Studio amplifies photographic talent

Ernestine White, the curator of contemporary art at Iziko Museums, formed part of the exhibition and poses with her picture.

Two photographers have completed the artist residency programme at the Amplify Studio in Loop Street, and showed off their work in an exhibition called My Identity.

The exhibition, which opened as part of the First Thursdays initiative, saw a combination of the work by Earl Abrahams, called
Coloured In, and Wandie Mesatywa, called Iqhiya, all themed around their identities, being showcased at the studio on Thursday August 6.

Earl and Wandie were the second pair to complete the two-month residency programme at the Amplify Studio, during which they received mentorship, work experience, skills and studio space to help their photography careers.

Wandie exhibition showed a series of African woman in head scarves.

She started her career as an artist at the Ruth Prowse School of Art, and always thought of photography as a way to overcome her bad experiences.

She said this project pushed her to want to explore her identity. Being a Xhosa woman from the Eastern Cape, Wandie had worked on Iqhiya with the idea to capture the beauty of the headscarf or doek.

However, she said, while she met and photographed the women, she saw something in their beauty that resembled a piece of her and questions arose about how Western culture influenced everyone, including her.

“It made it more personal for me. A headscarf is a cultural symbol for women who are not married, so they wear it as a sign of respect for the ancestors. But the project made me want to explore my culture and who I am as a Xhosa woman.”

She said initially, she wanted to choose to do a series about abuse but thought it would be quite raw. “So I decided to do something more positive, and headscarves were a strong part of my culture – I knew it would help me discover a part of me.”

She said the two months she spent at the Amplify Studio had been challenging but good.

“I learnt from and met many mentors during the residency. The most difficult part I think was that everyone has an expectation – you have an expectation and set a standard for yourself and the directors have an expectation of the work you do, and the hard part is trying to find a way to please everyone. But the challenge was worthwhile.”

She said she had also gained experience through working as an assistant at the studio. “I was very hands-on. I met artists and got to engage with them.”

She said she would continue to explore the theme around her identity, and that Iqhiya was the first of more series to come.

Earl, who grew up in Bonteheuwel, chose to do his project, Coloured In, as a way to bridge the distance between himself and home after he moved to Johannesburg.

The former CBD resident said he was inspired by the first photographer who formed part of the programme, Noncedo Charmaine Mathibela, who did an exhibition called To Love or Not to Love: A Street View.

His exhibition showed a series of moments captured in Bonteheuwel and Athlone, be it social ills or people in their happy space.

“I decided to do this project to help me discover who I am after I had moved out of Bonteheuwel. I had so many questions: Was I out (of the area) or was I in?”

He then decided to explore other themes around this, such as how people of Cape Town unite while there is so much segregation.

“But it had to start with me. I needed to understand all these things.”

Earl first found his love for photography through in-line skating and taking pictures of his friends as a teenager. “When I moved to the CBD, I started skating around the city and started to capture moments around me.

“I’ve always wanted to use photography to connect with people, and that’s what sparked my interest.”

He said the title for his project, Coloured In, relates to apartheid’s Group Areas Act and how people were “coloured in” to fit different areas. “It speaks to how we were coloured in to spaces, it’s not about being coloured and it’s not a racial thing.”

He said the time he spent on the residency was challenging, but he grew a lot during his time at the Amplify Studio. “I’ve never exhibited a full body of work before, so I feel vulnerable about it. Not everyone will see it the way I do.”

He said that Coloured In is the first chapter in a series of exploring his identity.

“I want to put myself in a space to discover my identity. I want to take this with me to Johannesburg and start work on Chapter 2.”

The curator of contemporary art at Iziko Museums, Ernestine White, also attended the event and wore a headscarf to fit into the theme.

“To the artists, this is only the beginning of your journey into personal discovery. Continue the work that you do. Thank you to the Amplify Studio for continuing to develop and support these artists and taking the time to foster their talent. I encourage corporates to help and support our artists to continue to create beauty in the world.”

The curator at the Amplify Studio, Elodye Davids, said both Wandie and Earl were enthusiastic when they started their residency. “They were both adamant for work and getting involved with not just their project but at the studio.”

She said the exhibition is not due at the end of their residency. “We only exhibit their work if it is strong enough and if they have showed the desire of accomplishing fully. It is a bit like the ‘carrot and the stick approach’.”

She said while the two have different personalities, at the end of the day they have grown with a lot in common. “They are both self taught in a way and they are young, hungry for life, talented and very charming kids.”

She said the end of a residency is the best moment at the studio because everyone gets to see the final pictures and the curation of it.

“But it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of their journeys, and Amplify Studio will try to involve the residents and show their work as much as the opportunity allows us.”

The next two residents have already joined the programme, and aspiring photographers can apply for the fourth round online at www.amplify.co

My Identity will show at the Amplify Studio in Loop Street until Friday September 1.