Front Row with Hlengiwe Lala
We find ourselves in an age of disdain–with a somewhat contempt towards arts & culture and finding it extremely uncomfortable to appreciate content within all of its forms. I've rummaged through my mind for what could be the reason for this, and recognised that it has stemmed from our consumption habits. We're at an all-time peak of consumption where entertainment and shock value serve as the global currency. This has simply lead to an influx of content–but the content is paltry and trivial.
In light of this breakthrough–I found it important to practice better consumption habits and appreciate creators who are puritanical in nature; Hlengiwe Lala, known primarily as a photographer, is one creative who has harnessed the skill of conscious creation.
The veil of disingenuous creation is being lifted; where content that serves as a distraction is disregarded for work that one can engage with. Inspirations and concepts have become regurgitated–albeit a fan of recycling–there is an extent towards the usage of repetitive concepts creators have brought about recently. We obviously know this is not a fault of creators but rather the result of mass consumption and what has become the volatile nature of fashion, art and culture–impacted heavily by the aspirational attributes of the upper class; simply the trickle down theory, but I digress.
Hlengi and I came to this thought when examining the importance of pace and creating temperately, realising that many aim to populate our space through mass content with the sole purpose centered around this currency. So join me in an intimate conversation with Hlengi Lala, as we get a closer look into their lens, navigating one’s self within creation and servitude.
What are you and where do you see your creative skill ending at?
HL: This is interesting as I’ve been trying to define myself outside of work. I’m a photographer–that is the main thing, but I see myself as an artist. I've been trying to approach life outside of this though–attempting to understand what my value is, who I am outside of art, aside from the perceptions created of me externally. I’m currently trying to remove that persona from myself. Aside from being seen as a photographer socially, I illustrate–that is at the forefront. I may publicly be perceived as a photographer solely but that’s the “character” through which I express creatively.
Has being perceived solely as a photographer caused hinderances in creation–in what is believed you can bring to the table?
HL: One thing I’m learning is that everyone has a role to play–and that’s cool. I like my role and the way in which I’ve molded it. I’m in a position where I haven’t been solely seen as such, I can do whatever. It’s nice being in a position where you aren’t at your highest nor lowest; no one places anything on you and there are no set expectations, so you get to define who you are. I cannot see creative directing, photography or all I do separately–they work hand in hand, that’s it.
Do you think this has enabled you to avoid conforming, separating yourself from consumers expectations?
HL: Well, I once read something that said how people really don’t care; that provided me with comfort, as you can look at it positively or negatively. I have always seen it positively–it’s allowed me to do whatever I want. If there’s a tragedy at your home, as the viewer, I’m the last person you’d think of. I think that’s liberating because I can do whatever I want; within the grand scheme of things everything I do is a blip in the universe basically.
What has aided you in separating yourself from the immoderate creation and consumption habits?
HL: I’ve been taking things slow, thinking things through a bit more–because we’re now just filling up space, filling up nothing with nothing. By slowing down & being in servitude more; this is to say more to others instead of trying to tell my story within my work. I partook in helping others tell their stories, which in return serves in telling my story; it's a thing of looking at how one approaches image-making and imploring it within my own skill and what I do. It’s a thing of acting in service rather than serving myself solely.
What were you doing at 15?
HL: That’s my favourite age of all time. That was a pivotal time being on the internet and discovering things; that’s when the curiosity for everything that I do was set, the foundation was set at 15. This is when I began finding a lot of the things I love now. Most of the things that I love now have sort of branched out since then; the music I listened to back then is in some shape or form linked to the music I listen to now. The photographers from then as well. I was looking at Petra Collins and Hugo Comte–even stylistically–looking at their influences and expanding off of that foundation. It really was a pivotal age. At 15 I was curious and interested in discovering things. I feel like I’m still 15. I want to keep that feeling with me–remaining curious and still figuring it out. Isolation also served in this, as I wasn’t necessarily the most popular person or around many people; what I did have was the internet, connecting with things, ideas, the internet was my best friend. I was always on my phone, even to this day. It’s a double-edged sword because socialising is still important.
What or who do you credit your career’s growth and success to?
HL: My faith in Christ and my family. It has a lot to do with how I think; faith is something that holds you up in moments where life can get you down. Family and friends–those are real niggas, those are the elements, the community that surrounds me, that’s what matters. Servitude is connected to this as well. It’d be a disservice to not aid those who’ve helped me on this journey to this day. They didn’t have to help me–so it would be a disservice to only help them for my own personal gain and benefit.