HERO (2014 – 2019), the project is a series of ‘styled and controlled’ portraits and was created over a five year period in various locations across Africa in collaboration with renowned production designer Daryl McGregor and a small team of stylists, makeup artists, designers and creatives.

Kevin Mackintosh

Kevin Mackintosh

Currently residing in London Macintosh’s work is featured in the Permanent Collection of the National Portrait Gallery (London) and in several books, among them Contemporary Fashion Photographers of the World by Daab, Sensation by Patrick Remy, The Bolshoi Ballet by Patrick Remy, as well as private collections worldwide. Other notable projects include commissions for the New York Philharmonic (New York, 2017), Royal Opera and Ballet (London 2016/17), The English National Ballet (London, 2017) and the first Christies worldwide campaign featuring artists and their work from around the world (2017/18).

You have been long established as a top international fashion photographer. How and when did the transition to fine art photography occur?

I trained as a photojournalist working for many years on newspapers and magazines in South Africa. I left for London to develop my signature style. It’s important to find what makes you stand out from those around you, and that has been a long journey, constantly refining the vision. After a long history of photojournalism, relying on very spontaneous decision making to create an image, fashion and portraiture seemed a closer fit for me. I was always interested in art, theatre and film and the ‘considered’ image…where everything is very carefully thought out and controlled.

From that work projects started happening for me, The Bolshoi for instance was a huge deal. I travelled to Moscow and worked close on two months with the company creating my own take on a ballet company and theatre. There was something so liberating of using all the things I had learnt to construct my imagery. Portrait commissions for The National Portrait Gallery in London followed. Moving to fine art felt very natural and I see my work as an amalgamation of all my influences and history over the years working in that medium. I see my work as stylised portraiture, perhaps with some broken edges.

Africa is a key informant of your practice. How has your aesthetic drawn and evolved from the continent, its people and their cultures?

Africa has been an enormous part of my process. Folklore, African tales, colour, pattern, street style and music always fascinated me. This has naturally informed my work. As Africa has become so prominent on the world stage in art and photography, I feel more than ever that my signature style embraces this.

You acknowledge collaboration from various creatives, designers, stylists and artists in creating ‘Hero’ over the last five years. Take us through this process and how it relates to the creation of a work.

I see this as a collaboration of all these influences, I don’t dictate an image…it grows organically and I rely on the input of others, their grasp of trends, culture etc. It is very important to me to understand what is relevant at this time yet still staying true to my aesthetic. The close working relationship I have with the production designer Daryl McGregor has allowed me to streamline the ideas to a consistent body of work. The work is made up of a ‘collage’ of elements…the backgrounds are photographed separately around Africa, the studio and props, lighting and casting follow and then I work them together. I liked the almost imperfect ‘artificiality’ that this process has allowed me. It means that I can take my time to carefully manipulate the elements.

Did you restrict the timeframe for ‘Hero’ or was this a more organic process?

I feel it is very important to work in chapters. I see this as a body of work that slowly evolved and became something bigger. Whether I return to it, is something I will have to feel strongly about but my voice here with this series is acknowledging  very traditional African ‘studio’ photography with a contemporary sensibility.

How important is planning an image versus evolving an image on set?

There is always an allowance for something spontaneous to happen on set, but I like structure. Drawings, discussions with my team, references, casting are all part of it. I like to know where we are starting from, and things evolve very naturally, but within a framework.

What does the construct of ‘beauty’ mean to you?

I have no interest in glamour, but in style and attitude. Beauty can come from the way someone puts themself together, a way of looking at the world. I have totally embraced that beauty comes in many forms and has evolved in our perceptions.

You prefer to refer to your subjects as ‘characters’. Why so?

I see each portrait as a character in a small film. There is a romance to that way of thinking…..a girl waiting for a train in the Karoo, a boy sitting on a circus ball in the desert. This can come from a painting, a film, a poem, someone I see on the street. It comes in many forms.

It could be said that there is a commentary on environmental responsibility within ‘Hero’. Do you agree? If so, could you elaborate?

I called the work HERO as I see these people in my pictures as proud of their heritage, achievement and strength. To me, Africa has always felt very pure, angry sometimes, but always pure in an emotional sense. Looking at the work, I want these people to be acknowledged as having carved a very creative and original role in the way forward for Africa. I have always championed the incredible men and woman in this country and on the continent, many of whom have influenced my life and work. Perhaps in a way, this is my personal homage to Africa and it’s people.

Within the great tradition of African photographic portraiture, did you imagine a specific context for ‘Hero’?

Yes, I have spent a lot of time researching African portrait photography. I see it as my contribution of acknowledging those masters and giving it a modern sensibility…a ‘theatre’ perhaps.

This is your first show in South Africa since 2008. Why Cape Town?

The work was all created here, so it made sense that the first introduction of this series was to be shown here. I also feel Africa is poised to be a huge world player in fine art, more than ever, and I feel lucky to be part of it.

Kevin Mackintosh will exhibit his first body of work in South Africa since the enormously successful Bolshoi Ballet series in 2008. The exhibition runs from 22 February – 10 April at Deepest Darkest Gallery in Cape Town.