Shalom Mushwana (b. 1994, Grahamstown, a small town in the Eastern Cape)
Currently based in Johannesburg
What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?
I photograph a variety of subjects. I enjoy portraits, architecture and still life, like the random interesting setups you find out on the streets or within peoples homes/spaces.
Describe your photographic style.
I photograph pretty classically, I guess. I try to break away from that with the content I choose but generally pretty well composed. Think Alec Soth and Santu Mofokeng, something in between their styles. Very loose content, allowing free association between how one image may or may not relate to another. I’m trying to hone a sort of poetry through my photography.
Photography is a lot about the journey. How has it influenced your personal life
and the way in which you view the world (around you)?
We’re always looking as photographers, so it’s pretty inevitable that you’re always looking through a lens even when you you don’t have a camera in front of your face. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot about not having a camera with me, recognising the beauty of experiencing life. When I have a camera with me consistently, the experiencial moments of life are often diluted by the fact that I’m trying to capture whatever moment may be flung in front of me. With this in mind I believe that much of my cues to photograph come from a good balance of being able to experience the moment; I’m either in my own head completely or simultaneously involved with and/or detached from the experience.
Photography is also about capturing a moment in time. What is your approach to a
shot and your approach to a body of work?
I can be a relatively withdrawn and anxious person so a lot of the time I don’t actively seek moments to photograph — I’m really patient so I play a pretty strong waiting game with the images I create. The politics of space, the relationship between myself and what I photograph, as well as the greater goal of the images I want to create are all things I consider before I capture an image (especially when working towards a greater body of work). That being said, sometimes I’m not thinking about any of the above things directly, so the indirect relationship between active and passive photography is another conversation on its own. In short, I believe that my approach is strongly informed by my intuition; I like getting a concept so deeply etched in my mind that the often “mindless” images I create come to life as a result of my meditation on a particular idea.
Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?
I’m trying to freelance photographically, it’s an extremely saturated industry at the moment. I enjoy a variety of types of music so I spend a lot of time helping out friends with mix-downs, recordings, and sometimes arrangements. I’ve been working with video on and off but I’ve been trying to get into the habit of it this year. Otherwise, I’ve always had a passion for art; I love printmaking and drawing as well as animation. So I work in a variety of fields, honestly anything that’s going to pay the bills.
What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.
I have an Olympus OM10 at the moment, but man I’ve photographed with so many camera’s in my career. Right now I’m pretty set on moving to large format (hopefully a Linhof Master Technika but will probably settle for a Graflex Speed graphic). I spent a few years photographing medium format but felt I needed to learn more, so learning to make do with 35mm and it’s gritty aesthetic has been important in changing my relationship to the aesthetisisation of an image. I hated 35mm, but I am sure that if the content of an image is good enough you overlook the grit. Film wise, I’ve been pretty set on Kodak’s Portra 400 and Illford HP5 plus. Flexibility is key to me, so having a roll loaded that I can shoot throughout the day and at night is fundamental.
Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and
enthusiastic about your work?
I don’t know honestly, I don’t feel like I can live without my artistic craft, I would be distraught. But reflection is probably my greatest motivation; looking back at what I’ve created, noting changes in approaches, seeing work I thought was amazing look terrible as well as seeing how some I’m currently making looks terrible. Watching your style grow, noticing the similarities in what you create. Knowing that my craft is growing is what keeps me growing.
In the age where digital photography is prevalent, what draws you to film and what makes it special to you?
I have a story about this: During a festival in 2014 my first digital camera was stolen from me. I was studying Fine Art at the time and the photography lecturer I had was awesome, he let me use an old Nikon F90x I think, it had a terrible zoom lense that was filled with mould but it was all I had. This is about a year and a half after I started photographing. I learnt the whole monochrome analogue process, from negative processing to silver print processing. I was useless at the time but it was the only way I could photograph. So I photographed on film for a while out of necessity really, then it became a habit. Now, digital is a bit overwhelming, I find that my digital images turn out very sterile because of the ability to review and perfect an image. Digital photography is important though, especially in terms of accessibility to those that can’t afford the costly process of photographing on film (photographing consistently on film is a luxury I believe). The way it was brought into my life changed my philosophy of creating images, it made digital photography feel too rushed. Then again, photographing on film isn’t about superiority, digital will have better quality images no doubt, but it’s about the images you create, and using film shifts my approach, and that is the special thing to me.
What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or
things that generally inspire your image-making process.
I’ll always be inspired and thankful to the people who have interacted with me personally about the images I create and how to improve, so mentors of sort, who I will list below. I’m inspired by my circumstance in this world, by the difficulties and shortcomings of my life. I’m inspired by my parents and siblings. I’m inspired by South Africa and it’s gnarly history. I think understanding the place we live in and how the never-ending historical narrative can be a massive disappointment, but also huge source of inspiration to create work that is relevant to the contemporary — maybe it’s beautiful, maybe it’s ugly or even completely mundane. Also just the global society we have access to; it’s a bit overwhelming at times, but it’s influence on everything cannot be understated.
Brent Meistre, Monique Pelser, Buyahphi Mdlele, Michelle Loukidis, Zanele Muholi, Wolfgang Tillmans, Alec Soth, Carie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman.
What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)
Playing guitar/keyboard, composing music, talking about life experiences with good friends and strangers, hikes and I’m tempted to get back into skateboarding, it’s been too long.
Any tips for aspiring film photographers?
Don’t photograph for the hype, unless the hype is your intention. That shit is fleeting.
What lies on the horizon? (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels, etc.) And what do you hope to achieve in the future?
I can only hope for the best. I’m always working on something, hopefully a group show or two is on the cards this year, nothing solid yet. I’m currently bound to Johannesburg, but travels to a variety of places are always on the horizon — I’m quite an impulse traveler.
In the future, I hope to be running a multimedia studio, allowing a variety of disciplines of art to be available all under one roof, hopefully connecting and creating news ways of manifesting visual ideas.
All photos by Shalom Mushwana
DEAD TOWN™ | Film-only Photographic Showcase ©2017-2018.