Anele Papu has made a living showing us beautiful versions of things that are familiar to us – keep scrolling to read about his journey as an acclaimed photographer.
Anele Papu is sipping on a cup of green tea and telling me about his life on a warm winter’s day in Cape Town. He is engaging and interesting, full of useful insights for one so young (28) and self-aware enough to speak openly about the mistakes he’s made en route to building the man and professional he is now.
He tells me that even though this is a style-themed edition, it is important that readers know him better after this interview, and thus, everything is on the table. Soon, we’re veering from my original topic and speaking about quite abstract concepts and philosophical issues. It’s far more interesting than why he’s worn a yellow suede biker-style jacket today.
Here’s why I thought so…
How was your creativity birthed and how did you explore that gift?
I don’t come from a creative family at all. I introduced that aspect into my family and that made [my career path and choices] a much bigger challenge than it should have been. I was very young when I matriculated, only 16 years old, so I didn’t pay much attention at school. I was just a bit too playful. I didn’t care for [the same careers] my brothers cared for. In fact, I didn’t care for much at all, period.
I liked to draw. I was told to stop. My parents wanted me to fit in [with career paths traditionally known to pay well]. So I found acceptance outside of my home with creatives, and my love for the creative arts grew from there.
I grew closer to [fashion designer] Laduma Ngxokolo, who I have known since I was a kid. We went to the same university, he did design while I did photography, and we’d collaborate.
But life didn’t want me to be what I was told to be. I studied IT, graphic design and photography in my first
year of university but in my second year, when we had to decide on a speciality – I was rejected for graphic design and accepted into the photography course.
I didn’t want to do photography, I’d only applied because I was hedging my bets. But the head of the photography department sat me down and pleaded with me to do it. ‘You don’t understand the gift you have,’ she said. I didn’t want to do it because I’d been conditioned to seek security, and photography wasn’t that for me.
So I dropped out of university, then ended up starting a photography business [chuckles]. After a year of running the business, I went back to university [to study photography] because I needed to learn the technical parts of the job that you couldn’t through trial and error.
Yours is a familiar story for many creatives.
Yes, and it’s sad. Which is why I try to show, in various ways, that you can be financially successful and gain the artistic fulfilment creatives thrive on. My family pushed me towards the security of a government position.
I tried but I just couldn’t do it. And now, when I’m impacting people’s lives, travelling the world, flying in private jets, five-star this and that, I don’t think working a government position would ever have given me these opportunities.
So while you were running this photography business as a student, what about it changed your view on photography as a profession?
The opportunity for creative expression and the fact that I was making good money doing something I enjoyed.
I was paying myself around R30 000 per month at the start of that business and towards the end of the year the highest I had made was R120 000 per month. I was working with Gucci, Givenchy and the like. Brands that
I really held in high esteem. There was a lot to like.
Read more on Anele’s journey as a photographer in your September issue of Man.