Family, memory, loss and loneliness; an introspective journey into understanding one’s own history.
With a love of landscapes and architecture, Andile Phewa personifies the buildings that occupy the city and captures them as he would a model. They talk to him in the same way. Capturing youth culture through style expression is a realm of documentary photography that has always been part of the artist’s practice. His relationship to the worlds he photographs stems from his work in the fashion industry. By removing the subject, Phewa places the scenery – which would once be an accompaniment – in the foreground.
Developed from his time at The Market Photo Workshop, themes of memory and absence remain part of his practice. Attempting to understand the absence of his father, he photographs the city in search of answers to questions that have plagued him since childhood. Led by instinct and retold stories, Phewa paints a picture of someone who was never really there. We walk the streets with him and we see Cape Town through his lens. We look up from a vantage point similar to that of a child looking up to the elder. The defined boxed lines of a cold building cut the sky with a vulnerable softness, and Phewa reminds us of what the city used to look like; portraits of those he once looked up to.
The buildings are still and quiet as they hide between the shadows. “Shadows are a juxtaposition of my dad not being around”.
There is an abandonment that ripples through his photographs. “Shadows are always around but end up vanishing”.
And all we are left with is space. Space shown in the wide landscapes and small lettering of company logos. Space that “shows the vastness of how neglect feels”.
Shooting on film eliminates the opportunity for do-overs. Each frame is considered and captured with purpose. The scenes are quiet, undisturbed, and revisited before photographed. But this is where the control ends. Phewa plays in the field of ultimate risk developing and scanning at the local1-hour photo lab. The result is a nostalgia induced chemically exhausted colour palate that accentuates clean stark contrasts, favouring the darkest tones in the natural hue of the city. The discolouration of dulled greens and pale pinks – which could be aided by the single Ultramax 400 roll that expired thirteen years prior – give the newly digitised images a modern retro-like filter, consistent with the vintage appeal of current pop culture.
The artist sets out to create his own visual family photo album – an intimate and personal document of a piece of his history he knows little about. Since becoming a father, there is an urge to understand and learn from this lost patriarch, whose absent space is reflected in the sparse parking lots and motionless bus stops. He sees his relatives reflected in windows and his daughter in the unaccompanied streetlight – standing tall against skidded clouds – brightening his way. Geometrical man-made objects symmetrically balance the frame while slightly obscuring the washed blue sky. With no clear landmarks or timestamps, the images have the ability to exist in any time and space.
To get in touch in touch with Andile and order a print or to shoot your next campaign email him on email@example.com or follow him on @andile_phewa on Instagram.