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Kgomotso Neto Tleane | "Photography is a Process of Self Discovery"

Kgomotso Neto Tleane a self-taught photographer hailing from Polokwane, has primarily focused his work on documentary and street photography. Recently, he expanded his already impressive portfolio to include editorial work with a visual story titled 'Turning Heads,' a collaborative editorial that highlights hair grooming on the street and in salons.

Last year, Tleane was selected as one of the photographers to participate in the New York Portfolio Review, an opportunity he credits with giving him a greater push to continue his work. On the 27th of June, Tleane will be speaking alongside other creative entrepreneurs at a Creative Conference hosted by the Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival.

You capture township life and people who often don't receive representation in mainstream media other than through the news, how has your own upbringing contributed to the subjects and types of people you capture? There’s a lot of humility and a simple way of living in small villages/rural areas, everyone knows each other and the community is usually small, small to a point where you greet every person you see, especially elders and people you may not even know, You take a little pause and do an extended greeting asking them how they have been and all; I saw this a lot with my grandmother also. I was raised in such an environment, where acknowledging, greeting and treating other people with respect is an inherent part of the community. I think that has since stayed with me to this day and has had a lot of influence on how I receive my surroundings and treat the people I interact with.

And why is it important to you personally to capture the spaces and the people you capture? I’ve always thought the reason why I do photography was to change peoples perceptions about the world around them, but I have come to realise that this is also a journey of self-discovery, it’s how I receive what’s around me, it’s how I see my world. This is how I reflect the world around me to myself and to whoever may be looking. It’s also important to me to take a little pause to observe what’s around me, photography allows me to do that, It allows me to be aware of the people I interact with and the spaces I occupy.

Tell us about your most recent project "Turning Heads", how did the project come about?

I’ve been cutting my hair for as long as I remember, it’s always at a local salon or in the street somewhere. I’ve been to a few different salons since I moved to the city, but for the past year, I’ve been going to a specific barber on Jeppe street to get my chiskop done. This is the same with many people I know, my friends have their trusted hairdressers and specific salons they frequent.

My mother, for instance, has been doing her hair at the same place in town since 1996, that’s 23 years. We all go to our trusted hairdressers because we trust them to make us look good.An idea came to me some time mid-February to do an editorial shoot, this is after I had lost out on an editorial shoot with an advertising agency, I’m not sure what the reason was, but I thought to myself it’s probably because I don’t have a lot of editorial work, I've only done editorials for commissions, which happens once in a while.

So the idea was to do a studio-based shoot with elements that focus on street grooming and salons, the experience of doing hair at a local/street salon.

At that moment I knew what colours I wanted to play with - pastel colours, I knew that the models had to have facial features. I quickly called a friend of mine Didintle Ntsudisane who’s a stylist and told her about the idea and asked her to collaborate in bringing the idea to life. She made the clothes, we sourced the props from different salons in the city and bought a few things to use. The idea was to collect all these props and play with them on set. I contacted both Poelo Mofolo and Dimpho Mashile on Instagram, I had seen them on other Instagram accounts before, they also agreed to be part of the shoot after I shared the idea with them. I contacted makeup artist Mamello Mokhele to also collaborate and she was down with the idea. The day of the shoot arrived and everyone came through to the studio, and we shot Turning Heads, at this point, it was just the images. I sat on the images for Almost 3 months until the idea to do a video version of the shoot came up. The production company I’m with, Ubuso, liked the idea to do a video version on Turning Heads. I called the same team and told them about the second phase of turning heads, in about a week I directed the video version of the project. I also contacted writer Lidudumalingani to write some text for the project, this was just after we shot the first phase.

There’s a third phase to come which I’ll communicate about later.

This was a great collaborative project and everyone brought their A-Game.

Even though the creative space in South Africa has been shifting in the past two years, you have maintained consistency, what do you think has contributed to your longevity and consistency? I’ve just stayed true to myself and chased the goals I’ve wanted to achieve, I think there’s something in staying true to yourself. You have been involved in several film projects, tell us about your journey into film and how you use the medium for self-expression. I'm slowly getting into directing and its still early stages, LOL, so please ask me this in about two years.

Tell us about how your ongoing collaboration with Rendani Nemakhavhani on "The Honey" series has evolved over the years to the work you are currently doing now as "The Ministry". Why did you both feel it was important to establish The Ministry? Rendani Nemakhavhani came up with The Ministry as a tribute to her late Grandmother, she considered her to be The President in her life.

I think we all have people we consider presidents in our lives, and it’s really important that we celebrate them.

How do you think photography as a medium contributes to the betterment of society? Photography is able to make people see things from a different perspective, which I think it’s important in making people aware of what’s going on around them.


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