Intimate Strangers: Izinja zempilo

The third part of Intimate Strangers by South African Puleng Mogale is about brotherhood and friendship. Ride or die, friends to the end.

Part 3 of Puleng Mogale’s series Intimate Strangers is about an alliance through brotherhood. We see two black guys who look alike interacting (laughing, guiding and protecting each other) in different locations in Jeppestown. 

“I am finally comfortable revealing that this is what Intimate Strangers is about: people who are not related but happen to resemble each other. Some people have picked up on this and some haven't. So I chose to shoot lookalikes and decided to give each pair a context that is close to my heart,” says Mogale.

Mogale explains that she became interested in lookalikes earlier this year, searching on social media for friends and acquaintances that looked similar. 

“All my life, people have always taken their time to tell me who they think I look like and the comparisons have been consistent throughout my entire life. It can be flattering as well as annoying. I think it’s a special thing to wear so many people on my face… to be made up of my parents’ genes, older generations in my family and other people in the world. it only becomes a problem when someone wants to reduce your entire being to just a lookalike.”

We are familiar with our own reflections. Mirrors, photographs, our own portrayal of ourselves on social media all add to our sense of identity. To see resemblances to others is probably part narcissism and part the seeking for comfort and familiarity in a world that changes so rapidly. 

“It makes me think of lineage, of history and of being African. Most of the people I’ve been said to look like are either Tswana or Sotho, never Xhosa or Zulu, for example. My father was Tswana and my mother is Sotho. So it makes me wonder whether my features are those of an entire people (of a particular culture). I hope this makes sense…”

For her series Intimate Strangers, Mogale cast models who shared the same features, but were genetic strangers. 

“It is through their similar features that they are ‘intimate’.”

Part 3 is about friendship and brotherhood. In the pictures we see the two men laughing and being protective of each other. 

“I am lucky to be so young and to have long lasting friendships. That’s what Part 3 symbolises for me. It’s called Izinja zempilo because in the hood, that’s what we call strong relationships. It means ride or die, it means friends till the end, friends forever.”

Check out "Part 1: When the madam is away the help will slay" and "Part 2: I don't walk alone". To see the full Intimate Strangers series, visit Mogale’s blog Where It Rains. Models: Lungile Shaun Mofokeng and Modise BlackDice. Photographer and co-director: Kgomotso Neto Tleane. Concept and directing: Puleng Mongale