You are formally known as Austin Malema – what is your preferred name?

My full names are Mpho Austin Malema. I go by just Austin as there aren’t as many people around me with that name.

I’d like to focus on your conceptual work. It is remarkably distinct from your editorial and events photography.

How did you become interested in conceptual photography?

Conceptual work has always interested me – I had never found a time or the right project to work on until my recent project. I come from a film background having graduated as an editor from AFDA, so I had always wanted my work to have a narrative of sorts.

What influences your artistic expression?

I am fuelled by the beauty found in our continent. Africa is a beautiful continent with beautiful people and tribes; we are full of life, colour, tradition and all of this creates beautiful visuals.

Photograph taken by Mpho Austin Malema

© Austin Malema

Your “hands” photo collection, among others, recently featured at the [creditthephotographer] exhibition at the Kulture Pop Up Gallery in Braamfontein.

What is the inspiration behind this collection?
My recent collection from #creditthephotographer was inspired by how I felt when I shot the pieces. It was from a place of loneliness. You can have it all in the world but when you are alone that is when the world becomes real.

What are the hands symbolic of?
The hands in the images signify a few things: In one frame, titled Fame, the hands signify how the world wants every piece of you; they will take what they want and not fear or worry about how you feel. Fame absorbs you and sucks you until you only see that which you used to be. This image is a direct representation of this.

The proportion of the hands to the face and neck is quite large – what is the reason for this?

The hands represent the people of the world and the reason they are larger is that your fans and supporters are larger than you.

What deeper messages do the hands, in combination with the gold markings, convey, and to whom?

The marking in the images are either painted on the model as make-up, or it was something that Seth Pimentel did as illustrations. For me, they signify the richness found in Africa, the beauty found in the people of the continent and also the beauty beneath us.

Photograph taken by Mpho Austin Malema

© Austin Malema

The use of mixed metals, especially the colour “gold”, is trending. What moved you to use gold?

The idea behind gold was purely from how beautiful it compliments dark skin. I did not want too many colours to distract the audience.

What emotions does your work evoke from its audience?

I would like to have my audience have their own emotion and understanding of the images, but for me, it is for them to see the beauty of Africa.

Do you have any plans for future photo exhibitions?

This exhibition was a first for me and I learnt a few good things from it, what to do and what not to do. There is a Cape Town leg of it that we are planning and then possibly Durban, so we shall see. The plan is to host an exhibition every year if possible.

See more of Austin’s work: