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"I don't like those words," states Anele Ngoko. "I always say, what do they mean?" Anele is musing on the collision of two words often used to define who he is, and what he does. Anele is a photographer, but because he was born in one of the Cape Peninsula's poorest neighbourhoods, his modest resources and self-taught skills mean that more often than not he is called a 'street photographer'.
The townships of South Africa are home to many such self-invented individuals, photographers who earn a living documenting social events such as weddings and funerals. In April 2001, a group of 22 such 'street photographers', all from the Cape Town area, banded together to form the Umlilo Photographers Association. "Umlilo" simply means fire in Xhosa, and is an apt choice of word given the photographers' circumstances.
"There was a great need to come together," explains Anele, Umlilo's secretary. "Umlilo allowed us to effectively highlight the challenges and obstacles facing photographers from previously disadvantaged communities." Initially assisted by a grant from Kodak SA, Umlilo helps its members explore the photographic medium as a means to open up awareness of artistic expression. They also hold teaching seminars in their communities.
The selfless spirit that defines this organisation is not, however, its defining attribute. Rather, it is the group's photographic output - images that offer small insights into the commonplace details that animate life in South Africa's poorest communities.
Umlilo are based in Guga S'Thebe Arts & Culture Centre, corner Washington & Church Street, Langa, Cape Town. PO Box 6, Langa, 7455. Anele Ngoko: 082 649 3405.