Casting from the street and creating near-future looks, South African photographer Kristin Lee Moolman is creating “a new African mythology”, say her fans
Last summer, South African photographer and film-maker Kristin-Lee Moolman and Sierra Leone-born, London-based stylist Ib Kamara caused a stir with their work 2026. Part of the group show Utopian Voices Here & Now at London’s Somerset House, the series forecast a masculinity, told through clothing, that sought to confront stereotypes of gender, race, self-expression and the body. Media coverage and the show’s curator Shonagh Marshall cast the duo as part of a movement of young creatives from Africa and the African diaspora, who are producing game-changing work centred on identity and, specifically, what it means to be African.
2026 is typical of Moolman’s work – playful and naturalistic, putting the subject first and oozing style and sass. “The dual nature of photography fascinates me most – documentation and fabrication,” she says. “As a photographer you have the ability to truthfully capture a person, place or moment of time as it was, but you also have the ability to fabricate and create whichever reality you choose to.”
She has also said that her work isn’t intentionally political, but the ideological shifts that came about with the end of apartheid, which she experienced, may well have been an influence. Moolman was born in the late 1980s in the Karoo, a semi-desert region in South Africa. Now based in Johannesburg, she is inspired by the city’s residents – photographing friends, people she has met through social media and those she casts from the street – giving her work an unmistakable sense of ‘realness’.
As the photo editor who nominated her for BJP‘s Ones to Watch, but prefers to be anonymous, says: “It’s like Moolman is building a new African mythology: starting from a strong sense of her own identity and culture, layer after layer, she creates her own reality through her pictures – deeply personal and extremely inclusive at the same time. And it’s important that this kind of identity- building storytelling is being made by an African woman, telling her own story and dispelling the Western-centric narrative to which too often, even nowadays, the African continent is reduced.”
The positive reception given to 2026, which is to be turned into a book, is just one of Moolman’s many achievements. To date she has shot for the likes of Vogue, Office and L’Officiel Hommes Germany, and created look books for online retailers Oxosi and Oath Studio. For the latter, Moolman created androgynous portraits that tap into Johannesburg’s youth scene and nod to South Africa’s township culture of the 1980s and 1990s. The images, she says, are a celebration of African people whatever their background.
“Each era can be understood by its inscribers; Moolman has this aspect and capacity to her image-making,” says Missla Libsekal, founder and editor of online creative showcase Another Africa. “Photographers such as the late Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keïta or more recently Ren Hang, whose practices each also privilege portraiture, are today understood as documenters of a certain kind of agency. I see this in Moolman’s work. In this moment and time her images create space for emancipation; they are at once intimate yet transportive.”
This article by Gemma Padley was originally published in the June 2017 issue of the British Journal of Photography.