Themba Mbuyisa

Stay true to yourself

Interview with Themba Mbuyisa

We had the chance to talk to Themba Mbuyisa a stunning fashion photographer from Johannesburg and part of a young creative African movement ready to inspire the world.

The young photographer has made a name for himself within the urban fashion photography scene due to his distinctive street style focused on an individual perspective of natural beauty and made it all the way from JHB to German TV.

Themba was born in the heart of Johannesburg. His mother raised him as a single parent in his grandmother’s house with cousins. Due to financial problems two years after he started studying he takes a break to his mathematical degree, which made him discover his passion for photography. His growing interest and talent helps him to get a bursary at Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, which is a photography school supporting previously disadvantaged individuals. Themba knees into this great opportunity and photography becomes his life.

In 2013 Themba wins his first prize at the magazine called PhotoComment bringing him to an Art residency Rural. Scapes lab-in-residence in Sao Paulo, which triggered his national breakthrough.

He is honoured with a bronze medal at the Sony National Photography Award for his work in 2015, before he wins the 2016 ELLE Style Report Award, including an one-paged feature within every monthly ELLE issue throughout the year in order to tell his very own visual fashion stories. Apart from that he is named to the 2016 list of 200 Young South Africans to look out for published by the Mail and Guardian earlier this year and it doesn’t look like he has any interest in slowing down the success anytime soon.

Front picture by Patrick Selemani.

All other pictures by Themba Mbuyisa.

Frist, can you tell us the story behind the upper picture?

That’s an old photo, hahahah, I’m glad it’s still revelant though. I took  the photo in 2014 during a documentary that was shot by ARD German TV for 20 years of freedom in South Africa. Entitled „Uplift“, I imagined what ARD was trying to achieve with the documentary, basically contrasting between South African photography before democracy and photography now, back then we used to run, get shot and someone would be interested to take a photo of that and only that, but now photography is used to uplift us as individuals and our dreams of course regardless of your strengths.

Why are you so interested in this medium?

I’ve never imagined photography as a big impact in my life, I honestly I had a fairytale story to tell about how I become interested in photography but I don’t.

How would you describe your personal style?

I consider myself as a junior, so when you’re in that level you sort of expose yourself to every style of photography. But I think as years go by and I photograph, my ideas around photography will be narrowed down to one specific style. I’m not sure how I’ll cope with commission calls that my required my old styles though.

How are you working with your protagonists? Is there any special approach to get the „realness“?

I direct my shoots like crazy, especially if I’m doing fashion. Also I do rely on my subjects to give me the best of them so that I don’t lose them in the photo and it’s just only me.

Are there special thoughts when you look through the camera?

I become in my zone when I look through the viewfinder, but also I’m aware that I have an addictive behavior and addictions can threaten one’s life.

Who are your role models or mentors in your career?

I’m not so sure if I have any role models, I have a problem with those people actually. You might imagine someone as role model to you, but when you meet them on the streets they just drain your energy and kill your enthusiasm, so I don’t believe in role models. But I think that there are some amazing people who paved the way for photography and should be respected for that, I mean if it wasn’t for Helmut Newtown’s photographs, Robert Frank’s and Erwitt Elliot’s, I wouldn’t be. Photography was more of a culture to them than anything else, and that’s what I inspire to do.

How is South Africa as a young creative artist especially Johannesburg?

I think that this is a perfect time to be a young creative as I believe that South Africa is ready for new and young talent. But I think a year or 2 years ago I wouldn’t even believe that.

What are your thoughts about the creative scene in South Africa at the moment?

It is quite interesting now because more new faces are coming out so more creative ideas are being brought through and that means that there is starting to be more competition now. But it has been boring for most of the years, as it was just only the same faces given the platform.

How important is social media in South Africa? And what are your thoughts about Social media?

Social media is very important, especially if you want to remain relevant with your work and your chosen themes of exploration. But also it depends on who you choose to follow, what you post and how you post it. South African social media does have a tendency of attacking individuals, mock or just draw in humor to almost anything that’s being posted to a level that it may start trending.

How important are channels like Instagram to get inspired and get feedback on your current work?

I personally use instagram (@themba_mbuyisa) to post what I feel I need to post at that time, it doesn’t share much about my work, where I am or what I’m doing because I don’t want people to know more about me without me being paid for that. Some use it as their creative website, story boards and all that. Some people on social media can not be on the same mental states as you with regards to what you post and I don’t think I would want feedback from such people. It is only when one post a really beautiful girl, maybe half naked that people start to respond and I wonder how or why.

Do you see yourself as an influencer for the young generation? Are there young creatives who look up to you?

Hahaha, No, maybe not yet.
I think to be an influencer you have to have a large following (on social media) and I’m not there yet. But I do have young people who personally come to me and shake my hand whenever I’m walking on the streets and that means a lot to me. I think I’m more human than anything else, so talks in person are more important than messages over social networks and I always appreciate it when people respect me and my work enough that they start to also remember my face when I’m on the streets.

Do you have a creative collective who are you working with?

I am currently starting a collective with 5 other young visual creatives, I actually co-exhibited with one of them Nkosinathi Khumalo under the Goethe Institut.
I can’t tell you much about this as we are still in the primary phases of this build up towards a more goal driven collective.

What kind of advice do you have for young creatives enter the scene?

The only advice I have and that I got from my mother is „stay true to yourself“, that way you won’t feel any unnecessary pressure from almost anything really.

Thanks for the interview, Themba.

If you want to know more about Themba and his work check out the photos below, go on his website www.memoryquai.tumblr.com or follow him on instagram @themba_mbuyisa. But Themba is just one example of the coolest and most creative South Africans on the rise. If you like what he does check out a few more really fly boys and girls kicking it raw down there.