Andile Bhala
Born and raised in Soweto, Andile Bhala is a documentary and street portrait photographer based in South Africa. I’ve always seen things in a different way and always found it easy to project how I see things through photography. Being from Soweto, trying to express or pursue my love for photography was never easy because there aren’t many people who believe in you or what you do. I started engaging visually using my phone and started falling in love with photography. Through years of practice I gained the creative knack of documenting and editing photos using just a mobile phone, which also allowed me to pursue my love for telling stories without having to save for an entry-level camera. I mostly work in street photography because that’s how I can tell authentic stories of South African daily life. I capture life from the townships to the city streets, mostly in Soweto and Johannesburg’s CBD. My work focuses on the beauty, the positive, and motivational side of Soweto. I was a runner up for Open Society Foundation “social justice through the lens” competition and a finalist for the Standard Bank Gallery’s “portraits in progress” competition. I’m currently developing work focusing on masculinity and manhood in the township.
What does it mean to be a man? Is it the strength of his shoulders? The material things he possesses? Or his philandering ways? Is it being wealthy, a fighter, father or a husband? Or is it his dark urges that masquerade as radiant masculinity? These questions form the backbone of my project. Through the lens, I continue to observe men on the streets of Soweto, in taxis, trains, in bars and in the flight of charm, showing tenderness to their women and children. I try to connect with their spirits and begin, in some way, to peel away the complex layers of fear, violence, pain, and dreams deferred that these men carry with them like cherished secrets. They carry stories in their eyes, gestures, posture and energy. They endure the transient state of being black in South African townships, twenty-four years after the proclamation by elder Nelson Mandela for freedom and equality in a just society. UBUDODA (Manhood), is a body of work that continues to grow. In this series, I cycle 150kms across Soweto’s thirty-four suburbs confronting this question of “yini Ubudoda?”. I deliberately choose not to focus on the sensational but rather on masculinity on its own. These men trust me to tell their stories through these pictures. Their voices challenge the veneer of our democracy that perpetuate long held stereotypes and human conditioning. As a young boy growing up in Soweto, I caught a glimpse of what it might mean to be a man in a neighbourhood legend who took care of me and many others whom, today, owe their university studies to his generosity. His selfless heart could be the meaning of being a man. I have witnessed men who get respect for disrespecting women and other who exude pride in disrespecting the neighbourhood. This too could be the meaning of being a man. It’s not easy to confront the statement men are trash’ without contemplating this question. Whatever the locale or experience, these images depict ubudoda in Soweto. I striveto make sense of their contrasting lives. Street photography gives me this advantage. It allows me to enter spaces that might not be receptive to my question. This is the complexity of men of Soweto. My grandmother once said to me, “make a lady smile and she will do anything you want”. My grandfather, on the other hand, said to me, “smell nice and you will get any lady you desire”. Could it be that simple? Through photography I make my contribution towards breaking this circle of life in the township. And maybe one day I will begin to understand UBUDODA. I hope this work inspires men and women alike to self-reflect and find their meaning in the answer, whatever it might be. Yini ubudoda?

The Addis Foto Fest (AFF) was established in 2010 by award-winning photographer and cultural entrepreneur, Aida Muluneh. The festival is organized by Desta for Africa Creative Consulting PLC. AFF is a biennial international photography festival held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It has previously featured exhibitions, portfolio reviews, conferences, projections and film screenings in many different renowned venues. It is also the first and only international photography festival in East Africa.