IN PICS | What lockdown looks like through the lens of SA's photographers

03 May 2020 - 00:02 By Dianne Tipping-Woods
Rifumo Mathebula's man leaning out of window.
Rifumo Mathebula's man leaning out of window.
Image: Supplied/Rifumo Mathebula

Four young men in Mpumalanga share their fears, frustrations and ambitions as they document life in lockdown through their photography.

"Taking photos has made me see how powerfully an image can speak the unsaid fear and anger in people's lives," says Wisani Ngwenya, 20, from Ludlow Village in Mpumalanga.

Ngwenya is part of a group of photographers who are longing for freedom but are obeying the rules. He's been taking photos to pass the time, but also to document the world as he's experiencing it now.

"People are most afraid of dying of hunger, not the virus," he says. "What they need most is to get their lives back and live the way they used to. But I know we have to be responsible and stay indoors."

It's a time of frustration and uncertainty for Ngwenya and his friends, Rifumo Mathebula, 23, Rivoni Mkansi, 20, and Vusi Mathe, 21 — all graduates of Wild Shots Outreach (WSO), an NPO that supports youngsters to access their wildlife heritage and develop employment skills in wildlife and tourism through photography.

Supported by Wild Shots Outreach, Ngwenya had just started studying filmmaking at Afda in Joburg, while his friends had begun working with Conservation South Africa through the Yes4Youth scheme under the mentorship of Mike Kendrick, who founded and runs WSO.

One of WSO's 620 graduates, Neville Ngomane, 20, was awarded Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2019 for his image of a rhino dehorning titled Desperate Measures.

Rivoni Mkansi's looking out.
Rivoni Mkansi's looking out.
Image: Supplied/Rivoni Mkansi

While WSO is about getting people to engage with their natural heritage through photography, "it's grown into something more — including giving them a voice and a medium through which to tell their stories", says Kendrick. "I see my students develop a sense of pride. Pride in their photos and then pride in themselves and their achievements. Their images are thought-provoking and inspiring."

Mkansi's favourite image is the black and white photo of a man staring out the window with a look of intense longing. "It shows how the pandemic affects people physically and emotionally. And the power photography has to talk for the voiceless," he says.

Wisani Ngwenya's masked and gloved man.
Wisani Ngwenya's masked and gloved man.
Image: Supplied/Wisani Ngwenya
Rivoni Mkansi's dropped key.
Rivoni Mkansi's dropped key.
Image: Supplied/Rivoni Mkansi

Mathe's favourite image has a similar theme. It's a black and white shot of a young shirtless man staring outside through the window. "This image expresses exactly how I feel. I'm always wondering when this will all be over and we'll be able to go out again without fear of getting the virus."

Vusi Mathe's shirtless youth.
Vusi Mathe's shirtless youth.
Image: Supplied/Vusi Mathe

"Having my camera during this lockdown makes a huge difference because I'm able to take pictures that show what's happening in my reality," says Mathebula. "It's made me think about photography differently. In my images I'm trying to tell the world how people like me are affected. I don't take an image to express beauty or to show off. I take a picture to tell a unique story to the world."