Conveying raw feelings about everyday activities

The Zimbabwean photographer, Nancy Mteki, picks her five favorite photographs and shares some words about how and where the images were made.

All images by Nancy Mteki.

Our focus in the photography series turns this time to Nancy Mteki. Born a Zimbabwean, she started photography in 2008 at a South African workshop called Iliso Labantu (The Eye of the People) founded by Alistair Berg and Sue Johnson. She first caught my attention when I came across her work as part of the “Pimp my Combi” exhibition at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. I remember being fascinated with her ability to convey raw feelings about yet another everyday activity where women are consistently objectified and abused, all over the world; riding taxi vans or buses was never the same for me after that. Recently, Nancy was awarded a fellowship with a Scotland-based organization called Deveron Arts in Huntly. She will be part of a residency project under the theme of “Maternity” which will explore issues to do with young women’s experiences during pregnancy until the child is born. I asked Nancy to pick her five favorite shots and share some words about how and where the images were made.

Nancy Mteki:

It was a rough and painful process choosing my five favorite photographs as I appreciate and admire all of them. The images I selected portray my history and background. I have never shared how I started out as a photographer hence I think this will be a great forum to do so.

I started photographing with a local South African group in Cape Town named Iliso Labantu Photographers in 2008. During that year, I took part in my first-ever group exhibition during the 4th Cape Town Month of Photography. I learned from professional photographers that I met during the group’s meetings and started out taking pictures with a Pentax K1000 analog. I recall initially placing my role of film the wrong way three times. I never gave up hope and kept trying until one of the photographers in the group taught me to how to use it. I also worked as a waitress back then, which allowed me to save and buy a new digital SLR camera — SONY A200 — a year later. In 2009 I exhibited my work at the Gwanza Zimbabwe Month of Photography. And in 2010 I took up a position at a local newspaper, Newsday, in Zimbabwe.

These five photographs that I selected here are touching to me and led me to where I am as a photographer today.

The first image (above) was taken as part of a series called “Pimp my Kombi” — a series of images featuring an attractive young girl in an empty bus. In addition to the aesthetic and compositional research, these images explore the notion of public transport, as a social environment marked by gendered power relations in which the woman remains objectified. I was illustrating this by shooting this image showing an empty space through the sunglass. This was meant to express my feelings and to show that while it may be closed inside, there may be someone out there watching you.

The second image (below) I took when I was at a local market in Harare in 2010. When I saw this subject, I immediately knew there was a story behind it. This young man makes a living by selling anthill soil since he was a student and makes a living by selling it everyday to his community. The anthill is common in African societies and my hometown in Zimbabwe. This particular type of anthill soil is mostly eaten by pregnant women, many of whom say it tastes like chocolate.

The next image was taken during a workshop I attended as part of an assignment. The person in the photograph is my brother, Richmond. I recall when I was rushing out to attend a photography workshop, I saw him doing laundry and the sun was soft on his skin. With this light, I managed to document him doing his laundry, after which I left home to attend the workshop. This image won me a prize and reminds me of the day I captured it.

I took the following image when I was coming from an early photo shoot. I was really tired and rushed home to sleep. As I was walking by my grandmother’s house, I noticed a sunflower with little droplets of rain falling down; I was moved by it and started photographing. I love taking photos of daily life and whenever I see something that will be of interest, I capture it. This image brings happiness because it was one of my best shots when I started out taking photos:

And finally, I love taking photos of soccer action and being able to freeze motion during play. I remember in 2010 during the World Cup tournaments in South Africa that the Iliso Labantu Photographers group would go about documenting soccer in the local townships and exhibiting them. This piqued my interest in the subject. I photographed this image last year and it was published in a magazine in Zimbabwe. It was a very humbling and encouraging experience.

Further Reading

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