If you’ve flipped through the pages of Elle Magazine SA you’ve probably come across the work of South African photographer and contemporary artist, Justin Dingwall.
The successful Johannesburg-based commercial photographer, picked up his first camera when he was 18 years old, and this inspired him to enroll at the Tshwane University of Technology. He graduated in 2004, having achieved a Baccalaureus Technologies in Photography Cum Laude. Since then, he has been selected for various awards such as IPA – int’l photography awards 2013, Sasol New Signatures 2014, and SA Taxi Foundation Art Award 2015. He’s also showcased extensively both internationally, and in his home country, South Africa.
Call to fame
As with many of the photographers and artists we’ve interviewed for the blog, Dingwall emphasizes the need to produce personal projects. While he thrived as an editorial photographer, he couldn’t deny that the industry can be creatively stifling. In an interview with 10 and 5 he elaborated, “I knew it was a great opportunity and that I was producing good work [Editorial photography], but I also realised that I needed to move on immediately or I’d lose my passion.”
The decision to nurture his side projects became an avenue to explore the unusual and often uncharted. A move that gave Dingwall the platform to create fine art series that is emotionally charged and challenges societal notions. If you visit his website, you may find only a few projects listed. And that’s because they all follow a long-term approach without a defined end-date. He chooses to focus on a certain topic which he investigates deeply. Below are some of his most well-known projects thus far:
Dingwall first met Thando Hopa when he was commissioned to photograph the legal prosecutor and model, who has albinism. Moved by her inner strength and poise, he knew that he wanted to collaborate with Hopa on this paean to the aesthetic and spiritual beauty of the human body. But also, he wanted to know and understand more about albinism.
After discussing the project with Hopa, he spent the next two years building trust with Hopa; who uses her exposure to advocate for wider awareness and acceptance of albinism. After Dingwall began to share the initial images from the project, model – Sanele Xaba contacted him through social media; looking to be part of the project. He joined the project in 2014.World-over, there is a lot of prejudice, folklore and misnomers associated with albinism. In countries such as Burundi and Tanzania, albinism could literally put your life in danger, as there is a belief that their limbs possess supernatural powers. Hence, witch doctors hunt them to sell their body parts over the black market.
In several interviews, Dingwall is quick to clarify that Albus ‘isn’t a series about race’. Rather a celebration of the beauty in divergence, by getting his audience to questions their perception of what they consider beautiful. As he explained during an interview with Orms direct, “I was intrigued to show what I perceived as a different type of beauty, a beauty in difference”.
This project brings forth the theme of rebirth and renewal by utilizing internationally-understood religious and secular iconography. While Hopa takes on the part of Virgin Mary, Xaba is crowned by symbols of metamorphosis such as serpents and butterflies. Water, which is often used to suggest self-reflection, is used to represent society’s perceptions and as a symbol of change. Dingwall also uses light and dark to reference the revealing of the unseen. While light represents the truth, the darkness highlights how misconceptions can result in an unenlightened state. So far, the project’s body of work consists of over 40 images.
Fly By Night
This project also focuses on beauty and divergence. However, he chooses the slant of the negative stigma’s that are often related to xenophobia, diaspora and migration across the African continent. The black swan featured in this project evokes two streams of thought. The first being a reference to the Black Swan Theory. As an article by Liz Amore explains, this is a ‘metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight’.
Subsequently, just like people were of the belief that black swans were a myth until proof of their existence was found, these images look to increase the audiences’ awareness on issues such as xenophobia and cause a shift in their perception. The swan also acts as a symbol of acceptance in dissimilarity and the beauty in differences.
Further additions to the series included images with epic birds created out of ordinary sheets of white paper. Working with local creative, Vanessa Snyders, these birds continue to explore and address the topic. His ‘when will you leave’ series carries a similar tone as it expresses the ‘the perception of the unforeseen and unexpected calamity that occurred in South Africa during the violent reaction to the influx of foreigners in 2015’. The aim of this project was to help process the societal issues around the incident and increase the awareness that society needs to change its perceptions.
Through his trademark style, Dingwall uncovers the uncommon beauty in unforeseen places. Each project is a story that is filled with emotion, not only to reflect his personal perspective, but also to strike a chord in his audience. Looking at Dingwall’s work, it’s a reminder that as creatives, Personal projects are a necessity to the success of your career. That we should strive to incorporate work that goes beyond creating ‘just another pretty picture’ to leave our mark on the industry and society as a whole.