Through the Lens: Masculinity Among South African Youth in Soweto

'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
Photo of Carina Claassens
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.

Mzayoni | © 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 | ©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 | ©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 | ©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 | ©Sipho Gongxeka
Lebza | ©Sipho Gongxeka

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

Sandile | ©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 | ©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 | ©Sipho Gongxeka
General | ©Sipho Gongxeka

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

Season | ©Sipho Gongxeka

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