Conceptions of the masculine form are in a constant state of flux. Unathi Mkonto captures a redefined kaleidoscopic facet in his strikingly subtle images. Boys of South Africa emerged in January last year out of a desire to document the overlapping social and physical spheres around him. “I don’t believe masculinity can be strictly defined. I seek to express beauty, rejection and failure. I am better because I have failed myself.”
The online magazine merges multi-disciplinary skills rooted in architecture and fashion. Many of the photographs depict urban landscapes foregrounded by half-clad male figures. “In my work I trying to humanize the historically, apartheid-inspired built environment which forms [the] backdrop of the photograph. I am working backwards [from] fashion. Fashion is about putting on clothes and here the clothes are discarded away from the body”
His black and white images are imbued with a quiet nostalgia – Mkonto describes the aesthetic as “uneventful and timeless”. Although the title, Boys of South Africa, ties the photographs to a specific spatio-temporal context. Through the work, he represents a kind of identity “that is very specific to South Africa. It has to do with minds and the emotions.”
This overarching sense of ease, coupled with an undercurrent of socio-political tension underpins the dynamic images. “I am genuinely proud of my work and to share my life with the rest of the world. I respect the people I shoot and they trust me, trust is priceless.”
The first volume of Boys of South Africa included line drawings. Since then, Mkonto has extended the project into the realm of photography. “The vulnerability that one can expose in photographic film” prompted the transition. Although in his personal practice he continues to draw and render preliminary studies for sculptural works. Mkonto hopes that in the future Boys of South Africa will exist in a tangible form. “The idea of printing a special edition is exciting.” He also sees potential in challenging advertisers and create work in print, video or film.