After a brief conversation on the phone he apologizes for over-elaborating, he is not by the way, but it seems very important to him that his point comes across clearly and I am here for that.
What I get from his ‘over-elaborating’ is a strong commitment to communicating and accurately documenting the lives of his subjects.
Honest, is the word he uses often. His pictures need to be honest and so he takes an honest approach to taking them, always.
Ziphezinhle is artistic gifts wrapped in humility, the work he does is bigger than him, he almost, if not fully, sees himself as but just a vessel for God. True.
This man is very wary of boxes and labels. The Hip-hop and photography are, in the great scheme of things, just instruments that can be used to impact a meaningful change. As he grows so do his interests; he alludes to writing a book at a later stage in his life, a man on the move, a quest for knowledge gathering and sharing. His background in producing music, rapping and heading a now defunct Hip-hop crew (KM Connection) is testament to this.
Do not call him a photographer or former rapper, his name is Ziphezinhle Biyela and today we chat to him.
Zululand Press (ZP): Tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How did you grow up? Who are you?
Ziphezinhle Biyela (ZB): My name is Ziphezinhle Biyela. I come from a small town in northern KZN called Mtubatuba. I grew up in a township setup (KwaMsane) surrounded mostly by rural areas and a few ‘suburb setups’. I mention this so you can understand that I grew up with three influences. The township environment, the rural surroundings, and urban culture influence. I’m an artist and life scholar. I love art, and I have a very curious mind which influences the way I love to learn.
ZP: Please briefly take us through your journey to photography? Intention or accident?
ZB: My journey to photography? It was an accident. During 2016/2017 I was helping out in the marketing department of a local clothing brand. I was obsessed with our online content, and I wanted every picture on our page to be taken with a professional camera. I would visualize the end product and explain it to our photographer, and be on set to help make sure that we get it right. Our photographer wasn’t full time in photography, he had other commitments which made it impossible to fit us in his schedule. One day he suggested that I take the camera and shoot with auto settings. I was so against this idea that I wasn’t really listening to his instructions. I got home and tried to take pictures, but I couldn’t. I kept pressing the wrong button, missing the shutter button until I was convinced that there was something wrong with the settings. I went back, our photographer showed me the shutter button, I took a couple of pictures right in front of him, and suddenly there was enthusiasm towards this idea of me taking pictures. When I got home I couldn’t stop pressing the shutter button, taking pictures of anything inside the house. I realized that photography has something to do with perspective and art. I had found a new home.
ZP: I understand you have passion projects, like most creatives, and work that pays your bills. Please describe your style of work, approach to both. Given the option would you only do the ‘passion work’ or do you enjoy both?
ZB: I actually started out ‘inside the box’ where most people live. I was doing passion projects, and as you mentioned, work that pays the bills. I finally got to a familiar two-way street. A place I have been before when I was still a Hip-hop artist. A place where you realize you’re not happy. You’re following man made boxes, and the spiritual you is suppressed. I believe that the spiritual us is God, and God is too big for man made boxes. Since 2020 I’ve been trying to search within myself instead of searching for a criteria or genre to fit in. I found that the only time I’m truly happy is when I help someone. That is my search or route to fulfilment and significance. I found out that throughout the years which I lived without my parents, my source of comfort was our family photo albums. Seeing a picture of how I’ve grown to look exactly like my father. A picture from a birthday celebration. Pictures of my mom’s involvement in education and development. I learnt the importance of pictures. I learnt the importance of documenting one’s life. This is what we are about now. We are teaching people about the importance of documenting their lives. I may take a picture of anything, but this is what we stand for at MaGama Media. I found my purpose and passion inside myself, not outside.
ZP: What are the challenges you face in your work, from the minuscule to the most complex?
ZB: There are minor challenges like building the right associations. I’ve learned that character is more important than the “dopeness” of a person who you use as an employee or when you outsource. The greatest challenge is teaching our people from small towns the value of an experienced, professional photographer who uses expensive equipment. It’s hard even though pictures are the easiest service to sell. They see the quality but they don’t want to accept the cost of that value or quality. But we do have a lot of clients who understand.
ZP: How is your support system? What keeps you going?
ZB: The life I’ve lived has taught me to rely on God. He is my most reliable support system. And what keeps me going is the discovery of God within myself.
ZP: Your artistic work is mostly portraits of very beautiful black women in colourful garb and you use colourful backgrounds. Is there a reason for this?
ZB: Everyone thinks I take pictures of beautiful women only until they also get in front of my lens, and realize that my passion work is to reveal the beauty which everyone has, because God is the original artist who is always perfect in his craft. Funny enough, I ended up learning skin-retouching. A skill which I believe is only necessary for corporate work. It’s something which got me into trouble because I created a demand for it, and I no longer feel comfortable retouching people’s faces.
ZP: What equipment do you use?
ZB: I have a simple crop sensor dslr from Canon. I usually use the 50mm (1.8) lens from Canon, and I also own a set of radio transmission speedlites, and different size softboxes for diffusion. This is not my favourite equipment. It’s what I have, and I believe that we should always do the best with what we have.
ZP: How are you growing yourself? Developing your skills?
ZB: I believe that continuous learning is the key to happiness and being enthusiastic about life. When it comes to skill it’s all about credible sources of knowledge, learning something new and implementing it. With personal growth, If I’m not discovering things about my inner God then I’m not growing.
ZP: Do you think race and politics influence or impact your growth? Having grown up in a township and everything? Do you even think race and politics are a conversation or the playing field is level now?
ZB: I think that it’s mostly our environment which influences our growth, the people around us and the garden of our thoughts, the mind. I choose to ignore politics, and I’m currently learning to live beyond the physical world of race, skin colour, ethnicity, etc. I just want to be free from all the boxes. This means that it doesn’t matter what the issue is with politics and race. Inside of me is an infinite God whom with everything is possible.
ZP: Where do you plan on taking your work and how do you see yourself getting there?
ZB: I think throughout this interview we’ve discovered that my job is not photography. Art is just a way of expressing myself. My real job is to fulfil my purpose, and the way to achieve that is through the daily discovery of my inner God.
Here is some of Ziphezinhle’s work:
To contact Ziphezinhle and MaGama Media
Cellphone: +27 60 679 1388
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