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Uviwe Mangweni

Diesel + EDUN Studio Africa: Uviwe Mangweni

Through the lens of a South African native photojournalist

South African photojournalist Uviwe Mangweni has a way of getting so close to her subjects that you can almost see them breathe. Having grown up in Cape Town, she now lives in the creative centre of Johannesburg where her focus is on documenting the places and moments that most people miss. One early project took her to the ex-mining town of Durban Deep - a run-down locale largely overlooked by cosmopolitan Johannesburg - where she spent a week with its people who scratch out a living with the most basic of amenities. More recently, back in the city, she took her camera to the dozens of hair salons in the business district to capture the hum and buzz of these social hubs. Dazed caught up with Uviwe to find out more about her work, what makes something catch her eye and where she wants to take her camera in the future. 

What drew you to using a camera to tell a story? 
Mostly being bored with life in my university days and just wanting to get out there and create something. A youthful restlessness I suppose. 

Who in the world of photojournalism are you inspired by and why?
To be honest I never aspired to be like anyone, I just did what I did because I felt like it. But when I began understanding the significance of photography, especially in South Africa, I began looking up to the legends like Peter Magubane and Alf Khumalo.

You often shoot in black and white - what drives that?
That usually comes in the editing process. I don’t know, maybe I have a bit of an old soul that wants to recreate the same depth and feeling we see in historical images. But I do shoot in color a lot too. 

There's a very intimate, relaxed quality to your photographs. Is that something you look to achieve?
Yeah, I try to capture people in their most natural way of being. I want to be invisible to them.

What was the idea behind your black hair salon series?
Black hair salons are all over the city of Johannesburg. It feels like there is literally one on every block. One day when I was doing my hair as I frequently do, I just thought about how they are huge part of the socio-economic landscape but they’re hardly captured or recognized.

What is about them that fascinates you?
One can't ignore those colorful murals used to advertise the salons. It's interesting cause they all depict international celebrities and hip hop artists and, a lot of the time, a hairstyle will be named after these celebrities. Also fascinated by how so many salons will occupy the same area in the CBD [the central business district] and almost all of them will survive as a business.

What was your eye drawn to when you photographed them?
I was drawn to the characters in the space at the time and how they interact with one another. There's always a little bit of drama or comedy in cases where the hairstyle did not come out the way it was supposed to.

Could you give a little background to the ex-mining town you photographed?
Durban Deep is an ex-mining town off Main Reef Road, West of Johannesburg. People who reside there are mostly migrants from neighboring cities and countries. They get on with life with no electricity and communal water pumps. It felt ghostly, a stark reminder of SA’s brutal past and how far we still have to go as a country in terms of real redistribution.

How did the town's inhabitants feel about you photographing them?
Initially people were uncomfortable, one would walk past and some people would shut their doors at the sight of a lens. But I kept going back and the more I related to them and explained what my mission was, the more they opened up. Just basic human decency and respect gets you a long way.

Are there other sides of Johannesburg you would like to document?
Yes, I would like to capture more stories that project the vibrance and rich creative culture in this city.

Where else would you like to take your camera in the future? 
(Laughing) I wanna take it everywhere.  But I need to get out more, spend more time on the peripheries of the urban environment.