Experiments in the darkroom

In this exclusive interview, military man and photographer Lesedi Mogale exposes a little of himself as he talks books, porn and using a disposable camera.

Part of the Project

Technology has liberated photography by giving everybody with a mobile phone the equipment to take an image instantly. But that hasn’t rendered the art of photography obsolete, as the work of Emerging Creative Lesedi Mogale shows.

Mogale’s body of work is infused with contradictions; his work employs a mix of classical and contemporary details. The high-contrast black and white portraiture shots are reminiscent of film noir and create a palpable emotional connection between the viewer and the subject.  

The more contemporary elements of his work are the result of his subjects. Mogale’s work is a mix of studio and candid shots. His subjects are characterised by their bold, masculine qualities and the bare styling.

Mogale’s Tumblr feed, The Sketchbook, is dedicated to his photographs. The blog provides innovative and creative perspectives into the urban cultural identity of his subjects who are usually his friends.

His most provocative shots are the photographs where he’s opted for simple compositions. 

How did you develop a taste for photography?

I was attracted to photography purely by chance. I love playing and I love gadgets so photography ended up being the perfect medium for me to explore the world.

Which part of the world are you exploring right now?

I’m exploring myself, steadily. I have always found it easier to see other people but never myself. 

Your Tumblr feed is dedicated to your photography but then you’ve also added this reading list of more than 100 books which you recommend your followers read. What’s the relationship here between books and photography? What’s your favourite book and why?

There is no particular relationship here. However I love everything by Charles Bukowski. Additionally I recently came across the book cover of Louise Gluck’s Poems 1962-2012. I love the book cover, it's everything.

Bukowski? Why?

Bukowski because of his straight spoken manner.

Your photos have a very particular aesthetic – they are imbued with a level of discomfort that seems intentional. Why?

That's my effort in letting things unravel organically. Like I said in the first question, I’m simply playing.

So you don’t intentionally shoot photos to make people uncomfortable?

Mmm – I can to an extent see why some of the work is perceived to be uncomfortable.

If not discomfort, how do you describe your aesthetic?

For me it’s meditative. 

What experience set it in motion?

Necessity breeds creativity. When I began, all I had was the pop-up flash. I think also a bit of rebellion and definitely the need to find my own light. 

Your own personal light or a light box?

Personal light. Every photographer has his or her own – it’s like a writer having their own voice. I believe I’m still honing mine.

You work for the National Defence Force. How does the military influence your art?

Aesthetically it hasn't influenced me but character wise the military environment has made me more resilient and very patient. I can wait. 

What is your work about? What is it that you want to say with your photographs?

(Laughter) I think it's the other way round. It's what they say about me.

So what is your work saying about you?

It mostly reflects on my state of mind at the time. My mind is constantly racing and as a consequence I find it hard to compile a "body of work”. However, the work is always related so in a way it is a body of work. I believe that answer is yet to be fully discovered.

Tell us about a time you forgot your camera and saw something that you felt needed to be shot?

Last year, I was commissioned to document my life in 24 hours using a disposable camera. It was a nightmare.

Who commissioned you and what was the final work called? What did the images you shot on your disposable look like?

It was for DISPOSE magazine. The images turned out better than I thought they would because film always seems to turn out that way. The pictures will only be published later this year by a different magazine.

Your favourite photograph?

Currently, the “Selfie nude with the pre-cum”. It works in two ways: it's straightforward and yet surreal. I find it very peculiar; I look at it for hours. 

That’s an interesting photo. What was the inspiration behind the photo?

The inspiration behind it? Yoh, I forgot. I had had the idea for more than a year but because I didn’t know how to do it, I didn’t. But one day I just felt compelled to finally take the photograph and the picture came out much better than I thought it would. Also fun fact, it took me three hours to compose that shot. 

So, it’s you in the photo? What is it like being the photographer and subject of a nude?

(Laughter) I think I know how porn stars feel; it’s hard work.

What is the most interesting thing or person you’ve shot?

No one in particular. I work mostly with my peers. Most come to shoots either drunk, too high, late or just plain hungry. I end up being that boring guy. But things always work out.

Your work covers a range of styles, but portraiture is prominent. What it is about people that have you so captivated?

I was scared of people. I’m really shy.

So your portraiture is an expression of that fear?


What’s next for you?

(More laughter) You'll just have to keep an eye out. 

Just a hint?

I see it, but I can’t explain it. I’ve tried working in reverse so I get the technicalities right but I really can’t explain it. 

Lesedi Mogale is one of 40 Emerging Creatives who will exhibit their work at Design Indaba Expo 2015.