and one of the questions PDBY had for him was “How important is it to tell the stories of South Africans through your work?” to which he replied, “Photography is story-telling so with every picture that I take, I intend to tell some story whether it be the story of South Africans or the world.” The next question asked was “How do you know what to photograph and what not to photograph?”. “With photography you just go with instinct”, replied Mawela. Lastly, Mawela was asked if and how the dynamics of photography have changed over the years, to which he responded “yes they have, from black and white photos to the new digital system that is being used nowadays”.
This exhibition could not have been hosted at a better time as May is Africa month where we reflect on the progress we have made as a continent.
Photo: Masehle Mailula