If you think about Van Gogh’s Starry Night, imagine how useless it’s rendered without the use of color. Great artists like that go on to influence art for years to come, and that’s evident with Nwabisa Salukazana and his conceptual portraits. Nwabisa keeps things concise when it comes to colors, but takes the ideas into corners of the mind that give expression and authenticity like no other.
I found Nwabisa on VSCO as I grew tired to scrolling Instagram. It’s the same folks that tend to get shared on Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, Twitter, and Tumblr. But with VSCO, I’m able to find a different set of artists that care about their work a whole lot. And that’s what I’m seeing here with Nwabisa’s work. Some photographers don’t have a signature style, but at 22 years old we can already see patterns within his photography that are part of a very telling look.
The Essential Camera Gear of NWabisa Salukazana
- Canon EOS 200D
- Canon EOS 77D
- Canon EF-S 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM
- EF 50mm f1.8 STM
- EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM
I started with the Canon EOS 200D (2018-2020). And now I am using a Canon EOS 77D. With lenses, it is between the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM, EF 50mm f1.8 STM and the EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM. So we go from extremely wide to standard portrait focal length depending on the story being told. They all play a role because the 10-18mm can distort portraits in interesting ways, the 24mm gives a natural look, same as the 50mm with the additional nice bokeh because of the f1.8 aperture.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Nwabisa Salukazana: I would say I wanted to visualize the world in different ways and be able to tell a story, and through photography is how I saw that would be achievable. In 2016, I started using my smartphone capturing different compositions to find interesting shapes to create a stunning image. I would edit them the same way to create a ‘photo series’, which are several images that tell a story. I taught myself how to use manual controls and what each setting did when capturing and editing on Lightroom mobile. And as I got familiar with everything, my ideas became more complex. That’s when I decided to get my first DSLR (Canon EOS 200D) and start learning Photoshop, which blew my mind at the time, because of what could be possible with such a tool. I got interested in manipulated photography focused on portraits because they created a lot of concept ideas for me. I could change my face in 20 different interesting ways and have the image still look interesting.
Phoblographer: what made you want to get into self-portraiture vs working with other subjects?
Nwabisa Salukazana: Surprisingly, I do capture other people. I tend to separate my own images from theirs when sharing. Once my website is online, people will be able to see both parts properly. But with focusing on self-portraiture for now, I want people to understand who Nwabisa is as himself and what to expect for others now that you’ve seen him experiment with these ideas on himself.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about your use of color. some photos are more red, some are more blue, and others are more neutralized. How do you feel these scenes help you express yourself creatively?
Nwabisa Salukazana: Colour is important in photography because it adds a layer of feeling. My use of colour depends on the idea, like the deep Reds to tell a dark story, Blues to bring a feeling of isolation, and Browns for a natural look. The neutral tones are meant to keep the image grounded so that even when the image portrays the most bizarre thing it still looks natural because of the colors.
I always want to express a sense of wonder in people; wondering if such could exist, wondering how it was done and the many interpretations they come up with.
Phoblographer: what are you trying to express in your self-portraits? Have you ever looked back and found a specific theme of some sort when putting your bodies of work together?
Nwabisa Salukazana: My work is very concept-based. Taking from my design knowledge, it starts with a problem then ends with a solution. Meaning I ask myself ‘what if’ then end up finding ways to portray that question. I always want to express a sense of wonder in people; wondering if such could exist, wondering how it was done and the many interpretations they come up with. There is a story behind every image but I also share just the title to tell the viewer everything they need to know, and how what they interpret from that is up to them because not every image will make sense to people but allowing them to create their own helps, so much that I’ve started relating my work to art. Calling it Conceptual Art Photography.
Phoblographer: How much of this is photoshop vs in-camera work?
Nwabisa Salukazana: It’s a bit of both. I always start with taking portraits of the poses I’ll need, I call this the ‘clean plate’. And depending on the concept, for example if I want to be covered with eyes, I will take those eye images to add onto the clean plate using Photoshop. But if the idea doesn’t require any manipulation, then it’ll be done in-camera with the use of Lightroom & Photoshop to colour-correct and clean the image.
Phoblographer: One photo that captivated me was the Tinder photo. Can you tell us more about the concept and how the idea for the image came about?
Nwabisa Salukazana: I gave the photo series the title, Computer World. The idea was to portray human emotions on a CRT monitor using today’s technology. So in this instance, Tinder, a modern application, is used to communicate ‘Asking for a date’ with the subject dressed up a little to fit the idea. Other photos had static screens used to convey anxiety, playing a modern game to convey ‘a feeling of togetherness’ and using the home desktop screen as an ‘introduction’.
Phoblographer: How did the pandemic affect you creatively?
Nwabisa Salukazana: To be honest, not so much. But what happened was I started doing less Photography and more Graphic Design. My creativity was still going but it was for another thing. It wasn’t until 2021, when I got my Canon 77D when I started going back to Photography and balancing it out with Design.
Phoblographer: How do you feel you’re evolving creatively?
Nwabisa Salukazana: The ideas are getting more grand on a simple scale. What I mean is, with the skills I’ve accumulated and still am over the years, manipulating my images to whatever has never been simpler than it is now. Also accepting the type of photography I do, I am getting more comfortable with portraying all these ideas. I could be a robot or a centaur next time.
Phoblographer: What’s your favorite social media platform and why?
Nwabisa Salukazana: Ahhh [laughs]… I will say VSCO. It has created a space of freedom for creators. It is not cluttered with ads, the user interface is intuitive, and the community it has built over the years is incredible… you share your work with people alike.
About Nwabisa Salukazana
Nwabisa Salukazana is a 22 year old Graphic Designer and Conceptual Photographer, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Specializing in Logo Design and Brand Identity, with knowledge in other Graphic Design sectors such as Packaging, UI/UX, Print, etc. And Conceptual Portraiture, with technical experience in Photo manipulation and Video editing.
His qualifications include a National Certificate in Graphic Design at the Creative Arts College (Pietermaritzburg) and currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts in Communication Design at the University of Johannesburg.
With over 3 years of Graphic Design experience and over 5 years of Photography, he has managed to gain some recognition and accolades for his work. Including design work for brands like Audi and Discovery, branding for new and already established businesses, concept work for brands such South African Airways, has worked with agencies such as Mam’gobozi Design Factory, VIXION Design and Roering Creative Kin and participated at the Woolworths X Loeries Bootcamp, being part of the Top 15 across Africa and Middle East. With publications from VSCO, participating in the final stage at the Siena Creative Photo Art Awards 2020.
He shows great interest in learning more about Design and Photography, improving his skills every year. And also plans to venture into film making in the future.