Contemporary Archive

Themba Mbuyisa

Words by Lumumba Mthembu

Though Themba Mbuyisa anchors the photo series, When Breadwinners Are Away, in the absence of migrant labourers – who are often parents – from the rural community of Mandeni, little to no absence registers on the faces of those left behind. When we gaze into the eyes of the subjects in Mbuyisa’s portraiture, the emotion that resides there ranges from defiance to stoicism, contentment, and even smugness.

In most of the frames subjects occupy the centre, squared up to the camera in a frontal position. Some arms are folded and some hands are crossed while others rest at their sides, but these confrontational postures elicit no pity, instead forcing the viewer to meet the subject on level terms.

“If you are going to look at me, then I am going to look at you,” says the ochre-encrusted visage of the grandmother whom we have interrupted from tilling.

 On her right, a boy young enough to be her grandson tugs shyly at his sleeve. These two represent the age profile of the bulk of the subjects in When Breadwinners Are Away, with the exception of the smartly dressed teenager in the fifth image.

He is fast approaching an age when he will have to leave Mandeni to enhance his prospects, for, as Mbuyisa exhibits in Distant Relatives, the rural community is hardest on the young to middle-aged who have no option but to remain there. Time alters nothing in these parts as poverty defies the laws of physics by resisting change: a constant everywhere else.

The cycle repeats: grandparents raise grandchildren while the nucleus remains absent, like the family of the forlorn child in the red and white hooped dress. Her expression is unflinching and accusatory as she stands superimposed against a bed of bushes, emphasising the loneliness of her daily fight to mean something in a wild world. Bare legs wear the scrapes of brushes with obstacles that will trip her into adulthood, but her dress is grimly rolled up at the sleeves because she has no option but to meet them.

Hi There, my name is Mandisa

Mandisa Buthelezi is a photographer and film director/producer who was raised in Durban and is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. With a vast portfolio that communicates the rural voice, and an appreciation and respect for the culture that has informed her perspective, she is keen on providing photographic and film content that is culturally centered and explores notions of identity and spirituality.

Cataloguing and documenting African culture through visual art has become an important component of her work through assignments.

Hi There, my name is Lindo


Growing up in the township of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal and attending primary school in the same town is one of the strongest memories I have about my neighbourhood. The times I spent with my late grandmother Miss Dombi Chiliza and the people I shared my life with at that moment in time in my early childhood, influence the work I create. “I can’t imagine a world without photography – capturing a unique moment in time that will never be repeated” (Gigi Williams).

Hi There, my name is Niamh

Co-Founder & Programme Director

Niamh Walsh-Vorster is a Durban-based writer, independent photographer, and creative producer. She graduated in 2014 with a BJourn from Rhodes University in Makhanda, South Africa.
Niamh is co-founder and editor of the award-winning e-zine, Ja. Magazine. She has exhibited photographic work in group shows at galleries, and independently in various public spaces. In 2016, Niamh was the recipient of a BASA Arts Journalism Award for her review in Ja. Magazine. She has worked with the Durban Center for Photography under the leadership of legendary AfraPix photographer, Peter McKenzie. She was part of the third Incubator Programme at The Market Photo Workshop, 2017 – 2018 in Johannesburg, mentored by Angela Buckland. More recently, Niamh was project manager of the ARTLAB Mentorship programme, which worked with 30 KZN-based creatives in photography, design, and fashion. She was mentor to 10 emerging photographers.