An inspiring photographer profile on Instagram and beyond: Q & A with Mlungisi Mlungwana

Photo by: Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

When searching for a photographer whose work stands out on social media you are immediately bombarded with numerous profiles from across the globe. There are certainly some unique profiles that rise above the clutter, realising that some of the work is from South Africa, makes it all the more exciting. Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana, who goes by MluArt on Instagram, is an artist with both his eye and the lens through which he captures moments in time and turns them into stories.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

His style, in my opinion, incapsulates moments that retell themselves with every subsequent view of his work. You can sense the artistry with which he approaches his work and the painstaking selection process of choosing pictures that he shares and what remains unseen by the public.

What inspires such art?

How do some people manage to build amazing profiles that stand out while other photographers just barely get reactions?

We caught up with Mlu to find what he learnt over time, how any dedicated photographer can build a notable profile and what clients need to know about collaborating with artists to document memorable experiences.

How long did it take you to build a photographer profile that gets you and work noticed?

I started shooting when I was in high school in 2014. It was just a hobby at the time, until Ayanda Sithebe (founder and CEO of Actor Spaces) discovered my work on Facebook. In a nutshell, it took about two years to get my work seen in boardrooms. It also helped having friends like Pallance Dladla and Sdumo Mtshali in my network who have been there since day one. Whenever they post my work on their social media profiles it reaches more people.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana
Photo of Pallance Dladla snapped by: MLUNGISI ‘MLUART’ MLUNGWANA

How can clients make it easier for you to help them with their photography needs?

A clear brief makes it easier for everyone. Clients mostly tend to see our work on social media and websites, so when they call for a shoot it’s most likely because they know what you can achieve. For instance, my work is not heavily retouched and there are great people who can do that. If the brief is clear and the work is within my skillset then the shoot and delivery go smoothly.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

Many photographers and creative people tend to have challenges with getting paid by some clients. How did you overcome this hurdle?

I started very informally when I first picked up the camera, where I relied on ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ in the hopes that people will pay on time. Payments weren’t forthcoming which was frustrating. I now send a quotation with a mandatory 50% upfront payment; I then send all final hi-res images once the client has approved the artwork.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

How would you describe your signature style?

I don’t think I have a style as yet, I love playing with shadows and highlights, which I feel makes images rich with dark contrasts and highlights. I try to include some of these elements in every image, depending on the time of day.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana
photo by: Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

Did you deliberately choose this style or did it emerge from your work over time?

It wasn’t deliberate at all. I just work extra hard to find locations with beautiful textures and then use my lighting to unearth the rich colours in that space. Portraiture and documentary are more what I aim for.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

What was your most favourite project to work on?

There are so many to mention, but one that stands out was a shoot I did for Actor Spaces with two legendary actresses; Pamela Nomvete and Nthati Moshesh.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana
Photo of Lala Tuku By: Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

Why was this more special than anything else?

It was very intimidating because I was documenting two iconic actresses whom I grew up watching. Being the one to direct them and be part of telling their story was immensely special. I just couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mom who was in front of my lens. It was the craziest feeling ever.

Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana

Who were your most inspiring clients?

I work with a lot of amazing people, but some that come to mind are:

– Lala Tuku and her company, Corporate Icons

– As mentioned earlier, Ayanda Sithebe and Actor Spaces which he founded

– M-Net and Mzansi Magic


How can photographers learn to “see” the perfect shot before taking it?

It helps to be fully present, to become immersed in the space and the people around you before lifting the camera. Once you have a sense of your surroundings and how the environment can contribute, the images will also improve in quality. Practice. Practice. Practice. When in doubt, get even more practice.


Are you currently working on an exhibition? If so, when and where is it?

No, not yet. I believe I’m exhibiting online on Instagram and Facebook. However, there is a body of work that, when the right, will hopefully spark conversations in our communities.


What would your advice be to beginners with basic equipment on taking beautiful, compelling and memorable pictures?

The best camera is the one at your disposal, some filmmakers shoot movies with an iPhone and entry level gear. The best equipment does not guarantee a good career but a curious eye and consistency can open up your world. I started shooting with a Canon 500D which did everything I wanted at the time. I only got my dream camera three years later.


Where do you see your work in the next 2-5 years?

I want my work to be in people’s homes. I think my portraits and landscapes of Soweto deserve a spot on someone’s wall. I then hope to share some earnings from that art with the people who have allowed me to document them. This is the work I shoot daily of people I see in the morning when I step outside my home in Orlando East, Soweto.

I would like my work to travel the whole world and mostly Africa.


With mobile phones getting more advance and enabling people to capture better photos, do you see yourself parting ways with a camera at any point?

Never! I learnt how to take images using my brother’s camera. If I had discovered my passion through the use of a mobile phone it may have been possible. The grip of a camera and the weight, somehow, tell you that you have a powerful tool. It just feels amazing to be holding my camera every day.


Which two photographers’ work do you follow in South Africa?

Andile Bhala and Kgomotso Neto


What is it about these people’s work do you find most inspiring?

Their everyday documentation of people is incredible and authentic. Kgomotso and Andile are still in touch with their surroundings and they capture spaces and faces in the most beautiful way.


Mlungisi ‘MluArt’ Mlungwana continues to create a body of inspired work and makes it look easy, which is even more compelling. Follow him on Instagram for work that will steal your breath and make you pause as you scroll for the next best picture.Send us a tweet, a message or comment on Facebook or Instagram about other photographers you would like us to showcase.

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