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The Expressionist

by Mahala High Five Brigade / 14.01.2014

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, meet Anthony Bila, who was sent to capture the portraits of Newtown.

MAHALA: Have you lived in Joburg all your life?

ANTHONY: I was born and raised in Johannesburg, more specifically in a township called Tembisa in the East Rand and later Kempton Park. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

I’m 27 and I’ve been shooting for about 3 years now, I was around 24 when I stumbled onto photography.

Where did you study?

I studied at Media Studies (Advertising & Radio broadcasting) at the Universty of Johannnesburg and did a bursary year at Vega’s School of communication.

Where did you learn most?

I learnt a lot from roaming and travelling the world through the internet, it opened doors to spaces and places I would likely never have the opporunity of seeing. The internet offers an education second to none, the school of hardknocks has also taught me much about life, and about myself.

The Expressionist

What do you think of the city?

I think Johannesburg is the city where dreams can either be realised or crushed, it’s the best and the worst place to be all at the same time, there’s an energy and pace that parallels any major city in the world and with Africa increasingly taking its place on the world stage, it’s the doorway to Africa in many respects. It’s a melting pot, a hub of creative genius and inanity, a beautiful nightmare, a horrific dream and so much more. It’s home.

How do you see yourself amongst it?

I like being the fly on the wall, observing the city, the people and it’s nuances. So ironically, I don’t see myself in it. I am observing it, documenting it, whether through my writing, my music, my photography or other artforms. I think if you’re immersed in something, anything, you lose perspective and I far more prefer to see it all unfold before my eyes.

When did you start taking photos?

I started taking photographs, really because of the internet. I started a blog to curate and collect images of art, architecture, people and places that inspired me. I did that for about a year in 2010. Eventually, just curating other people’s images grew stale, I then began borrowing cameras from friends, experimenting, failing. Once I started though, I just kept taking photographs, again and again.

What was your first camera?

I think my first camera was my mind’s eye, afterall, my eyes have been capturing mental photographs since I opened them. But, if we’re being technical, the first camera I bought and owned was a Nikon D3100, I called her Nikki. I used her for about 2 years and last year, I bought a Nikon D600.

The Expressionist

What is your favourite thing to shoot?

Anything and everything, I like the challenge and thrill of photographing new and interesting things, places, builidngs but mostly people, human beings are an enigma wrapped in a riddle. We are complex and the range of emotions we can display is awe inspiring, we are wonderfully made, from the hair folicles on our head to the tips of our toes. Having the opportunity to capture moments & expressions makes photographing people my absolute favourite thing to do. For now.

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

I have a series coming our this year called “BLK SRS” (Black Series). I think people will be pleasantly surprised and intrigued because I’ve gone beyond just still photography to bring my vision to life.

Where in Joburg do you live?

I live in Kempton Park still, in the East Rand. I doubt I’ll ever move to far from the East.

Is that where you spend most of your time?

My time is spent between the North Rand, places like Rosebank and Sandton mostly for work and the East Rand. I occassionally spend time in Braamfontein, Maboneng too.

The Expressionist

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

I always try to be courteous, flattering and relaxed, as disarming as possible, because it is an odd request to approach a complete stranger and as them oblige your request to take a photograph of them.

How do you make them feel comfortable?

I smile, say something flattering, usually the reason I want to photograph them and hope for the best, in an ideal world, they always say yes, but alas, in an ideal world we do not live.

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

I don’t have a single photograph up in my bedroom, I like the minimalist look.

Who inspires you?

Nobody. Now ask me what inspires me, and I’d tell you music, art, architecture, philosophy, psychology, innovative ideas and paradigms.

Do you keep trying to learn more about your trade? How has your photography evolved?

I most certainly do. I have to or else I’d get bored. Quickly. I’m constantly learning new techniques, lighting, styles and categories of photograpy. I’m also always learning from other photographers far more talented than myself on the processing & editing of my images. It’s always a challenge, but always fun.


Black and white or colour?

I would say colour. We live in a world filled with dynamic colour and I think it’s easier to make black and white images look great, working in colour on the other hand requires more thought, technique in my opinion. I’ve noticed for most people taking photographs, if they aren’t great, black and white is their salvation.

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

Home is where the heart is. So more than a particular place in Joburg, it’s the people I’m with that make me feel at home.

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

I’m terrible with street names and directions, so although streets come to mind in my head, and I see them in my mind’s eye, I couldn’t tell you any street names to save my life.

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

Without a shadow of doubt, Tokyo, I’m in awe of Japanese culture, subculture, art, music, all of it. I’d love to work and explore that city. I think it’s an incredible place, filled with creativity and innovation.

The Expressionist

How do you define beauty?

Beauty is hard to define bcause it is do diverse, but I find beauty in the unconventional, in the awkward and the different. The truest beauty for me is ironically in many would call the flaws or imperfections of each of our own individuality, facical features, body shape, state of mind etc.

How did you find putting together your Area3 collection?

I had an incredible time collaborating with the subjects of my portraits and understanding their story, who they are and just capturing their personality, their character, their perfect imperfection, their beauty.

What is adidas Originals like to work with?

I enjoyed having the freedom to interpret the brief as I saw fit, so kudos for adidas Originals for allowing me to create in the way only I could. That’s always important with the people and brands I choose to collaborate with, having the freedom to work in my own way. It’s a privilige.

Unite Joburg

What’s next for you?

I’m working on my personal exhibition, “BLS SRS” currently. I am also working with Sara Blecher, the director of Otelo Burning in an acting capacity, playing myself in her latest feature film, Andani, something quite removed from what I normally do, I also have some other photography I plan to exhibit this year in and amongst my collaboration with brands. I also want to work on some clothing design ideas I have had for the longest time.

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

** Photos © Anthony Bila, except last: two faces from the Anthony Bila Unite Joburg Soweto portraits collection.

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