South African acclaimed photographer Austin Malema was listed on this year’s Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 list, Austin is undoubtedly one of SA’s most sought after photographers, having had the pleasure of working with some of the country’s influential celebrities, as well as international artists and personalities such as David Beckham, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Drake, Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Bonang Matheba and Dineo Moeketsi to name a few.
Check out my exclusive interview with Austin below:
Hey Austin! Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Austin Malema, a 28-year-old photographer based in Johannesburg South Africa. I have been a photographer for 8 years now. I studied film and worked on the small screen for a few years on shows like Skeem Saam and Selimathunzi. After that, I transitioned into photography full time where I have worked with many stars across the country and a few across the globe.
Talk me through an average day in the life of you?
My average day includes a lot of phone calls either I am making them or receiving them. I wake up in the morning head to boxing. After that I’m home to freshen up. I will head to a meeting or pull up the chair at home and open my laptop to go through the emails. After that is done I will start editing if I am not editing I am heading to a shoot. After the shoot or edits, I am back home to rest.
What institution(s) did you attend and what did you study?
I went to AFDA, to study film. Graduated with a BA Hons in Motion picture medium.
In mid-2015, you quit TV to be a full-time photographer, What made you go into photography?
When I started doing photography I did it as a way to get access into different spaces where the elites in entertainment in South Africa hang out and it was too make some money to get sneakers and cool clothing while in varsity. I then fell in love with photography as an art form. I also realised that one can make a living of photography and I choose that as my career path.
Last year, you founded your first company, Pixel Kollective, with two other partners. Why and what’s next?
Yes Pixel Kollective was my first company and we’ve done amazing work with the guys, but I’ve since left the business to venture on my own which is something I’m very excited about but can’t really speak about at the moment. I’m excited for what lies ahead though and can’t wait to share it…when the time is right.
How’s the photography industry in South Africa from your own point of view?
The photography industry in South Africa is growing at a rapid rate and a lot young people are choosing it as a career choice. There is a rise in the celebrity photography and a lot of people see it as way to grow their art and their social media following. But a lot of them still have a long way to go as they do not understand the business of photography as yet. I’m hoping that as time goes, and through my exposure and recognition from your likes of Forbes, will be able to help grow, nuture and provide assistance to other upcoming photographers in educating them about the industry and ways of making it into a lucrative business/career.
Listed on this year’s Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 list, what was your first reaction when you got the news and how did that make you feel?
As a young man who grew up looking at artist who topped the Forbes list every year and now for me to be listed on Forbes is an honour but over and above that and as an artist being recognised on such a platform for what I do is beyond amazing. At first I did not believe the email I was reading, then it dawned and to be honest it was surreal, in fact this whole experience has been. I’m very humbled and honoured.
You are undoubtedly one of SA’s most sought after photographers, having had the pleasure of working with some of the country’s influential celebrities, such as David Beckham, Beyonce Jay-Z, Drake, Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Bonang Matheba and Dineo Moeketsi to name a few.
Will you say that as given you a brand-new perspective towards life?
In a way it has but more than that it’s opened up doors I’ve never thought possible. I’m grateful to have such personalities stand in front of my lens and having them trust me with their image. But whether you’re a celebrity or not for me every picture I take is a direct representation of my work so I always ensure I put my best “lens” forward.
You are a young entrepreneurial minded guy. How do you balance your personal and professional life?
It is very hard to have a balanced life, but I think one should find a way to switch one part of their life off and flip over to the other. My personal life is always on but my work life comse on from 6 am until 9pm in the evening when my phone goes into night mode and only close friends and family can contact me. I spend as much time with my son and partner as possible when I am not working which gives me time to reflect as well.
How often do you go to the gym and how many hours do you spend while you there?
I box 3 times a week and try go to gym once or twice a week.
What’s your 5 Dos and Don’t when it comes to photography?
- Always tell the truth even when things go wrong
- Teach and challenge yourself more (for your own growth)
4. Don’t lie to the client
5. Don’t over promise and under perform.
What will you say sets you aside from other photographers?
My experience and years in the industry, I have worked with most artists and entertainers in South Africa because my professional reputation speaks for itself
What makes defines or makes a good photo?
It starts with the subject. If they have a great personality it will come through, but more so it’s about evoking the desired emotion and reaction to your pictures, whether it’s meant to evoke, happiness, sadness or tantalize your taste buds. If you’ve done that then you have a good photo.
What would you say is the main misconception the public have about photographers?
That biggest misconception about photographers is that our job is easy, you just point a camera and shoot. [It is a lot more than that].
What aspect surprised you the most once you started as a photographer?
The access one got by just having a camera.
Which brands, models, directors, clients, photographer, have you worked with?
I have worked with a lot of great brands from Ciroc, Johnnie Walker, Haig Club, David Beckham, Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Sarah Langa, Kefi Boo, Tebogo Malope, Tshedza pictures, Ferguson Films amongst many others.
What has been one of the most memorable jobs to work on?
Shooting with David Beckham.
Who do you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
Tell us two things people don’t know about you?
My general knowledge is amazing, even if I must say so myself. I can speak and understand 10 of the 12 official languages in South Africa
What do you consider your biggest professional success so far?
In 2019 I got the opportunity the shoot the famous Manchester United number 7 David Beckham and I have to say that’s when I knew I made it. It is actually between that and Beyonce and Jay Z to be honest, definitely some of the biggest stars I’ve shot.
Who do you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
Right now my eyes are looking at international artists, I don’t necessarily have anyone specific but the more international personalities I get to work with the better. Whether its musicians, actors or on movie/TV show sets.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge was breaking into the entertainment industry as a photographer as people did not see it as an important part of the collective but now most South African artists have personal photographers which means they understand the importance of the art.
You are very active on social media. Do you think it’s important to be online and if so why?
I think it is very important to be active online especially on social media. I have learnt that your work will travel across continents on social media and in today’s world we are always on our phones, we receive news and do almost everything on smart devices so being on social media gives you an upper hand.
You were born in rural Venda and moved to Johannesburg as a teenager, how is that working out for you?
I think it is working our really well for me as I believe I am exactly where I am meant to be for my career to prosper and grow. I don’t think I would be the Austin Malema everyone knows if I had stayed in Venda as my perspective would be different. In fact its worked out better so that I can impart skills I’ve learnt through my travels to those that aren’t as fortunate.
What are your must visit travel destinations?
My must travel destination are London, Nigeria, New Delhi and Dubai, these places are great cities for photographers and anyone looking for great place to take photos, ohh and Accra in Ghana.
Name 5 things we should take seriously about our style choices?
- Don’t let criticism get to you or make you doubt your style
- Create for you and not the masses
- Create what you like and what you see
- Fortune favours the brave try things out
- Failure is not the end destination but a hurdle, be open to failure and what lessons you will take away from it.
How would you describe your style?
I have a very adaptive style that borrows a lot from other forms of photography. For example, I use portrait photography for cars which is meant for people. I just try to change things up every time.
What style appeals to you the most?
I think there is no one style of photography that appeals most to me, I want to learn them all and use them in different situations and settings.
Name your 5 must have accessories/essentials?
Well I have 3 which are most essential, not that the others are not but these are my most important.
- A Full frame camera
- A 50mm Lens
- A 24—70 mm zoom lens
What is your favourite dish?
Get me some salmon and mash and we are besties
What songs are currently on your playlist?
I play a lot of Sho Madjozi #LimpopoChampionsLeague , Sjava and some Post Malone.
Apart from photography, what other projects are you currently working on?
I am looking a starting another business away from photography but still in entertainment. That is all I can say for now.
Seeing you’re doing your dreams, what advice can you give others to pursue their dreams?
I believe a lot of you people are always waiting to be given an opportunity but you do not need to, you just need to start and you will make all the strides. Although it helps, you don’t necessarily need someone to give you a chance, do that for yourself first. Clichéd as it may be, if you don’t believe in yourself first how do you expect others to.
Any specific plans for the future?
My plans for the future is to become a great photographer and commercials director who DOP’s his own projects now and again.
Any final words?
Hard work will never fail you. As the saying goes, hard work makes up where talent lacks. If you set your mind to it and can visualize your dreams/goals and are willing to put in what’s required, even the sky won’t limit you.
Where can we follow you online and on social media?