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Mhlambi's portraits and poetic visual reportage of the local jazz (music... broadly) scene, especially recent work in the last two years or so, are sneakingly and quite brazenly redefining that photographic "genre," at least in this compositions, texture, intuitive alertness, connection to the live ritual itself, and the manner through which he visually captures the moment; synaptically frame freezes life in his singular optic-operatic calmness, has become the music itself. It is an addition to the unexplored scholarship of optic/visual life as a metaphor of sound, and in return, Sound as repository and storage of Colour... reservoir of dreams.
You look at his work, and no matter whether you were present at the shows he photographed or not, you start hearing music in your head. In that way, Mhlambi is a meta-fictional addition and session player of the bands he photographs:

He assigns himself, without imposing or making himself too visible, a visual and virtual conductor (see the feature flick "V-For Vendetta" or Gary Oldman conducting an imaginary orchestra in his head in Jean Reno's "The Professional" ). 

He is definitely an accompanist... the camera is the only instrument he masters in the time-travelling art of a concert as a continuous spiRITUAL drama. His best work extends the stage performance over and beyond its real physical time. Mhlambi doesn't deal with "real" time as much as with "surreal" timelessness. While he foregrounds the artists at work, he does that by putting them to work beyond the concert.


The best photographers are dream weavers... Mhlambi is part of that circle and cycle. He's been good for over two decades but not as sublime and game-changing as he is now. Shows practice and dogged obsession about yo 'shit' pays off. One word: A (we)man!

Bongani Madondo

Black and White

Making history through the lens


Siphiwe Mhlambi always had the gift of seeing life through the camera and was told to save himself from a hopeless future of an orphan. He was barely out of his teens when he taught himself to look at life through the lens and has never looked back. At the age of 19, as a Soweto pupil, he was a graduate of the school of hard knocks. He taught himself the dos and don'ts of photography. In no time, he contributed memorable pictures of students' upheavals to the daily Sowetan in the late 1980s. Soon he was recruited to join the newspaper as a full-time staffer. Immediately after that, he moved to the weekend newspaper, City Press, covering sports, politics, and entertainment.

Before the end of the 1990s, he was recruited to join True Love magazine as a specialist fashion and portraiture photographer.

This later opened the doors for Mhlambi to find the African Skies Media that specialized in visual representation and reportage of the African experience in a fast-changing New South Africa from the late 1980s. His work focused on news, portraiture, documentary and unique assignments for celebrity high-flyers, weddings and corporates. Other assignments included filmmakers, style editors and advertising campaigns. 

From the turbulent mid1980s with student upheavals, school boycotts, the Kempton Park negotiations, the unending series of Soweto soccer derbies, the Release of Rivonia Trialists, the return of exiles, the first Black Miss South Africa, the democratic elections, the tenure of Nelson Mandela and the advent of a democratic dispensation, Mhlambi has been witness to the death of Apartheid and the rise of a New South Africa. 
He had become a notable unofficial photographer of celebrities, including Michael Jackson et al., who came flying to visit the world-renowned statesman Nelson Mandela. However, the aperture of his lens was always open to the diversity of life. Thus, his oeuvre encompasses political resistance, death, mourning, love, celebration and song. Essentially, it captures and reflects the triumph of the human spirit. 
Above all, Mhlambi carved a niche as a specialist jazz photographer. As a result of his growing reputation, he was commissioned to be the official photographer at the annual Joy of Jazz festival. 
This culminated in his self-sponsored Jazz Expressions Exhibition to showcase the soul of the country through jazz portraiture. 
His work is increasingly featured on international platforms. He is a sought-after photographer by celebrities, corporates, museums, exhibitions, universities and governments. 
Thus, it was no surprise when he was a finalist in the Global Top 30 Jazz Photographers of the Year award in 2020. Currently, Mhlambi is widely acknowledged and recognized as a custodian of the visual voice of jazz. 

He is the director of African Skies Media, where the sky is not the limit.


Sandile Memela

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