Andile Buka is one of South Africa’s most important contemporary photographers. Young, and already with a healthy body of work, the Johannesburg-based photographer’s aesthestic is distinctive; an oeuvre of mainly portrait photographic work, granular in texture and sublime in tones, and with each frame containing an image that looks like it could tell a 1 000 stories.
Freshly returning from Japan, where he had his first solo exhibition and having recently worked with Trevor Stuurman on a successful Superga campaign, I caught up with the photographer.
Portraiture or landscape photography?
Portraiture any day.
So far, who’s been your favourite person to photograph?
I recently shot the directors of moving, experimental gallery Space Space: Ella Krivanek and Dorothy Siemens. I’m taking a new approach to portraiture, which involves less directing and more waiting for moments to present themselves. It’s been an interesting process so far, and shooting Ella and Dorothy was one of the first times I worked this way.
You’ve shot campaigns for several fashion brands. When you work with labels like Adidas or do editorials for magazines, how much creative license do you have?
When I was first starting out as a photographer I secretly worried that shooting for brands might mean compromising my personal style. But since the very first campaign with Adidas, I’ve had 100% creative freedom. I feel lucky to be able to say that every big campaign I’ve done since then, has been the same.
You’re credited for working with Trevor Stuurman on his latest Superga campaign. Can you share more on it?
Trevor approached me to shoot the campaign, letting me know that he liked my personal projects and wanted me to curate something that jibed with my past work. That was very flattering, and also comforting, as I knew that it would be natural; an easy fit. Trevor was fantastic to work with, putting together all the outfits and allowing me to focus on blending these looks with my own approach to shooting.
What’s your preferred medium?
I shoot on film about 99.4% of the time. Occasionally I shoot digital for commercial work if there is a time constraint. Even for campaigns I prefer shooting film, and brands try to accommodate that on the whole, which is great.
I was fortunate enough to start out shooting on film, and I fell in love with the process from the beginning. Drawing out the process helps relieve the pressure of shooting also. Seeing the outcome right away can be stressful, and you can become self-critical. I’m more relaxed when I see the images two or three days after the shoot, as one does with film.
And do you have a favourite camera?
Not really. Whichever one I’m using at the time is my favourite. Right now I’m working with three cameras mainly: a Contacts G2, a Mamiya RZ67, and a Pantax 67. These are totally badass, old-school Japanese machines. They’re so well-crafted and designed. I’m in awe of the way they still work so well, even though they were built such a long time ago.
Besides working with fashion labels and bloggers like the Sartists, you’re quite stylish. Can you talk a bit about your personal style; do you have a favourite designer?
Actually I don’t have a favourite designer, or a favourite spot. I buy second-hand jeans in town. In downtown Johannesburg there are plenty of shops where you can buy a nice photographer’s jacket. Chucks 70s are my go-to shoes. Pair that with a nice pair of jeans, and a T-shirt. It has to be comfortable because I am cycling and walking 24/7.
You recently got back from Japan, can you share what you were up to there and what your experience of the country was?
I was showcasing for the second time at the Tokyo Art Book Fair, and exhibiting my first solo show outside of South Africa. This took place at Totodo Books, where I also presented a talk series.
What are you currently working on?
I’m creating for a personal project, not focused on a title or theme but just making work and continuing to add work to my [book/series] Crossing Strangers.