Zwelethu Mthethwa's name is not easy to pronounce, but his photography is pretty simple. He is one of South Africa's pre-eminent photographers. And his work, according to Okwui Enwezor (another fun name) of San Francisco Art Institute, marks a major departure "away from the visually exotic and diseased — or "afro-pessimism," he explained to Aperture.

Mthethwa photographs the environment, social issues and people, with an intimate sensibility that yields colorful, insightful images. "I was trying to portray these people in a different light," he explained in an interview with Enwezor. "They are poor … but I wanted to portray them as human beings."

Poverty and disparity have plagued South Africa in the wake of apartheid. But rather than showing suffering and sadness, Mthethwa's images are quiet and strangely empowering. By photographing people in their houses, he captures them in their most comfortable environment, which also lends a certain intimacy. Only when you step inside a South African house do you see the texture and color that enrich the people's personal lives. Mthethwa's approach proves that it's possible to show struggle without overbearingly depressing or sensational imagery.

A selection of his work will be on display at New York City's Studio Museum in Harlem starting Friday, coinciding with the release of his eponymous first monograph by Aperture. Check out this video of the photographer in conversation with Enwezor:

For more information please go to National Public Radio.

Zwelethu Mthethwa and Okwui Enwezor from Aperture Foundation on Vimeo.


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