An in-depth chat with the three visionaries behind I See A Different You

I See A Different You creators Justice and Innocent Mukheli and Vuyo Mpantsha are a dynamic trio from Johannesburg, whose passion for bringing South Africa and its beauty into the world's spotlight is both inspiring and moving

What inspired the I See A Different You blog?

Vuyo: We all work in advertising, and every time we tried to source a picture of Africa to use in a proposal, we couldn’t find any positive images online. All the photographs focused on African poverty. We got tired of that and decided to start the blog.

Innocent: I had gone to Kenya to shoot an ad for Coca-Cola, and at the time we’d already been playing around with the idea of shooting images that would positively portray Africa, but hadn’t conceptualised anything yet. We just knew we were tired of how Africa was portayed to the world and wanted to do something about it. While in Kenya, I had taken some photos of the people and places in my personal capacity, and I sent some to Justice and Vuyo. That’s when we were like: “Hey, why don’t we take pictures of ourselves in Soweto and showcase them to the world?”.

Can you describe your different photographic styles?

Justice: Our styles are very different. For example, Vuyo’s approach is very edgy and conceptual. My brother Innocent is highly driven by fashion and very moved by colour. I’m very technical in my approach; I’m in love with portraits, especially of young people.

Innocent: That’s a tough one! Justice loves taking portraits of kids; Vuyo likes abstract things. I like architectural photography.

Together the three of us balance each other out.

Why is fashion an important aspect of your photography?

Justice: The link between fashion and photography is inevitable. If you want an image to be beautiful, all the elements of the image must be done well. If you look at our competitors in the rest of the world, when they represent someone from Italy, it will always be a well-dressed man or woman. Why shouldn’t we do the same? Fashion is also a huge visual contributor to the beauty of an image, and that’s why we take it so seriously.

Vuyo: Fashion is a small reflection of someone’s personality. That’s important to us, and it’s important for our photography. And also, people shouldn’t think we just dress up for our pictures, what you see is our real-life fashion sense. We value our aesthetic highly and try to inspire even through that.

Innocent: In most of our photos there’s a little bit of a grunge; we take photos in interesting locations – locations that are not perfect. The fashion brings the contrast that makes the image interesting. If I look dirty and my environment looks dirty, the photo is going to end up looking dirty. We add the fashion element to create a sense of pride, as well as to say: “Yes, I am from a grungy place, but I don’t feel sorry for myself because of it. I live here and I love it here and I will make it better as I grow.”

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What inspires you?

Vuyo: I draw a lot of inspiration from the older generations – the way they lived, their high regard for simplicity. I’m especially inspired by the music and the photography of the past. Back then it wasn’t about doing something for the fame, the ‘Likes’ or the retweets. They did it for the moment, the experience. When you listen to music from back in the day, you can almost feel yourself living in that moment in time. And I think that’s so beautiful – that through art one can teleport through time and experience an era they never existed in.

Innocent: I try not to overlook the beauty that surrounds me. I’m inspired by positive things, so if I’m walking through a slum, I look for the beauty in that – I want to see the love in that. I avoid looking at the negative. I’m inspired by music, I’m inspired by art, I’m inspired by Hugh Masekela, I’m inspired by textures and Africa and love!

What other forms of art are you each involved in?

Justice: We were very fortunate, I must start there. When we were young, we always had time to play around, and playing around for us was making music, drawing, painting, sculpting. We are very fortunate in that we were groomed as visual artists from a young age and it became a personal interest that we pursued ourselves. At the time, we couldn’t have known what all of that was preparing us for.

So, some of the art forms we’re involved with now include drawing, painting, sculpting, making music, designing and filming. We are all-round artists. In fact, photography is the newest amongst the mediums that I’ve just mentioned.

Vuyo: I’m a musician, I make music. Art is all the same, it all works as one, it all flows. Music is my other art, and the inspiration for it flows from the same place.

You mentioned a band, can you elaborate on that?

Justice: It’s nothing more than the love of doing it and the love of a creative outlet. I don’t think it’s something we want to be known for or something that describes us just yet. There’s no platform on which people can access our music, but you hear some of it on the videos we make. There’s also a song of ours on our friends’ Street Etiquette doccie about living in South Africa.

Vuyo: Justice plays bass and Innocent plays the drums. I play acoustic guitar and keyboard. But the music we make is not acoustic, we digitally produce it. We do spend a lot of time jamming though! It’s not easy to describe our genre, but I’d say it’s soul with contemporary undertones – a mixed bag of influences.

Tell us more about your company

Justice: We’ve got a production company called Nine Nine Creatives. We do photography and film full-time, and come up with creative solutions for brands.

Vuyo: The company has existed since around 2011, but it was only in January last year that we started to take things seriously and work in the company full-time.

Innocent: It’s basically the business behind the I See A Different You brand. We do photography, art directing, copywriting and branding.