Lekgetho Makola is currently Head of the Market Photo Workshop, where he leads the strategic visions of artistic and educational programming of the 31 year old photographic institution that among numerous curatorial and research initiatives, offers photography courses prioritizing students from marginalized communities. Many of the photographers who came through these programmes have gone to receive national, regional and international recognition. He recently guest edited the Africa issue of Zeke Magazine. Here's our Q&A.
How did you first get interested in art?
My interest in art began in high school, when the artistic talent began to be more visible. My first preference at the time was to study animation after completing high school but, like similar other stories, my father felt very differently about my idea of becoming an artist. So, to respond to his aspirations, I had to explore Economics studies before eventually deciding to go back to the Arts in the mid 1990s.
What makes an image stand out more than another in your opinion?
Its authenticity and integrity.
Do you think photography is a universal language?
Photography is a universal language because it can be democratically accessed and interpreted from layered points of view, based on one’s understanding of their life and experiences. The universality in photographic language should represents diversity.
What do you think the future of photography might look like?
The invention social media and their virtual spaces are beginning to provide exciting image interfaces for all purposes. Individuals have begun to use images as a form of communication and representation of both their realities and fantasies. It is from this simple observation that I believe that photography will form a huge part of virtual communication and will challenge the professional photographic industries - it will inevitably have to to adjust to this new normal. And we will have to understand this new virtual audience in a particular way, one that has never been explored before.
Do you think art should be political?
Art is inherently political. We continually strive to remove politics out of the arts, but the artistic process, from the making to the consumption and eventually its social impact denies us that. There are always levels of power dynamics and conflicts that are linked to human consciousness.
Do you think your work has a political meaning?
Yes it does. It confronts and exposes our current post-colonial and decolonization endeavours by young photographers in our region.
Images have been sometimes used as a form of oppression. Can they also be a form of resistance?
Images can oppress and emancipate humanity. I live in the region of the world were images of colonial anthropology expedition have dehumanised an entire people. The same region that has begun to see their people turning the lens towards themselves in celebration of their identities, thus brining dignity back to their image and representation. This is also observed and experienced in the surge of the production and distribution of compelling images and visual stories that confront gender and sexuality prejudice in all our societies of the world.
Do you think photography can have an impact?
Photography has continually impacted and changed how we understand things and, through perception, how we adjust to a new normal that may both be positive or negative. Images informs our cognitive thinking and logic, and thus become a powerful tool to influence or inspire individuals and communities.
Do you think that the role of an “outsider” storyteller is still important today?
All stories have an insider and an outsider perspective. It is therefore critical that an outsider’s voice is given consideration. At the same time, an outsider, similar to the insider, have significant responsibilities to matters relating to ethics and integrity towards the ‘subject’ at hand - and to themselves too, as a dignified visual storyteller.
It’s a particularly difficult time for creative and editorial businesses. What motivates you to keep on doing your work? What’s the most important thing for you to achieve through it?
Images and image-making tend to become more pivotal in times of hopelessness and despair. It becomes the most attentive tool to document the human experience and resilience during a phase of hardship. Image makers provide information, inspiration, confrontation of fears and ultimately create an opportunity for conversations that could contribute towards hope and change.
What’s the most challenging thing about your work? And the most rewarding?
The most challenging thing about my work is ensuring that at all times, each and every young photographer working with us has access to the same high quality photographic resources and support. The most rewarding aspect is definitely seeing many of these photographers coming from difficult upbringings achieving their goals and going beyond their own expectations in both their personal and artistic growth.
Did the impact of social media affect your work?
Social media has democratised the presentation and distribution of photographic content. We no longer depend on galleries to have new and old work curated and presented to a much larger and diverse audience from all over the world.
What do you think should be done to tackle the lack of diversity in the photography world?
All gate keepers holding critical position in crucial platforms and spaces need to attend global diversity workshops and begin to unlearn implicit bias. And of course those same spaces need to have a diverse team, representing the complex dynamics of the world we live in.
What do you think should be done to decolonize the gaze in the art world?
In the Global South many have strived to identify and confront archives of colonial formation, increasing the voices that confront any residual or any new resurgence of the colonial gaze. Education spaces are incubation for activating the decolonizing process. The main responsibility lies in the Global North where these conversations about te colonial gaze are often not given the attention they deserve. The colonial gaze as a power tool originates from the Global North, and it is there that the process to dismantle it should start.
Lekgetho James Makola, born in GaSekhukhune in Limpopo – South Africa, has a Fine Art degree (in 1999) from Durban University of Technology in Durban, South Africa. His artistic achievements include a Bronze Sculpture commission for President Nelson Mandela.
He worked in Museums for over 10 years, including Community Arts and Culture outreach activities. In the 10 years, he held positions from Exhibitions Technician, Museum Exhibitions Curator, Exhibitions and Interpretation Manager to Heritage Conservation and Research Senior Departmental Manager, with the latter at the Robben Island Museum, World Heritage Site that included overseeing the critical anti-apartheid Photography collection at Mayibuye Archives. The 6 years at Robben Island Museum includes being part of and overseeing the documentation of memories of over 500 ex-political prisoners, their families and prison warders for the Robben Island Prison Memory project.
He is an International Ford Foundation Fellow on Social Justice 2009, and a Graduate of Howard University Washington DC USA with MFA in Film Studies 2013. Since joining the Graduate programme in August 2010, Lekgetho participated in over 10 short film productions 7 of which he wrote, directed, produced and edited. He produced a Thesis documentary film focusing on Effects of Gentrification on lower income residents in Washington DC, following the work of Empower DC.
In March 2012, he co-founded Kali TV, an Independent Online media organization based in USA whose mission is to engage, inform and entertain viewers with news about Africans in the Diaspora through images.
Lekgetho is a founding member at Parallel Film Culture (Washington DC) and his portfolio was Outreach Specialist. He also founded an independent production company KGETHI IMAGES (Pty)Ltd August 2014 South Africa, which focuses on film, photography and art with a plan to establish an Online broadcast as a media distribution and engagement platform.
Lekgetho is currently the Head of Market Photo Workshop, where he leads the strategic visions of artistic and educational programming of the 31 year old photographic institution that offers photography courses prioritizing students from marginalized communities and runs programmes that interface with the professional industries through curatorial, incubation, mentorships, archives and research and workshop activities. Many of the photographers who came through these programmes have gone to receive national, regional and international recognition. Lekgetho sits on the international Advisory Committee to the Board of Catchlight, and Curatorial Advisory Committee of the 2017 Bamako Encounters. He was in the jury for a number of global photography contest including Chairing the General Jury of the 2020 World Press Photo Contest.