The Portfolio: Puleng Mongale – The Mail & Guardian

The first time I did something related to photography was 2015. It was with Bantu Mahlangu and Kgomotso Neto Tleane. I came up with the Intimate Strangers series and worked as the art director while they captured it. 

Then I started out with portraiture myself. I knew nothing at all, yoh. I wanted to express myself real bad, but it wasn’t working out with straight-up photography. 

After a two-year Instagram break, I stumbled on Natalie Paneng’s collages and they resonated with me immediately. I’m never trying to make people think of one thing and I could express that with collages. There’s never one way of looking and capturing things.

Collages would allow me to mix the old with the new. They would allow me to reinvent images and give them new contexts. I had to learn how to do it. My partner introduced me to collage-making through Photoshop and that’s how I started. It allows me to be as complex and layered as I want to be. 

I don’t think I’m faced with any limitations in my practice at all, except money. My skill set meets me where I’m at. That’s the beauty of being self-taught. You can do things the wrong way and get away with it. When I got into portraiture, I didn’t know what I was doing with the camera, but I knew what I wanted to capture. Even if I do it wrong in terms of camera settings, it doesn’t matter, because the work exists the way I want it to. 

Doing the kind of work that I do made me abandon the idea of perfection immediately. I know that I am not the most skilled. I know I don’t know everything about the tools I am using but I work with them anyway. I am surrendering to something bigger than me, so it doesn’t matter whether my work is technically correct.

In terms of the messaging behind Lord Lift Us Up Where We Belong, I wanted to capture the complexities experienced by the black working class. I’m from a working-class family and I wanted to use collaging to talk about it. The images that I used here are from a series that I did in 2016, When The Madams Are Away, The Help Will Slay. 

I felt that a single photograph didn’t allow me to express the complexities of help. So I remade the series using a collage. Take the women in the water, for instance. Some of them are practically drowning. Others are walking on the water. It’s all the same person and that is testament to how trauma and joy co-exist in our spaces.

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