Personal paparazzi? SA celebs hiring photographers to boost their careers

Meet the photographers capturing the 'organic beauty' of the everyday lives of local A-listers like Bonang Matheba

11 August 2019 - 00:00 By REA KHOABANE
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Kopano ‘Blaq Smith’ Makoro counts Bonang Matheba as a client.
Kopano ‘Blaq Smith’ Makoro counts Bonang Matheba as a client.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

Celebrities constantly feed their insatiable Instagram accounts 24/7 with photographs of intimate family moments, extravagant shopping trips, bikini poses and other trappings of the glamorous life.

What their fans don’t always realise is that stylists, makeup artists and photographers are behind many of the images that are staged to look spontaneous.

With the pressure to look good all the time, more and more South African influencers are hiring professional photographers to boost their profiles on social networks.

Among them is Blaq Smith, 26, who until about a year ago documented the life of AKA for the hip-hop artist’s social media feeds, and now works with Bonang “Queen B” Matheba.

Matheba is very savvy when it comes to social networking.

“I joined social media very early when there was Twitter, before Instagram,” she says. “We are our own magazines and that’s how I use the internet for myself.”

Matheba says her following grew organically and she now gets “millions” of likes on her page, something that traditional media cannot offer.

The media personality and reality show star says she’s controlled her image for about four years now. “A good image, when it’s consistent and professional, does very well with attracting brands.”

Matheba is known for using a full glam squad before stepping out into the world. This includes a stylist, hairdresser, makeup artist and, of course, Blaq Smith.

“I’ve been working with Blaq Smith for a very long time and for me it’s the energy I get from the person,” she says.

“As my photographer, he’s also in my personal space and he meets my family and we need a good relationship.”

View this post on Instagram

A Barbie doll. 👸🏽 | @bonang_m

A post shared by B L V Q $ M I T H (@blaq_smith) on

Celebrities have always wanted to control how they appear to the public. The first camera equipment was heavy and clunky but the advent of the portable Leica camera in 1925 allowed photographers to get out on the streets and snap at will.

This led to the rise of the paparazzi, intrusive photographers who snap celebrities when they are not expecting it or think no-one is watching.

In a high-profile case in 2012, two French magazines published pictures of British royal Kate Middleton in swimwear and sunbathing topless. The topless shots were taken by a photographer with a long lens while the Duchess of Cambridge was on private property.

Prince William said at the time the incident was all the more painful in light of the way paparazzi had hounded his mother.

In the 1970s a photographer sued Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis after the former first lady ordered her secret service agents to destroy his camera and film following an encounter in New York City’s Central Park.

Lady Gaga wrote a song Paparazzi about these celebrity shooters — the word is derived from a character in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita.

In his song Flashing Lights, hip-hop artist Kanye West expresses his hate for the “pap” with the lyrics:

’Till I get flashed by the paparazzi

Damn, these niggas got me

I hate these niggas more than the Nazi

Blaq Smith’s real name is Kopano Makoro. “People know me as Blaq Smith and now I’ve just revealed my real name … damn,” he laughs during an interview.

“I really hate posed images and love capturing enjoyable moments,” he says. “Social media is ‘now’ and what better way of sharing those moments instantly, and showing your fans what you’re up to?”

Blaq Smith says he portrays the “organic beauty” of a celebrity’s everyday life. “This includes travelling with them overseas and capturing them in their private jets and the moment they step out of the plane.”

With only three years in the industry, he’s visited countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, the US and France with AKA. He has also worked with TV personality Jessica Nkosi, rapper Riky Rick and fashion designer Orapeleng Modutle.

Blaq Smith says he portrays the 'organic beauty of a celebrity’s everyday life. 'This includes travelling with them overseas and capturing them in their private jets'

Other popular photographers among celebrities are Cedric Nzaka and Austin Malema. “We really respect each other’s work and spaces,” Blaq Smith says.

He has a love-hate relationship with the job. “I like it that people have appreciation of my work but sometimes people want to be around you because you chill in celebrity circles,” says Blaq Smith.

Malema says he is also ambivalent about the job sometimes. “We are not the famous ones and we end up oversharing with people who don’t know us.”

He says his first celebrity job was covering a weekend gig in Cape Town for the musician DJ PH. “From there I started taking pictures of celebrities at events.”

Malema says the speed in posting a picture is one of the advantages of current technology.

“Celebrities don’t have to wait for the traditional media to put out their pictures the following day. We take a picture and instantly we send it to you via Wi-Fi. We put photos out as soon as possible and celebrities can post immediately.”

Malema admits that at first he was offended when his images were edited. “I used to get pissed but had to learn that people have different aesthetics that they’re pushing on their social media.”

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