By Edward Tsumele
If you are a regular visitor to Maboneng, you must have seen them. You cannot miss these enterprising street photographers as they man every main street entrance into Maboneng. They are so much part of the often busy street scene, especially now that the country is in level 1 of the novel coronavirus lockdown, allowing a certain level of social interation.
Some people have talken advantage of the relaxed restrictions to take to the outdoor life, especially in Maboneng over weekends and this gives a smile to the photographers who were also affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. And these photographers are making a killing, candidly taking random snap shots of lovers as they walk hand in hand in the streets, family members heading to one of the eateries, and just about anyone who seems to be well dressed for an ocassion or a date.
They snap their subjects unaware of the camera’s gaze only to be approached by a photographer showing them these often amazing shots taken of you and your loved ones when you least expect your moment and time to be frozen like that in the streets of Maboneng. Under such circumstances, it is hard to say, sorry I am not buying these shots as I did not ask you to take them in the first place.
Besides, at R20 a shot that the photographers charge,the cost is reasonable, and the chances are that you will either love the shots and place a R20 note into the photographers’s hand and move on with your life, or to just get rid of him you will give him the money and move on. The thing is once the deal is sealed they download the images right and there into your cell phone, and off you have your beautiful memories with you. How enterprising these street phtographers of Maboneng are.
I recently found myself having to buy not only one shot, but five of them for R100. It was a photograph of My son Edward Junior and I as we walked down the street, with me telling him that Maboneng is no longer the place that he knew before the coronavirus as several businesses had closed down permanently during the loickdown, including his favourite place Eat Your Heart Out at the Corner of Fox and Kruger streets, that I used to take him to before the out break of the coronavirus and lockdown.
Now that coffee shop has been replaced by a shop selling curios. The photographer took the shots just as we were contemplating whatever has beffalen our once beloved Eat Your Heart Out Coffee Shop. I must admit I loved the shots and so did my son, and so I hapily paid the photographer.
Curious about the business of these street photographers of Maboneng, numbering around 50 , as to whether they are actually making a living out of these seemingly random photographic actvities , I sat down this week with one of them, Onke Memani, who trades under the name of OB.
We met at the poipular Pata Pata restaurant and this is his story.
“I was studying mining engineering at UJ (University of Johannesburg) until 2016, when I dropped out while left with a few modules that I had registered for. You see, besides photography, I am a fashion designer desiging clothes, such as tracksuits, caps, T-shirts and dresses.
“I sell these online and have clients from all over the country, mainly in the Eastern Cape where I originate from, as well as Cape Town and Rustenburg in the North West. While at varsity my clothing label OB Wear, took off and therefore, I had to drop my studies to concentrate on fashion design. It is a skill I learned at a young age from my mother who used to sew clothes.
“How I ended up being also a photographer in Maboneng happened in 2018, when I used to visit the place from Alexandra where I lived. I saw what was happening with other photographers making a living out of photography, and I therefore joined them.
“It is a lucratiuve activitiy as on weekends, especially before lockdown, one could make as much as R5000, R2500 on Saturday and another R2 500 on Sunday. Even when lockdown came, I managed to live off my savings from both my photography and sales from my designs. In fact I did well to the extent that I manged to buy a two ton truck to send home to my father to use it for business back home. I have since moved from Alexandra and am managing to pay rent of R4000 per month for my Maboneng apartment.
“Both busineses compliment each other because with photography, the negotiations that happen after you have taken a picture of a couple, selling the images to them, those skills I also use in making sales for my clothes. Now artists are coming on board to work with me as models for my clothes and its is a relationship that is working perfectly well. I see my self as an entrepreneur involved in both photography and clothing design. I now have distributors working for me in other parts of the country to deliver orders to clients.”
And so each time you see the Maboneng street photographers, know that these are actually smart people who have found a niche for a photographic business right in the streets of Maboneng.
OB’s social media handles are as follows:Instagram –OBMemanistylist
Facebook: OB Memani The Stylist