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'Skeem’ Saka' is a collection of images by photographer Sipho Gongxeka | © Sipho Gongxeka
'Skeem’ Saka' is a collection of images by photographer Sipho Gongxeka | © Sipho Gongxeka

Through the Lens: Masculinity Among South African Youth in Soweto

Picture of Carina Claassens
Updated: 4 August 2017

Skeem’ Saka, a collection of photographs by Sipho Gongxeka, mainly concerns issues relating to masculinity in Soweto, the largest informal settlement in South Africa.

Growing up in Soweto, clothing was seen as a status symbol, and Sipho Gongxeka recalls being surrounded by individuals with a keen sense of style and an immense interest in fashion.

-¬Sipho_Gongxeka, 002,Mzayoni, Skeem Saka. 2014-min

Mzayoni | © Sipho Gongxeka

Noluthando by Sipho Gongxeka

Noluthando | © Sipho Gongxeka

Sipho recalls, “I was continuously surrounded by fashion-conscious individuals. To these individuals, clothing was a status symbol that separated ‘the men’ from ‘the boys’. It signified power and affluence, just like the characters I grew up watching on television and in films.”

Bhororo by Sipho Gongxeka

Bhororo | © Sipho Gongxeka

Siba by Sipho Gongxeka

Siba | © Sipho Gongxeka

In this photo series, Sipho photographed skeem’ saka, which means “close friend” or “my crew”. He chose this title for the collection because it embodies meaningful and intense relationships.

Lebza by Sipho Gongxeka

Lebza | © Sipho Gongxeka

Thato by Sipho Gongxeka

Thato | © Sipho Gongxeka

Sipho has always been fascinated by television shows, such as Yizo Yizo and Gaz’ Lami, and South African gangster films like Mapantsula (1988) and Jerusalema (2008).

Tsholo by Sipho Gongxeka

Tsholo | © Sipho Gongxeka

Chino China by Sipho Gongxeka

Chino China | © Sipho Gongxeka

The characters in these shows were young people living in the township, just like him, but they exemplified style, opulence and class. Many of the characters, however, also glorified chauvinistic and prejudiced behaviour.

Mpho by Sipho Gongxeka

Mpho | © Sipho Gongxeka

Lebza by Sipho Gongxeka

Lebza | © Sipho Gongxeka

Sipho purposefully wanted the photographs to resemble film stills, referencing his main inspiration.

Sandile by Sipho Gongxeka

Sandile | © Sipho Gongxeka

Siba by Sipho Gongxeka

Siba | © Sipho Gongxeka

The characters from these shows and films continue to captivate Sipho and he is gripped by the thought that they’re an actual inspiration for gangsters. Although constructed, their reality cannot be ignored.

Sby by Sipho Gongxeka

Sby | © Sipho Gongxeka

Mayaya by Sipho Gongxeka

Mayaya | © Sipho Gongxeka

Sipho mostly photographs friends and people he knows, and also does a lot of the styling if need be.

Thato & Thato by Sipho Gongxeka

Thato & Thato | © Sipho Gongxeka

Sipho Gongxeka photo

General | © Sipho Gongxeka

Sipho’s riveting photographs highlight the relationship between fiction and reality, using “real” models who are styled and choreographed.

Sipho Gongxeka

Season | © Sipho Gongxeka