“I try to make my images sound and feel like kwaito music,” says Lesedi Mothoagae. Born and raised in Kagiso township, his vibrant images are alive with the colours, people and energy of the township. Camera in hand, Lesedi describes his process as “collaborating with my natural environment”, photographing interesting people and spaces he encounters in his daily life. In his journey as a photographer he has assisted and learnt from some of South Africa’s leading photographers. It has been a pleasure watching Lesedi find his voice as an artist and develop his craft. We couldn’t be prouder to see him join the main Lampost board and look forward to the many more accomplishments he is bound to achieve.
How did you first get into photography?
I started taking photos because I wanted to get images for my visual diary so I always had material to use as reference to sketching or paint.
Who have been your mentors and what important lessons have you learned over the years building your aesthetic and career?
My most important mentor has always been Samuel Leburu. He was the poetry and the philosophy that allowed me to stand, watch, admire and say to myself "I don’t need anything outside of myself to create work”. It was because of his work that I realised the township is nothing but a Hollywood set, it just needs the right eye to exploit this horrible place for its beauty. I have assisted some great South African photographers in the commercial space. Working with Paul Samuels was so supportive and structured, and I understand his attachment to me was deep because I was one of his first few assistant at the beginning of his career. I pay great respect to Warren Van Rensburg; he was the technical teacher for me. He is very silent with his genius and I love him for sharing technical knowledge with me. Assisting Chris Saunders I learned that if I was going to build a career, I needed to build it being naked, honest about who I am and where I come from, to expose my humiliation that comes with poverty. Before I got to know Chris, I didn't think he could tell our township stories accurately, but assisting him made me understand how important his work was and most importantly, that I can’t just sit and complain about someone else’s work lacking this or that. I realised that I needed to hold myself responsible for telling stories that were not only technically brilliant, but that the aura of authenticity was part of the recipe. I respect Chris because of his foreign gaze on black subcultures which birthed the idea to respect anything or anyone I put in front of the camera, even if I’m the foreigner with a camera.
What makes your imagery distinct?
I don't think there's anything that makes my images distinct at the moment. If I have to mention something, what makes it distinct is that I always challenge the teams I work with on my personal projects. I have a conversation about what we plan to create and I choose to use no treatments. I love being surprised, I love setting myself up for luck. I create opportunities to be lucky, but I love feeling not completely in control of the moment. One thing I can control is my lighting. My post production work is sometimes inspired by video games I play or movies that push a stylistic look. I love creating very cinematic stills.
What keeps you driven and inspired to keep experimenting and honing your photography?
When I started out it was poverty. I was hungry: physically hungry, emotionally hungry, mentally hungry, I just wanted to suck on anything that would nurture my mind and my spirit. My body was malnourished but I thought to worry about that later because money was the motivation. I wanted to escape poverty so badly, my patience was getting tested. But then I realised the only way out was to push myself and take hunger and burry it in my work. In the processes I found myself; I stopped thinking only about money, and I started falling in love with the idea that I’m nothing but a service provider to my clients and the people I photograph in my personal capacity. I realised the impact I had on their lives and I grew to love photographing people to make them feel good about who they are. I believe my purpose is to heal people with photographs. That’s what pushes me right now: When you take someone who grew up in a shack and you style them up to make them look like royalty that builds a different idea entirely about self-perception.
When shooting portraits, what do you look to capture from the subject?
I want to capture everything they can give at that moment – ugly, beautiful, insane, truth, lies, social anxiety, theatrical performances... anything they are willing to give.
How does township culture influence you and your work?
The township labour camps were never built with the right intentions. Dry, dusty, no trees, schools a failing system. Honestly, I never really liked the place. But I had to adapt. I love the fact that this is the one place I loved in my early childhood when I wasn’t conscious of what was happening around me. My parents were so good at making me feel wealthy. Visually it was stimulating to me - the textures, colours, the energy the people have. Waking up to nothing and believing in nothing but still maintaining the drive to pursue your greatest ambition.
Image 2-3: Set design & styling: Chloe Andrea
Image 4: Riky Rick x Remy Martin
Image 5-6: John Maytham
Image 7-8: Riky Rick
Image 9: Stylng by Nao Serati
Image 10-12: Styling by Carla Vermaak
Image 16: Stylng by Nao Serati