Her background in the arts spans a myriad of art forms, a poet first then artist liaison with Third Eye Vision, researching video form during her Master Degree, working with VANSA organising artists and gauging what we could do in developing platforms for artists and catering to their needs, and project manger in the course of her two-year stay at Market-Photo Workshop.
Shots011 caught up with Bandile Gumbi to hear what she had to say about contemporary South African photography. To shed light on some of the problems that photographers face, and how to overcome some of the challenges.
Shots011: Please tell us a bit about yourself; your history, education and background.
BG: I am currently doing a PhD under African Studies looking at art. When I started I wanted to look at commercial periodicals produced in Africa by Africans, even though most of them were by expats and those that existed have over the years transformed into academic journals.
I started working in the arts in 1999 as a student at an outdoor music festival. It was fun; liaising with artist and helping them get around. During this time I was also part of a collective called Third Eye Vision, Formed in 2001.I did poetry, I still do, however the collective encompassed other arts as well such as hip-sop, visual artists, and music, all from different age groups and that made it special. We hosted events from a house and incorporated all these genres into one event. Durban was very dead when it came to the anything new, cutting edge, art, expression or contemporary black movements. There wasn’t much, so we just did our own thing.
Shots011: So how did you get into the Visual Arts?
BG: It was mostly through work. I started working with visual artists during our exhibitions and through collaborations between art and poetry. Then in 2007 I moved to Joburg whilst doing my Masters in Communication for Development and my research was on film form of Thando Mama, a pioneer in his own right. At that point that I also started working with VANSA, organising artists and gauging what we could do in developing platforms for artists and catering to their needs.
In 2011 I started working with Market Photo Workshop full-time for two years; where I learnt photography, critiquing work, reading and curating photography itself. However, in a broader sense, it’s been about learning from friends, other artists, formal platforms that you work in or workshops.
I eventually got interested in performance art as well, however, I am a poet first and all the work that I do starts from a space of poetry and then incorporating other art forms, mostly visual arts since it’s my other interest, looking at taking how performance art works and incorporating it into a poetry performance, nothing like open mics or theatre. So in 2010 Pam and I started taking words as objects and incorporating them into the performance for particularly a visual audience.
Shots011: What is your take on contemporary photography in South Africa?
BG: I think it’s crowded with people doing the same thing. I understand it’s fashionable. And I believe that helps in making it visible, for something to become visible it needs to be fashionable, it needs a number of people doing it so we can see the current style or way of interpreting things. However when you are going through it, it becomes boring if it’s a saturation of the same thing.
However, as history has shown, it helps us define ourselves. You’ll find that things and people that become iconic weren’t working alone but usually in a group, unless you were/are doing something exceptionally amazing as an individual and have a voice beyond your own space to become iconic, different, the amazing, and exceptional. Once people start looking up to you that too becomes copied and that’s how movements are started.
Shots011: Looking at aesthetics, which artist do you believe represents the South African aesthetic?
BG: Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko. The whole street fashion photography and using graffiti walls as backgrounds. She started it in the early 2000s and that represents what a lot of the preoccupations of contemporary photography. It’s all under the idea of identity and urban-ness.
Another photographer of interest is Mack Magagane. His work also focuses on the same urban themes, however the way he works with night light is something that creates a following, and it’s attractive especially with regard to the contemporary South African aesthetic.
Shots011: How important are business principals in building an artist’s career?
BG: Firstly artists need money in order to live and survive. Secondly you need money to produce work. You can’t produce from nothing, you need the equipment and to print some of your work, to see it, even if it’s not for show and all of these need money. Photography is not a cheap art.
We can’t escape that fact that we live in a capitalist society. We might not like it, we might not believe in it as a solution to our problems. However, the reality is you need to understand it and if you break or subvert the rules as created by the commercial world you need to have sense of what they are and what role they play. You cannot work from a lack of knowledge.
Shots011: Are photographers and other artists exhausting the resources available to them?
BG: There are many options. There are other formal ones such as the gallery systems. Working as collectives who run studios and having your own spaces in which you work from. It could be your work space, your commercial space or living space as well. This is an old and tried out method I think we’re not using it to its full potential especially if you are trying to subvert the capitalist commercial space. I think that is possible and we haven’t gone far enough in that direction.
We are slowly moving to the online space now, and it’s vast. The online issue is trust. How do you trust the platform especially in a society where we are constantly dealing with 411 scams, hacked emails, stolen information, and inadequate online security? It’s not because we are particularly criminal, it is because most of our technology is borrowed and received as second hand. So to create a sense of trust on the online world will take time.
People such as buyers and curators operating online will trust the space they physically know first, such as galleries, a person they recognize a face or a brand and if those people can get onto online spaces. Once they get onto online spaces, I am not saying they should be the pioneers but, in the conservative world we live in that’s how these things usually work, everyone else can follow.
Shots011: Are photographers searching for innovative ways beyond the traditional institutions and systems?
BG: I think its fear rather than a lack of knowledge. It’s a mind-set, to say I have made it, I need to be represented by people such as the Micheal Stevenson, for example. Once that Mind-set shifts and we understand that it doesn’t matter! If you have the resources to get yourself in the spaces such as the art fares around the world that Micheal Stevenson lands artist in you have a fair shot.
Shots011: How important are collaborations in a photographer’s career?
BG: To be able to have a voice is hard and harder when you’re on your own. Groups help in pulling your resources together, since we have so very little of them, and build something profiling everyone’s strengths and finding ways of working together as a group. Restrain egos if you’re going to be working in groups since moving forward means moving forward as a unit, not as individuals.
Shots011: Solo Exhibitions in contrast?
BG: It’s a mixture of the two. Solo works can really help push your limits and see where your potential can possibly take you. And to have that and the support of a group helps boost confidence.
Solo Exhibitions are important growth spaces. It is during this the time that you learn what and who you are, and that should never be sacrificed for a group. You need to also check your own ego; egos are not all bad, as long as they are not destructive.
These 10 questions originally came from a French series, “Bouillon des Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot. They’re better known as the questions that James Lipton asks every guest at the end of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. Their addition to this questionnaire is to get to know a bit more about Bandile the person, instead of the artist, a bit more about Bandile outside photography and work
What is your favourite word?
What is your least favourite word?
It used to be “nice”. Words that don’t describe anything.
What turns you on creatively?
Seeing ideas manifested and I can say wow, this is possible.
What turns you off?
Unchecked egos over very bland and boring work.
What is your favourite curse word?
What sound or noise do you love?
The sound of running water, like a stream or river.
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
You’ve done the best you could have possibly done. Not sure that I believe in heaven though but anyway…
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