Mack Magagane is a 24-year-old, Johannesburg-based photographer. In the interview below, we discuss his first body of work, “Light Hours”, created in Johannesburg in 2009. This project became the basis for his next projects, modes of vision and construction of images. In this series, his deep interest in architecture meets his fascination for the uncanny and the cinematic in order to explore other dimensions of the city spaces during a time which sees Johannesburg going through major changes.
Q: Mack, can you briefly introduce yourself? How did you become interested in photography?
A: I am 24 years old and I live in Johannesburg. I was introduced to photography after matriculating in 2008 through my sister. She knew about the Market Photo Workshop, a photography school based in Newtown, Johannesburg, close to where I live now. I enrolled there because I didn’t have the financial means to study architecture, which I liked, at university. The Market Photo Workshop was then a sort of an escape route; I thought I would study there for a time until I was able to raise sufficient funds to go to university. Eventually, I later found that I could incorporate architecture in my photography and, at the same time, tell a story of how I see the city I live in within its social context. Hence my first body of work, “Light Hours”, emerged.
Q: Most of the projects you have produced so far – such as “Light Hours”, “Southern Suburbia”, “In this city”, and also the latest one you created in Paris, “Somewhere Between Here” – are shot at night. Why?
A: Personally, I feel there is nothing that beats the orange-yellowish-tinted color of nighttime. Night cast by the hovering artificial lights and by an imaginary, yet surreal, real-time flow of imagery that lingers amongst a time of absent human activity. This has become a thread I have become familiar with, technically and conceptually.
Q: As Johannesburg seems to be one of the main focuses of your photographic work, how would you describe the nature of your relationship with this city?
A: I’m fascinated by the rapid infrastructural, social, economical and political change within Johannesburg. How do all these variables bleed into one and are dependent on each other? I try then to find the in-between, of presenting something visually pleasing with much the other – political, economical, social, etc. – significance of the current day we live in.
I have formed a relationship with not only Johannesburg’s inhabits and everyday familiarities like taking a taxi, walking down the street, sitting by the park, but also with aspects that are, at times, imaginary and absurd like feeling connected to everyone and everything because we inhabit the same space. All these visuals form the relationships I have with the city, which is also the place I grew up in, and continue to live in.
Q: What kind of experiences do you explore in Johannesburg with your camera?
A: In my daily experiences, my camera becomes a tool, a tangible third-eye that does not reason but takes the actual event without forgetting what it has seen. With this device with its own memory, I explore the odd and peculiar or thought-of to be unsafe place. I place myself in a vulnerable state (whether to crime, emotion, privation or naivety – personal encounters that are common amongst us) and creating what is/would be aesthetically pleasing to one’s eye, but could be also be read in a critical context relative to where the image has been taken or the current issues and affairs the overall oeuvre is created; one with subjective direction.
I like to romanticize the unsafe, the unfamiliar, the hardly looked at: light midst the dark. It is easier for one to be drawn into this imagery. Light drawing you further in and then when analyzed closer, the possibility of critically reading imagery arises.
Q: How did you start and develop “Light Hours”, the work you present here?
A: I began it in 2009. It was my first body of work, the basis of the work that I create today and probably for what I will do in the coming few months and years.
I barely knew close to a fraction of what photography was back then. Yet, this work was inspired by an affection for the visual aesthetics and formalities of photographers such as Gregory Crewdson and Nadav Kander, and an earlier interest in surreal photography. It’s only with these inspirations that I was able to find a mode in which I would document Johannesburg and made it of another visual nature than the usual.
My friends and I used to love hanging out on the Yeoville, Berea, Hillbrow and surrounding suburbia rooftops of buildings in and around Johannesburg by then – this is how the body of work came about. I started making observations of spaces and places of my own hometown as if they were theatrically constructed settings of those I had been captivated by in the works of the photographers I admired.
I started looking closer. Noticing the traces of things that represented people with much the absence of them within the photographs. As I believe in the saying “silence is the best noise,” which I have loved about the eerie nighttime of Johannesburg.
I saw the beauty in the calmness of nighttime amongst a city that is somehow imagined chaotic during the day. I went on to explore how spaces can tend to allude to elsewhere or to other different spaces when represented in images.
The city being dark and uncanny; quiet and surreal during the nighttime, artistically that became the principle aesthetic for the work. I became more interested in the theatrics of photography – the idea around constructing images. ‘Constructing within the already constructed’, this became the main basis for “Light Hours”.
Q: In this work, your interest in architecture is very much present. Was this also a way to discuss the historical legacies that modeled the city and their prolongations in our present?
A: In such a case, I cannot say the work was to discuss past legacies that have come to define and form what Johannesburg is today, but rather an observation of the constantly changing present-time of the city.
“Light Hours” seeks to confront what happens to the present, amongst this era or generation of much social, infrastructural and economic change. It rather makes comparisons on the disintegration and elevation of Johannesburg (of different living complexities) from 2009 to now. A question I would even ask myself now about this work would be: ‘How do these space now look compared to back then in 2009?’ for, at least this is what I believe, the work asks and needs to be revisited in the near future.
Q: What about the choice of photographing mostly from high angle views?
A: Photographing from high angle views came as it was a blessing in disguise. I did not try looking too hard, but rather observed from my familiar surrounding and what was prone to be spoken about that hasn’t been. The less concentrated I observed, the easier it was to photograph and engage.
Q: Recently, you have been working within an art residency at Centre Photographique d’Île-de-France. What do you hold of this Parisian experience?
A: I negotiated my place in the city of Paris and the people within it. I placed myself as part of something rather than the usual tourist. I experienced a culture somewhat entirely different yet common in political historical significance as the country of my birth, reading on the French Revolution vs. Apartheid, and looking at the commonalities of modern society. These attributes aided in the production of my work during my stay in Paris.
I hold on to memories of new friends and experiences I had during my stay. All that I have learned from a lot of influential people from and around art institutions I visited in Paris, I still hold dearly. Having had access and knowledge to well-renowned art, from exhibitions to museum visits has helped me in envisioning where I can now situate my own work and continue exploring within a certain context learned from abroad.
Thank you for your time, Mack!
– Leica Internet Team
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