Yasser Booley: Out from behind the lens (Part 1)

Despite his mother's warning, Yasser Booley photographed political activist Chris Hani's risky memorial service, and he hasn’t stopped shooting since.

Yasser Booley’s early creative impulses pushed him towards writing but he soon put the pen down in favour of a medium more suited to him – photography. “In shooting, I have the opportunity of recording how I look at the world,” says Booley.

Born in Cape Town and raised in the colourful and historically Cape Malay community of the Bo-Kaap, Booley remembers his first camera. It was a Japanese-made Yashica FSD. “I got it as a gift from my father when I was 17, which is about when I started photographing.”

He also remembers what he shot on his first roll of film. “I was still in high school at the time and it was the memorial service of Chris Hani,” he says. “The principal at the time, Mr Meyer, made an announcement via the intercom saying that we should avoid the inner city at all costs.”

A teenager at the time, Booley’s rebellious spirit kicked in. “I snuck out of the house, I took the camera and I convinced two friends from my class to come with me. It was mayhem man, it was chaos in the city-centre that morning,” he says.

Despite the sound of ringing guns, blinding teargas and burning cars, Booley got the shots. He cites this moment as the one that gave his photography a narrative direction. Years later, no longer a teenager but still daring, Booley got a job at the Mail & Guardian.

On his first job for the newspaper, Booley photographed Thabo Mbeki in Worcester during his election campaign. Booley slipped through Mbeki's personal security detail to take the photo that would be published in the next edition of the Mail & Guardian. Booley has also shot the return of the elders, an event which, saw Nelson Mandela handing the keys back to the evicted residents of District Six. 

Booley doesn’t want to tell the gory guts-and-blood type stories. He would prefer to give voice to what he describes as “real stories with a view to understanding and uplifting people”.

See more of Booley's photographs here