DYNAMIC AFRICANS: Cedric Nzaka of “Everyday People Stories”.
From the street to the runway, and back to the streets again, Cedric Nzaka is a man on a mission. Armed with nothing but his great eye and passion for style, fashion and culture, and his camera, of course, the Kenyan-born South African-based creative has been documenting everything from the faces of Jozi’s style-conscious youth to the runways of fashion weeks in South Africa.
Intrigued by his documentation of the monthly Johannesburg brunch series THE WKND SOCIAL, I caught up with the jack-of-many-creative-trades to find out more about the man behind Everyday People Stories.
In a few words, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
I’m Cedric Nzaka, Kenyan-born and raised, but currently based in South Africa. I’d describe myself as a humanitarian, social documentary and landscape photographer, with a particular interest in NGO photography, and with a keen detailed eye for urban and street wear photography. Most of all, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche: “I’m an artist and no artist tolerates reality”.
It’s always so interesting to meet other foreign Africans in South Africa, and Johannesburg has become a magnet for many Africans from all over the continent and all walks of life in recent years. What brought you to South Africa? What’s it like being Kenyan in SA?
The main reason I came to South Africa was to discover a nation’s struggle for freedom whilst following the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Hector Pieterson and many other celebrated revolutionaries. The South African freedom struggle is a compelling story that tells of the sacrifices made by the people in overcoming the oppression of colonialism and apartheid.
Living away from your country can be a really interesting and unforgettable experience, but at the same time it has very important effects on one’s life. The major effect, and also a very common one, is that once you begin a life away from home, you find yourself missing everything from your past. This is not to say that you are unhappy, but rather that you are aware of your newfound solitude.
Missing your family and the attention they all paid to you is a very common feeling. Little details like sitting on a Sunday morning watching TV alone instead of helping your dad organizing his things or having a nice chat with your mom makes you realize how valuable your family really is. For me, being a Kenyan in SA has made it possible for me to achieve a certain kind of newfound knowledge. You learn how to accept being in another type of society and a foreign culture, as you’re now living in a place with different customs and traditions from yours. You have to be able to develop yourself in unknown conditions. This means making new friends, learning other points of view, accepting different opinions and values, and seizing every opportunity you have to go to new places.
How long have you been involved in photography? Did you start out wanting to photograph fashion portraits or was there something else you had in mind when you began using a camera?
I started out with documentary photography because I considered documentaries to be a powerful means of conveying social messages to the world. Many people use television and film as a form of entertainment and if one can add factual information to the mix, the medium of documentary films can produce great changes by creating awareness and simultaneously educating the masses.
But somewhere along the line while I was working on a travel documentary, I felt the urge to do something different and out of my conform zone. Something that would help me grow as an artist and as an individual, which led to me choosing to get involved in urban and street style photography.
You’ve photographed a range of different fashion scenes, from the street to the runway. Is there one particular environment you prefer over others?
Street Photography is art photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Truth be told, I do enjoy shooting on the runway as much as I enjoy working in the streets because it allows me to challenge myself as a photographer. But there is not that much that can be done when it comes to runway photography compared to street photography. To me, street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying “unmanipulated” scenes, with usually unaware/aware subjects.
You’re someone who seems to be able to capture a certain kind of youth culture and soulful essence of what’s hip in Johannesburg. Where are your favourite places to photograph in Jozi? Can you tell us about some of your favourite hangout spots in Jo’burg?
One of my favourite places to photograph is Braamfontein Centre. It borders the city centre and is joined to Newtown by the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Braamfontein is fast becoming the hipster capital of Johannesburg as it’s home to a number of museums, theatres, restaurants and coffee shops, the Neighbourgoods Market - a Food and Design Market that’s open every Saturday, galleries and quirky design stores.
My second favourite place to photograph when in Jo’burg is definitely Maboneng which has been converted from industrial properties to a happening lifestyle playground. Street art is a big feature here, along with an eclectic selection shops. The pioneer development is Arts on Main and it’s also home to the Market on Main.
Third favourite place would be Newtown. Jo’burg’s original cultural precinct, Newtown is a vast heritage site with the impressively renovated Turbine Hall and immense Mary Fitzgerald square that hosts thousands of people for major cultural events.
My favourite hangout spots therefore would be anywhere around those three above-mentioned areas - from the famous Great Dane and Kitcheners in Braamfontein, all the way to Goethe on Main in Maboneng.
The Johannesburg street scene seems to be evolving from one great thing to the next. What are some of the trends you’ve noticed unfold in recent months?
Johannesburg is shedding its painful, crime-ridden past to emerge as Africa’s hippest hub for art, music and fashion. The fashion industry in Jo’burg is constantly growing - especially the design front of it all. The trends I’ve seen emerge a lot more are centered on the question of identity where most people communicate and express themselves through what they wear.
Besides photography, are there other things you’re involved in?
I’m a marketing consultant, graphic and fashion designer, fashion trend analyst, writer and illustrator. I’ve also had a passion for soccer from a very tender age and it’s something I still take part in when I’m not using my camera.
Lastly, what are five things you can’t leave the house without?
My iPhone, DSLR Camera + 50mm lens, clean pair of sneakers and most of all head gear. I’m always wearing some sort of head gear be it a beanie, snap back or 5 panel cap. I always have to have something on my head.
Find him on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.