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What was your first impression of the Smarteez?
"An explosion of creativity. Punk rock, but in a local context. They dress in bright colors and were thrifting way before it was a trend. They were publically verbally abused in their community all the time. But they fought through and kept going with what they believed — and still do. They became the forefathers of a new generation of loud creatives in fashion from the townships of Johannesburg."
How did this photo series develop? What did you want to capture?
"It developed naturally, in a purist documentary approach. We met in Rockville, walked down the road to local outdoor braai (barbecue), and I shot the group as they were in their daily attire."
"I wanted to capture them for who they were. I always like to ask my subjects how they want to be portrayed, rather than push my identity or agenda onto them."
Where do the Smarteez shop? What inspires them?
"As a group, the Smarteez all have different skillsets. They all design clothing, but originally they mainly re-designed older thrifted items from the downtowns shops and markets of inner Johannesburg. I would say they are inspired by different things as individuals, but use the group as a mechanism to broadcast their message."
How do the Smarteez compare to typical Johannesburg fashion?
"When I think back to what Johannesburg was like in the early 2000s, it was duller. It felt like fashion was different shades of grey. This, to me, was not reflective of the environment and attitudes of the people that live here. The city is layered, complex, colorful."