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Studio Africa: I See A Different You

I See A Different You are a trio of photographers from Soweto, South Africa with an eye for style and ambition to show their continent in a whole new light

“We try to make people see all these places differently - see romance, see possibilities, see fun and beautiful things,” says Innocent Mukheli of I See A Different You, the photography blog he started with his twin brother Justice and best friend Vuyo Mpantsha at the end of 2011. “There’s negative and positive in everything. We choose to look at the positive.” The trio all grew up in Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg in South Africa and for the past year have been documenting a very different side to their home than is often portrayed.

Their warm, widescreen photographs depict stylish friends, local characters and each other in “infamous places, places that are known for bad things,” says Vuyo. Those places include Soweto, the nearby township of Alexandra, Johannesburg’s many suburbs and the formerly independent state of Venda in northern South Africa. Each photograph tells many stories. There are the historical, often painful stories that a little inquiry into the location title that each photograph bears will reveal. There are personal stories of love and loss written across the subjects’ faces and hinted at on their blog. And, of course, there are the style stories that the trio create which themselves tell a story.

“The fashion is mostly inspired by our parent’s photo albums and our grandparent’s photo albums, and the locations they shot in. So we were retelling those stories but now,” explains Justice. “We looked at how they dressed and the way they shot and mixed it with our different styles to make the outfits our own,” picks up Vuyo. “The most important thing to us was to show pride in where we are from and get young people like us to be proud of where they are from,” continues Justice. “That was the goal, to change the perception of what the world thinks of Soweto and South Africa, and Africa as a whole.”

Innocent and Justice met Vuyo at their local church when they were all 11 and singing in the choir. They bonded over a love of skateboarding and grew to share a quick, playful wit and an exacting eye for style. As teenagers, music and graffiti were their creative outlets. Although it came a little later, photography was always an interest.

“I think we’ve been taking photos mentally forever,” says Innocent. “Justice got a camera first and we started messing around with it. Vuyo was also good with cameras so we thought, let’s try this. But it’s a thing that we’ve always had in our minds.” It was a work trip  that he took to Kenya that was the genesis for I See A Different You: “When I was in Kenya I saw it from a new eye. I saw beautiful architecture, beautiful people, so we thought as a collective we should try and look at where we’re from with that kind of eye, with a fresh eye, and tell stories of where we’re from.”

Today they share a place in Johannesburg - “Vuyo is the messiest,” teases Justice - where all three have day jobs in advertising. Innocent and Justice are both art directors and Vuyo is a copywriter. Evenings and weekends, however, are all about their blog. “I See A Different You is like our baby that keeps us sane,” says Innocent. “We have no one to review it, no-one to give us grief; we just do what we love.”

The dream is to make it their full-time job and the goal is not just to show a different side of South Africa to the world, but to show a different world to South Africa. “I See A Different You started in Soweto and it’s changed people’s perceptions of Soweto. Where do we want to take it? We want to take it to the whole world,” says Vuyo. “We want to do I See A Different You China, I See A Different You Atlanta, Jamaica. Brazil too. We just want to take it to places we’ve never been to, places that most people in my country have never been. The problem with South Africans is that they don’t travel, so with this thing we want to change their perception of the world.”