This is photographer Bheki Dube’s paraphrasing one of South Africa’s’ most respected writer, poet and playwrights; Lesego Rampolokeng in a way of explaining his work in progress called White Trash.
He shows me some of his pictures of some poor white people he knows and photographs around his home town in Troyville. “ I want to show that white people are not superior or better, I want to document another side of whiteness” I ask him if (he thinks) some of his friends still have this idea that white-people are intrinsically superior, he laughs again ” I hope there are not still black people who think that white people are superior and we are inferior, but if there are, I hope to show them that that’s not the case”
Bheki and I met when he (and I) was very young – he was literally a boy running up and down B-courts’ red stairs. We often saw each, passed each other, exchanging shy greetings (children have a way of making me so shy I feel like they see through me, which is scary) during my many visits to see my friend at the time who was reading film at Wits. Until I myself one day started living there, found a flat an moved in without a moment’s pause. That is where he learnt his craft, where he got hooked by images, shooting videos with Mr M.
He grew up amongst some of Johannesburg’s “craziest”artists; some struggling, trapped, abusive, wild, lost and successful. A great place to experience art at its best and art at its worst. Art was always in the making, be it in movies, music, painting, mosaics, performance art, whatever ideas were thought up in nocturnal post exhibition, maddening just for fun all night parties. Whether it was a dramatic fight or sweet moment spent with stray cats. He grew up amongst free thinking, creatives, writers, journalists, actors, dancers, painters architects, gallerists, curators, art enthusiasts, fans, lovers and strays and he took the best from all of us.
I look at my work as a calling, you know, it’s something that just happened, cuz I never thought I could be a photographer, it’s not something I ever told my mom that I want to be” He says shrugging his well-built shoulders. We look at each as if understanding the obvious about each other for the first time. “but I guess it was bound to happen, growing up at B-Court and all” We laugh, memories. ” Are you still writing?” he asks me, this time I’m proud to tell him, yes, yes I am.
“I don’t want to confine my work into a category because that will limit the scope of my creative interests” he tells me. My jaw is on the counter at this point, but he is not fazed by my surprised expressions and draws me in with his charm as if to say, I’m still the Bheki you knew. “If I were to classify it, I would say my work leans strongly towards social-documentation”. I still cannot get over how grown he is, mind-body and soul.
“Another subject that I am interested in and that keeps coming up in my work is nuns and religion”. He tells me that he started being interested in nuns when he found out that there were at least ten living within a block from his house. “But we hardly know anything about them. They are hidden” he says, showing me a picture of a sister he befriended sitting austerely in her living room and then another of hers reading a magazine, she is at ease with him. “But I am not religious “he says with that disarming smile again.
“At one point I became so fascinated with nuns when I could not see any around, I found a costume and played around with this dancing trio and took pictures. He shows me a black and white picture of a female black nun reaching as if to the sky while the two gangster-pop looking characters look on closely behind her.
Dube, 20, studied photography at that famous place in Newtown Johannesburg, The Market Photo Workshop. And Tonight he will be participating in his first major exhibition ( 08 Thursday ) at the Backlight: Contemporary Photographic Exhibition at the Michael Meyersfields’ Studios in Sandton. His work will be show-cased alongside some of the country’s leading photographers such as Francki Burger, Bob Cnoops, Antoine De Ras, Pieter De Ras, Harry De Zitter, Buntu Fihla, Stephen Hobbs, Greg Marinovich, Michael Meyersfeld, Santu Mofokeng & Marcus Neustetter.
Backlight was conceived by Michael Meyer, Bob Cnoops, Marcus Neustetter and Stephen Hobbs.
Backlights’ main objectives are to offer South Africa’s emergent and establish collector base access to photographer’s not seen in the main commercial gallery circuits.
“I am pretty excited about this exhibition, because I will be exhibiting with a of photographers I have always looked up to, admired” He says walking me out of the coffee shop…
“It’ll be cool if you can come” he says and I give him a warm congratulatory hug and say goodbye. Tears burning inside my eyes.
Meet Bheki Dube.