She may be low-key about her greatness but Neo Baepi is a talented photographer that Mzansi’s fashion scene should be looking out for. In an industry that has very few womyn behind the camera, Neo is breaking through the noise by documenting black bodies in a beautiful and honest way. An outspoken advocate for human rights and blackity blackness, Neo Baepi’s presence fills the room and makes people feel immediately at ease once the shutter speed is on.
Isn’t it high time we got to know the magic womyn responsible for capturing the Word To The Womyn Of Colour series?
Neo ke mang? (Neo is…)
I’m a softie living in a really abrasive world. For anybody trying to place me, I’m a black queer womxn photographer / portrait specialist. I’m mostly going through life with trial and error and it’s proven to offer me endless valuable lessons. I like beer and video games and cheeseburgers. I’m terrified of the dark and spiders and also cishet men. I’m making a deliberate effort in making the world a little easier for little black queers like me to navigate through my work. I’ve hardly put a dent in it, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. I’m more than my queerness, no need to fixate on it. But it’s important to discuss it so that others like me don’t feel anything other than exactly who they are.
I’m by no means the best at what I do, I’m only 25 years old ffs. But I’m not here to be humble or apologetic about what wakes me up in the morning. I’m anything I want to be with an idea and a camera in my hands.
What’s the significance of photographing womyn of colour in 2016?
Representation is very important. It’s a little unsettling when you realise that most of what we see around us is whitewashed. Whiteness takes itself very seriously, it’s self-preservation in its essence. It’s been centuries in the making so it’s going to take a lot of kicking and screaming to undo all of the damage it’s done. So when I shoot black and brown womxn, I’m playing a part in challenging the status quo. It’s an act of archiving and documenting what nobody else bothers to, meaningfully anyway. I have an ongoing series called “Queer Portraits as Self Love”. It’s a series that covers Queer Joy, because for as long as I can remember, we [black queer womxn especiall] have been documented through the lense of pain. It’s equally important that we emphasize that even when the world tells us to keep fighting and crying, we are people who like to drink, dance, laugh, fuck, smoke too. Queer joy is revolutionary. Black womxn joy is revolutionary. The “strong woman” trope seems to me like a device to excuse the battering cishet men put us through on a daily basis. Not having any of it 🙂
What is your favourite aspect of being a black female photographer? what’s the toughest aspect?
Being a black womxn in South Africa sucks. A lot. You’re always in your own corner scraping for yourself having to prove yourself 200 times more than your black man / white man counterparts. But before I sound like a whiny girl, I wouldn’t be anything else. So to call myself a black womaxn photographer is something I wear with honour. There aren’t enough of us. I sometimes question whether my presenting masculine has been helpful in this whole pursuit, it’s most likely. But it’s important for me to always remember that I’m pretty fucking good. Gotta be my own biggest fan and hypegirl.
Your dream local/African collaboration would be with?
I found a collaboration of GOLD this year with Buhle Ngaba, we devised a children’s book as well as a graphic short together. And we have had the most seamless and effortless creative relationship, I probably won’t find something like that for a very very long time.
The Mzansi Moodboard has also amplified what I always intend to do – document black womxn being and doing dope. I would love to work with Laura Windvogel
aka Lady Skollie
. She’s f**ing bomb.
Aaand last but definitely not least..
What’s on your Mood Board?
I said before that I’m a portrait specialist. But it’s not limited to the face, it’s also about what I want to convey from the image at the time. I do a LOT of self-portraiture so it’s safe to say I serve as my own inspiration. I draw from other creatives, but I always come back to the fact that there is only ever one Neo Baepi. We can’t and won’t and shouldn’t do the same work, I find that a little irresponsible.
Check out Neo’s wide portfolio featuring the likes of Simphiwe Dana and more here.