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Art, Culture

City Chaos

by Mahala High Five Brigade / 17.12.2013

Five Johannesburg photographers were commissioned by adidas Originals to capture portraits of the people that unite Joburg. Each was assigned a neighbourhood and set out to the streets with their camera. We are giving you the chance to get to the know the men and women behind these five lenses. Today we chat to Stephanie O’Connor, whose collection features the faces of Parkhurst.

MAHALA: Have you lived in Joburg all your life?

STEPHANIE O’CONNOR: I haven’t. I relocated to Johannesburg just over 2 years ago from Brooklyn, New York.

How old are you and how long have you been shooting?

I’m 33 now, and have been shooting professionally for 5 years now.

Where did you study?

My fist degree was in technology. I have a BS in Computer Information systems. I didn’t pick up photography until my late 20’s, I then enrolled in a masters program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco California.

But where did you learn most? In school or on the streets?

It was a combination of both honestly. AAU taught me more than just taking photos. They train you how to think like an artist and pay attention to the smaller details that make good photos, and not just focus on composition.

What do you think of the city?

I love Joburg! The colors, the people, the rapid rate of change, it’s all exciting.

Stephanie O'Connor

How do you see yourself amongst it? Spectator or participant?

I”m right smack in the middle of all of it. I find that I know town much better than people that grew up in Johannesburg. I have a very curious nature and I love to explore, so I do just that, and generally do it walking so I see a lot in the streets.

When did you start taking photos?

I had a camera as a child (somewhere around 8 years old) that I use to love using all the time. However, going back and looking at those photos now, I realised that photography is definitely a skill that can be learned.

What was your first camera?

The thought of this puts a smile on my face. My first camera was a small purple and sea green vivitar camera.

Vivitar camera

What is your favourite thing to shoot?

People by far.

What is the series you are most proud of, so far?

It’s one that has only been conceptualized at this point. I’m looking forward to executing it in the coming year. I needed the right team because makeup and styling is going to be a major part of it. I had to wait for the right time to move forward with it.

Where in Joburg do you live?

I live and do most of my playing in the CBD. I live in Maboneng.

Is that where you spend most of your time?

A good portion of it, yes!

How do you approach the people you want to be in your pictures?

It varies on the person, location and purpose for wanting to take their picture. Sometimes it’s as easy as walking up to them and asking them if I can take their portrait. Sometimes, they just look at my lens and smile. I’m awkward sometimes, so the less talking the better.

How do you make them feel comfortable?

I smile or say something outlandish to make them laugh. This usually puts their guard down.

Stephanie O'Connor

How many photos do you have up on your bedroom wall?

None, oddly. I’ve kept my space clean from wall art for reasons unknown to even myself. I think i’m waiting for a home to really go in and decorate.

Who inspires you?

So many people. My friends from Brooklyn hold a special place in my heart for pushing to me to follow my dreams and being the support that keeps me going. I know so many talented and inspirational people near and far. I’ve been blessed with this path I’ve taken. One of my favorite photographers (I have several) is Sacha Goldberg. His superhero grandmother series is genius.

Do you keep trying to learn more about your trade? How have your photos evolved?

Absolutely. Photography is an industry that you can always learn something new. Whether it be a new technique, new equipment or lenses to master. It’s never ending. I love learning more and seeing people do new things. It inspires me to try more and think outside the box.

Black and white or colour?

Both. I’m ADD & indecisive… I need variety.

What part of Joburg do you feel most at home in?

Almost any part of the CBD.

Stephanie O'Connor

What street in the city would you choose to stand in- as a background for a portrait of yourself?

The corner of Jeppe & Mooi. That’s me. All that chaos and madness.

Which city do you feel drawn to (outside of Joburg)?

Accra, Berlin, and always home of course – New York City.

How do you define beauty?

Anything that moves me or excites me.

How did you find putting together your Area3 collection?

It was quite easy, to be honest. And people made our task very easy. In the end they were the curators, so I didn’t do much of the selecting.

What is adidas Originals like to work with?

It was an awesome project to work on with adidas. They were great. It’s great working with brands that appreciate the importance of art/artist in youth culture.

What’s next for you?

Many things. Hopefully you’ll be hearing about my exhibition soon!

Stephanie O'Connor Unite Joburg

* The Unite Joburg Exhibition will be on at AREA3, 20 Kruger Street, Maboneng Precinct, until the 9th February 2014.

** Photos © Stephanie O’Connor, except last: two faces from the Stephanie O’Connor Unite Joburg Parkhurst portraits collection.

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