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Lungisani’s photos capture the imagination of the nation

by Gerrit Bester

Beyond his wildest dreams, Lungisani Mjaji (26), a second-year Commercial Photography student studying at TUT's Faculty of Arts and Design, is grabbing the nation's imagination with his efforts to capture the beauty and history of his charming home village, Nongidi Kwamachi in Harding Town on the edge of KwaZulu-Natal. His most recent photo, which forms part of a project called My Footprint, of his beaming niece holding an Albany loaf of bread went viral on TikTok this week and drew the eye of the well-known bakery brand.

"My Footprint began in 2019 as a personal endeavour to document and capture the beauty and history of my village. It aims to showcase the daily life of my mother, Cushiwe Princess Mjaji, who works tirelessly for the people of our village, as well as the vibrant personalities that make up our community. Moreover, I want to focus on the future creatives of the village ­– the children. By portraying their innocence, joy and potential through my lens, I aspire to inspire the younger generation to fearlessly pursue their creative dreams," says the young photographer.

The inspiration for the image of his niece, Lethukukhanya (3), stemmed from Lungisani’s desire to present a visual representation of his village's daily life. "I wanted to convey the essence of our community, emphasising the significance of the younger generation in both the present and future. Lethukukhanya symbolises the innocence, hope, and boundless potential that resonate within the children of our village. Through her, I sought to celebrate their role in shaping our community's narrative," he says.

The day of the photoshoot was meticulously planned, with every detail envisioned in advance. Lungisani approached his ever-supportive mother, who has been a pillar of encouragement throughout his journey, requesting her assistance in procuring props for the photoshoot.

"She graciously provided the necessary funds, and I purchased an Albany loaf which became a significant element of the composition. My mother's unwavering support extends beyond financial aid; she actively seeks out items in town that she believes will enhance my photography. Her words, "We Luh ngipkuphathele izinto ongazishutha" (here are the things you can shoot), demonstrate her immense support and encouragement. On the day of the shoot, I executed my plan with unwavering determination, capturing the essence of my vision and telling the story I had envisioned."

Lungisani says the recognition and support he has received for his work have overwhelmed him with joy and gratitude. "The positive response and impact my photographs have had on South Africa have exceeded my wildest expectations. The recognition validates my skills as a photographer and artist, showcasing the beauty and cultural richness of our village. It is humbling to see how my work resonates with people and evokes such heartfelt appreciation. I am immensely grateful for the support of my community and my country."

"This experience is undoubtedly lifechanging. Firstly, it has brought immeasurable happiness and pride to both me and my mother to witness the results of our collective efforts. Tears of joy filled my mother's eyes, and my heart swells with an indescribable sense of fulfilment. Secondly, this recognition has boosted my confidence as a photographer and reaffirmed my chosen career path. It has shattered the misconception that photography is not a viable and sustainable profession. I hope that my journey can inspire others, especially the younger generation, to follow their creative dreams fearlessly."

Looking forward, Lungisani plans to continue his studies at TUT’s Department of Visual Communication while dedicating himself to photography each day. "I firmly believe that every day holds creative opportunities, and I approach my craft with unwavering passion and dedication. While I have not specified a particular specialisation, my aspiration is to make a difference through my work and inspire others along the way. Furthermore, I intend to delve into commercial photography, collaborating with prominent brands and showcasing their products against the backdrop of our village. By doing so, I aim to bring attention to the beauty and untapped potential of rural communities, while also highlighting the importance of representation in the media."

"I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share my story and aspirations with others. I hope that my journey and the My Footprint project will serve as beacons of inspiration, encouraging others to chase their dreams relentlessly. I am excited for what the future holds and eager to continue making a positive impact through my photography," he concludes.

Last year, he was the runner-up of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Africa 2022: Photo Competition. His photo, titled Light, secured him the honours. It was also captured in Nongidi from where one can see the Eastern Cape. Lungisani bagged $200 US with the photo.

Lungisani Mjaji (26) is a student in the Commercial Photography programme who is capturing the imagination of the country with his photos documenting the beauty and history of his home village.

The photo Lungisani took of his niece went viral on social media and has also caught the attention of a well-known bread brand, Albany.

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