Interpret Durban Convos: Samora Chapman

Samora Chapman’s photo came first in the Interpret Durban photography contest. Russell Grant caught up with him to have a word about his winning picture

DIY: How long have you been a photographer?

Samora: Damn, that’s an ambiguous question first up! I’ve been making money off photography for about four years on and off. But I’ve been taking pics for about eight years. In between taking pics and writing I’ve been a labourer, driver, filmmaker, painter and decorater, graf writer and doctor. Amongst other things.

DIY: We all know that in Durban one cannot survive on art alone. What do you do to pay the bills?

Samora: I’m a freelance photographer and writer. I do corporate work to pay the bills… stuff like tourism, sustainability and development reports, forestry and the odd event. My own work I publish at Mahala. So it’s a mixture of art and blood money.

DIY: Tell us about your winning photo. Was it something you’d planned before hand, or were you just in the right place at the right time?

Samora: Nah it’s not planned. I was doing a review on a Sharks rugby game for Mahala… like an “art naf’s” perspective on manly mans playing with their balls. After the game I came across this kid doing his mime thing, with the hoards of rugga buggers flooding past. Some cats were mocking him, most taking little notice. It’s quite a long exposure – like one or two seconds – so I was very stoked that the kid came out sharp. I like pics that show movement, but still have elements that are sharp as hell!

DIY: There seems to be a strong political/social element to this photo; the black boy’s face painted white, the indifferent white people walking past (some in Sharks rugby attire) and the content of the giant Nivea ad in the background. Is this something you think about, or is it an inevitable result of living where we do?

Samora: I guess it’s impossible not to consider our socio-political/economic conditions. We live in the most unequal society in the world so as an artist I think it’s important to provide some commentary on that. But I wouldn’t say that I’m really motivated to capture pics that make some kind of political statement. It’s more about capturing elements that tell a story. The kid is frozen, like tree in a river. The larnies are cruising by, keeping forward with their own busy lives like many of us do. What makes the pic for me is the Nivea ad in the distance. It’s just so iconic of the “American Dream” of affluence and beauty that is the foundation of modern society. The fact that the billboard has black models is also pretty poignant. It’s no longer just The American Dream. It’s The African Dream too.

DIY: Who are some of your favourite photographers, both locally and internationally?

Samora: I learnt my trade from Paul Weinberg, and I really admire his way of seeing things. My style is strongly influenced by him. I reckon Kevin Goss-Ross is the most talented photographer in Durban at the moment. He brings the fiya! But I’m more into spontaneous street photography and documentary style. So the king is obviously Henri Cartier-Bresson. He just captures those moments. I also collect old National Geographics… guys like David Harvey and James Sugar are masters. I love the old stuff, unadulterated by photoshop. There was just so much flavour in those days, and more variation. I love blurry pics, overexposed, underexposed. With digital, you can check your shot and take it again to get the perfect exposure. But I often find that the first pic is often best, even if it’s not perfect. I’m dying to get my film camera working again.

You can paint shit about the astro-travelling visions you had while flying on peyote and that shit’d be dope!

DIY: There are lots of people complaining about the oversaturation of amateur photographers in the industry these days, despite the fact that this is nothing new (since at least the late 70’s photography has been becoming more and more accessible to the common consumer). Whether or not you see the advent of digital as a more extreme move in this direction, what’s certainly true is that developing a unique style is now more important than ever. How would you describe your style, and what do you see as the elements which have guided its development?

Samora: Whoever’s moaning about amateurs is probably afraid of the competition. I’m probably one of those amateurs getting the highly trained ‘professionals’ all pissed off! But you’re totally right about developing a style. With so many people snapping there’s gonna be more and more good photographers out there… and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit intimidating. But I guess you have to find your niche, find your style. I reckon my style is about moments…it’s like when you capture seemingly random elements and they just come together to form something beautiful. I love pics that have this random beauty that’ll never happen ever again. I dunno if you know that quote, I cant remember who it is, but it goes “I don’t make music, the music comes through me”. Sometimes, on those rare occasions I get a really great pic, it’s like I never even took that picture. It’s like it just happened. It’s that creative force that transcends the explicable. A lot of my pics are just pure luck. For instance, the pic of the crows scattered in the sky looking across Mumbai Bay was just snapped out of a taxi. I hardly even remember taking that pic.

DIY: Do you see it as important that local artists retain a sense of their context and culture?

Samora: Ummm no. Not necessarily. I mean it’s pretty impossible to make art without it being guided by who you are and where you’re from. But ultimately, art can’t be confined by those things. I don’t think it’s important. You can paint shit about the astro-travelling visions you had while flying on peyote and that shit’d be dope! But then I guess that’d reflect your culture of dabbling in exotic hallucinogens. So maybe it’s impossible to escape your own identity. Unless you go all Mark Rothko on cats. Seriously abstract and devoid of meaning!

DIY: A lot of your photos are of impoverished, poor black people. How does this affect the way you approach photographing them as a young white South African? Do you think this affects the way people view your work?

Samora: 1. A lot of my work involves taking pics of socio-economic development. So that’s all quite formal. But I am painfully aware of my own subjectivity. How do I approach people? Well I guess I’m friendly and interested. Or I try take a snap in an unobtrusive way and keep walking. If I walk the streets, especially in town, then I’m taking pics of the people who live and work there. And yes that is black people, Indian people… not necessarily impoverished people. Not to perpetuate racial stereotypes, but white people generally exist in marble towers in this country. And I can’t just stroll into their workplace and start taking snaps. Whereas the informal economy is vibrant, colourful, African… full of life.

2. How does it affect the way you view my work? Ya fuck it’s complex isn’t it. Honestly, I just take pics of interesting people. Doing their thing. And if those people happen to be poor, working class, beggars or zillionairs, I’m not too bothered. We live in a place divided between rich and poor. I’ve taken the portrait of the CEO of South African Petroleum. And on the way home I’ll take a portrait of a flower seller in Warwick Junction. Whatever. It’s all art.


Samora is painfully aware of his subjectivity. Whilst taking this photo at a block making factory in the Gert Sibande District he heard a murmur: "ah, so you've come to shoot the slaves?"

DIY: What did you think of Interpret Durban? Do you feel encouraged about the future of this city’s creative culture?

Samora: It was sick. Having a boogie in the 100-year-old City Hall? Priceless. Durban’s always had brilliant creatives. Whether they stay or not is another story.

DIY: Who, to you, is worth checking out at the moment (in Durban)?

Samora: Mookie Chapman and Dok are kings of style on the art scene. My girl Katlove is also a brilliant artist. Luca Barausse is an up-coming photographer with a brilliant eye. And this girl Sarah Mitchell who I think was several years behind me at school. Wow her pics are good! She’s the next big thing.

DIY: Any last words/shout outs?

Samora: To my Love for all her support and undying friendship. To my little man Eli-bean. And to all the people doing their thing… peace and love!

17 Responses to “Interpret Durban Convos: Samora Chapman”
  1. Thatguy says:

    I can’t believe that photo won interpret dbn.

  2. luke says:


  3. luke says:

    Thatguy. you upset yours didn’t win? i hear crying about it helps.

  4. Thatguyisapoes says:

    My photo didn’t win either so I cried for 3 weeks. I feel much better now.

  5. LegitPhotoCritic says:

    Ye, I can’t believe it either. His white balance is off.

  6. LegitLiteraryCritic says:

    Well written interview!

  7. luke says:

    hahahaha. sharp as knives.

  8. Samora says:

    “Ye, I can’t believe it either. His white balance is off.”
    Im white and i got perfect balance mother fucker!

    Maybe I should have corrected the white balance on photoshop. And fixed up my black soul while I’m at it.

    hehe bring it on haters.

  9. Erin says:

    “Im white and i got perfect balance mother fucker!”

    Haha! Nice Joeg!

  10. PermO says:

    Hahahaha “legit” photo critic lets his camera take a “good” photo for him…

    Very illegitimate if you ask me…

    Jealousy makes you nasty
    Get over your legit self

    Congrads Joegz

  11. Andy says:

    Yo fuck you Durban haters. “Crabs in a bucket”. Big props Samora! Stay up

  12. Andy says:

    You can read and see the originals here:

  13. Luca says:

    Sick Pic! props!

  14. Madmax says:

    Loving your articles and photos ! huge Fan!

  15. SuperDuperLegitPhotoCritic says:

    I’m too legit to be jealous

  16. Mymsta says:

    Aweh, good to see you on top brother!

  17. ghem says:

    wow jugu! so beautiful x

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