Johannesburg

Interview: Photographer Zivanai Matangi of Centre for The Less Good Idea

01 Dec 2021
Photographer Zivanai Matangi
Photographer Zivanai Matangi
We're keen fans of the work of Zimbabwean photographer Zivanai Matangi – both for his powerful documentation of the performance work at The Centre for the Less Good Idea, and his eye on the city of Joburg, where ne now lives. 

Zivanai's interest in photography was sparked by family photographs. His first job involved working in a photo lab. It was a public art project – that he first documented for the Trinity Sessions founded by artists Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter – that drew him into The Centre For The less Good Idea. The centre, started by world-renowned artist William Kentridge, is a multi-disciplinary incubator space for the arts in Johannesburg that has nurtured an incredible roster of artists whose impact is felt in Johannesburg, and across the globe. 

At the Centre Zivanai records the performance process – capturing the intensity of emotion and the physicality of live theatre. He is a storyteller and an artist, who brings a sensitivity to all that he captures. Outside of the centre Zivanai records his experiences with his daughter, and his role as a father, his travels across the city, and his life in Alexandra, his home in South Africa. Read more about Zivanai's work at the Centre here. But first read on for our interview with Zivanai Matangi. 
 
Performers at Season 7 of Centre for the Less Good Idea. Photo by Zivanai Matangi


What defines you as a Joburg persona?
My name is Zivanai Matangi, I am a photographer and visual artist, What defines me as Joburg persona is my ability to contribute to trade and commerce through my profession as a photographer.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I always had an innate love for art since I was a little child. Nothing came more naturally to me than creating shapes and forms on a blank piece of paper, so when, at around the age of 21 I got a job at Kodak, running printing labs and selling photography gear, the camera became an immediately available medium to continue creating shapes and forms.

What is the most challenging aspect of capturing a live performance?
Trying not to impede the experience for the audience yet still getting good shots that compliment the performer's work.

The differences between documenting a live process and creating a photographic artwork?
In documenting a live process you mainly document proceedings. You have less control, you are responding in your creative process and being intuitive. Photographic artwork is pre-meditated, a deliberate effort to communicate in a creative way.
Houseboy at Centre for the Less Good Idea. Photo by Zivanai Matangi
 

"Alexandra is... where I still live. It might be a poster child for xenophobia, crime, and violence, but it's also a welcoming, loving and empathetic environment I am proud to call a home away from home."


You have two Instagram accounts?
One account (@zivanaimatangi) is my niche account, which communicates all the work I do in the arts especially in the performative space. The other account (@alexandzivanai) shows all the other activities I get up to as a photographer, father, and entrepreneur.

The township of Alexandra often features in your work. What's the significance of the place?
Alexandra is where I first got domesticated when I moved to SA from Zimbabwe. It is where I still live. It might be a poster child for xenophobia, crime, and violence, but it's also a welcoming, loving and empathetic environment I am proud to call a home away from home.
 
Season 8 of Centre for the Less Good Idea. Photo by Zivanai Matangi

What brought you to Joburg and what makes you stay here?
Opportunities, opportunities, opportunities.

Home is... Bulawayo Zimbabwe.

Favourite Joburg suburb: Sandton, because it's close to Alexandra.

What 3 things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
The Township, the City and a taxi rank.

What’s the one thing no one would expect to hear about Joburg?
That it's safe.

The most underrated Joburg sight or experience?
Township entertainment culture.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
Bunny chow a.k.a Sly or Quarter, popular in townships.

If you could buy any Joburg building?
Any building that I can convert into an Arts hub.

Three words that describe this city: City Of Gold

What do you love most about Joburg? Ethnic diversity

What do you least like about Joburg? The fast-paced speed of life

What's happening in Joburg right now that you think everyone should know about?
Theatre doors are open to the public

Five favourite images

We asked Zivanai to share five of his favourite images with us, and what he most loves about them.
 
Alex at the Lion Park

This image was taken at Lion Park. My daughter Alex was nervous and excited, she'd never been that close to a wild animal but she smiled and kept brave just so I could get the shot.
 
Portrait of my grandmother

This image I took of my dearly departed grandmother during her final years. That same image was used at her funeral. I've never been more fulfilled in what I do. It put me in a position to capture grandma so vividly for posterity. To me that is a big deal. 
 
William Kentridge by Zivanai Matangi

This was the first time I asked William Kentridge if I could take a photo of him. I politely directed him away from the crowd he was conversing with and had him pose. I was nervous, it was at night on a building rooftop in Joburg and the lighting was poor. I probably took one or two exposures and that was it.
 
A performer at the Centre for the Less Good Idea

This was the first image of mine to be published in the New York Times supporting an article on William Kentridge.
 
Image from my first exhibition in New York
 
This image was part of a body of work exhibited at the Chelsea Gallery in New York. It was my first exhibition, a collaborative effort inspired by a mentor of mine, Stephen Hobbs, and supported by the David Krut Projects New York.

* Follow Zivanai Matangi's work at @zivanaimatangi and @alexandzivanai
 

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