Motlhalife Mahlabe, a perceptive photographer and decent human being

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

His dedication to the craft had few rivals, his body of work he has produced for different media houses during his active professional journey constitutes almost an entire photographic archive covering especially the first 10 years starting in the 90s, particularly when it comes to the entertainment sector in general and performance art in particular.

But more than that Motlhalife Mahlabe, besides being a highly perceptive photographer committed wholly to the craft, was a decent human being. Softly spoken, wise and a person full of love and respect for colleagues and other human beings around him, his death on Saturday has touched many people, especially those that had an opportunity to know him personally.

When he died, he had long returned to his home province of Northern Cape, and just like many colleagues in the media today, the photographer was a victim of a shrinking media space, facing the threat of an ever dwindling advertising cake and a changed environment of how and where people consume information these days.

But it looked like he had long resigned to the idea that he would find his new purpose and space in his home province, but death did a devastating blow to a person who had a clarity of mind, the right attributes and skill set when it comes to telling stories using the medium of photography. He still had much to offer top the art of photography.

It was unfortunate that he only had a short stint at the Market Photo Workshop, and had the situation allowed him to stay longer, it is where his skills and experience could have been used meaningfully  as a photography teacher, passing skills to young photographers.

Many people who followed his photography practice in the 90s, working at Star Tonight, will remember well how he captured performers, especially dancers, actors and musicians intimately,to an extent that he had a photography column allocated to him, which became a popular feature on Fridays. He captured the moments with grace, sensitivity and empathy to the extent that the column became the envy of many of his colleagues.

Mahlabe knew when to click, from what angle and how to g frame a picture that spoke. Many will agree that to be photographed by Mahlable was an honour. He was simply good, almost perfect with the camera and respected the people he photographed as his photographs never intruded, but worked with the people he captured on camera.

Mahlabe rose through the ranks, from being a photojournalist at The Star, pictures editor for CIty Press and The New Age, before the world of journalism rudely banished him to the back waters of Northern Cape where the conditions became difficult and impossible for him to set the refresh button and work again to tell visual stories with impact.

CITYLIFE/Arts would like to say rest In peace and your contribution to entertainment photography will never be forgotten as the archives you left at the different news houses will be used by many researchers in the field of photography in general and entertainment photography in particular. And more importantly, you were simply a decent human being.

Mahlabe’s style was more suited to art photography than news photography, and it where he probably must have focused on once he was no more with newspapers. But of course now it is over and too late as death has once again robbed the country of a highly skilled and perceptive photographer and a decent human being.

Mahlabe died at the age of 56. in Warrenton, Northern Cape. His brother Sello Mahlabe the family spokesperson has not yet divulged funeral details, but he indicated that the photographer was in and out of hospitals since February, complaining of breathing difficulties.

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2 thoughts on “Motlhalife Mahlabe, a perceptive photographer and decent human being

  1. Thank you very much Edward for this acknowledgement and recognition

    We truly appreciate your focus and dedication to breathe life into forgotten legends

  2. A well written tribute to a special and wonderful photographer, but above all a true brother to all he came into contact with. Sleep on beloved brother, you are greatly appreciated and missed by all of us, your African/Caribbean brothers and sisters in the UK!

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