Urban Chic in South Africa
Capturing the style and fashion of people on the streets has been a trend for years. In fact loads of people are making a living out of catching tomorrow’s fashion in the streets of fashion metopoles like New York, Paris or Tokyo, and there is no end to the blogs and websites presenting cool people and fashionistas from all over the globe. Only the cool people from the African part of the globe seems to be missing on this acount – that is apart from the diaspora of course – which is in many ways peculiar. Not only because there are so many stylish and cool-looking people here (I can of course mainly speak from an Addis-perspective), but also from a historical point of view. Looking back in history the trend can be traced back to some of the first internationally renowned photographers from Africa. Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé (mentioned in an earlier post) took portraits of the growing cosmopolitic communities in Bamako. People came to their studios to be documented posing with the various props the photographers made available. And the results were stunning! So stunning that they could fit into any present day fashion editorial.
And they would make a nice match with the photos of contemporary street-and-fashion-photographer Nontsikelelo Veloko from South Africa. Veloko is a hunter of cool and street fashion. She searchs the streets of Johannesburg to find individuals who ‘stick out’. Her photos of young and fashionable South Africans are bright, colourful, and reflects sensibility towards her subjects.
The photos below are from the series *Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder* where Veloko portrays the flourishing fashion-scene among the youngsters in Johannesburg. Their fashion and attitudes are sofisticated and confident and break the norms of how to dress in South Africa. Veloko’s work often involve the questioning of identity in a radicaly changed South Africa, and she is interested in fashion as a parameter for communcation and relation to a group and a certain identity: how does your outfit speak, what does it say, and who says the same things. She has taken the fashion-photography a step further since Keïta and Sidibé and uses it as a tool for investigating deeper systematics and social issues in society. Her interests lies with the individual, and what her subjects want to express. The fashionistas speak for themselves, and affect the photo with his or hers confident pose and ability to set the scene around their persona.
Veloko’s photos are brilliantly composed with an eye for matching subject and background in a stylish skew and subtle way – much like her two predecessors. Her subjects pose with an unmistakeable confidence and self-awareness that fits perfectly into the fashion-world. The references to the grand old men of African photography are eminent, but Veloko’s style is something quite special.
When looking at Velokos photos I can’t help but think about the classical Phaidon publication FRUiTS, based on the iconic Japanese Fashion Magazine by the same name. The Magazines and Books presents the fun, frivolent, colourful and absurdly dressed-up Japanese youngsters on the streets of Tokyo, for whom conventions doesn’t exists and punk is taken to the extremes. Like the Japaneses youngsters, the urban-chic South-African fashionistas show a disregard of conventions and a free approach to fashion, albeit without the inherent technological and almost sci-fi aspects as the Tokyo youth. As the FRUiTS books have been a great inspiration for the fashion Industry for quite some time now, I wonder if the fashion-industry will soon look at urban South Africa for new inspiration?
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