Inside Photography: Lidudumalingani

by Lydia Kasese

South African writer Lidudumalingani is a person of extraordinary talent.  He was awarded the Caine Prize for his short story ‘Memories We Lost’ and the Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship in 2016, making him the first person to accomplish that fete in a single year; something that other writers can only wish. Apart from writing and film-making, Lidudumalingani also has an eye for photography and he sometimes merges these art forms to tell incredible stories.
In this interview, he talks to Enkare Review’s Nonfiction editor, Lydia Kasese, about his photography on Enkare Review, his writing, and things in-between.

INTERVIEWER

You are an award winning writer, photographer and filmmaker, all of these being things that you enjoy thoroughly. Which of these passions came first? And how do you juggle all three at the same time?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

The three are intrinsically linked for me, a fact that I have, the more I think about it, come to accept and as such I no longer make attempts to think of the three as separate. They all came into my life as a result of the other, that if it were not for the arrival of one of them, the other would not have come. When I was much younger I was a poet, a period that did not last long, and then I went to film school, where I begin to think seriously about screenwriting and conversely writing and because I was working in a visual medium, photography, to think about it, is still, quite similar to moving frames in cinematography.

INTERVIEWER

You were a poet at some point in your life? That I did not know, can you tell us about that period and why it ended?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

Poetry was my first love and it continues to be to this day. I did a few public performances back then, some years ago now, but I became quite jaded about what the purpose of the poetry was and I stopped writing. It was not so much my own poetry that I was having problems with but that of others and the problem was that I was not seeing a connection between the things the poems were about and my surroundings then. Much of the poetry was concerned with experiences that were not familiar to me.

INTERVIEWER

When we met in March, during the Caine Prize workshop in Tanzania, it was clear that you were proud of where you came from. You mentioned that you grew up in a village and that that upbringing, in that environment, influenced where your stories were set as well as the stories you told. Fast forward to some months later when you posted a picture of yourself on top of some rubble on Facebook (a post that I cannot seem to find, did you delete it?) with a caption that spoke of how the house you grew up in was now a pile of rubble. What does it mean to you to be at home? And where does one find home when the home they knew has been reduced to dust and memories?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

The construct of home is amorphous. We can think of home as a concrete idea, a house, and perhaps it is, who is to say that it is not, or one can think of home as memory, that one remembers their first steps as a child and that home is even a feeling, in that as we move around the world, even within the borders of our own countries, we build homes with the people we love, that returning home to a flat that one shares with a lover, the lover, not the flat, becomes the home one returns to. There is also the idea of home that can be understood through urbanization. This could be different in other countries but in South Africa, people move from their villages to the city for jobs, but the city is not home, it never becomes home, even after one has stayed in it for a few years, it never becomes home. Home is also the place in which we think of death, that when we die, we want to be buried at home, that somehow, the very place we have lived in for years is not home, that home in death is the villages, it is being buried next to our grandfathers. Home, at least the place we think of in that way, can be the place in which one experiences the most pain, then, if home does not give one comfort, is it still home? I do not think I answered your question, because it is complex, it is a thing that I am constantly thinking about. I have days where my thoughts are definite and then on some days those very thoughts appear ridiculous.

INTERVIEWER

We also had a discussion about the differences between our two countries. I remember when you said you came from a village I had to inquire on what your village was like because having lived down south for most of my life, I am aware that when someone from South Africa or Botswana says that they come from a village, they mean a place where we (Tanzanians) would consider to be a town as our villages rarely if ever have electricity, running water or even mini-supermarkets or shops that do not sell only produce from local farms. My question to you is, do you think that this difference might make it difficult for people to relate to your work, or rather, are you ever concerned that this difference might make your reality of what a village is to you seem unrealistic to people from other African countries where the word village carries an entire different meaning to what a village is to you?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

I would argue that it is in fact in these differences that I think my interest in specificity is routed. These differences are what offer readers insights about other communities. And so, no, I am not concerned about it, in fact, I do not even think about it. I like writing that is specific, one that is concerned and completely convinced of its own reality, such that one reads it and for a moment the existence of another world makes no sense, that the text is so consuming that, when one is reading, the only real thing is the text, and everything they have known before encountering this text is myth.

INTERVIEWER

Back to photography, I remember how fascinated I was by this non-digital camera that was always strapped across your body. I was also pretty amazed by the fact that you always only took one shot, because your camera uses film, I assumed that there was no space to waste and that each shot had to be perfect. Why did you choose the old-school type of camera that uses film at a time when everyone else is going digital?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

Before I picked up a film camera I was shooting on digital and then I began to feel that I was not thinking, only shooting, more than I should, and then later selecting a few images, often out of hundreds, that were properly framed and I wanted to think more and click less and film photography offers that.

INTERVIEWER

Speaking of change, or rather how we progress in our art to finding ways in which we are most comfortable with expressing our works, what or who are the things that influence your art?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

Poetry and Politics are the two things that influence my work. Poetry as a form but also in the understanding that poetry means beauty. Politics in the sense that everything is political and I tend to lean more towards the subtle nuances of politics rather than the obviously political concerns.

INTERVIEWER

Maybe to conclude this conversation, what has been your favourite work so far? This can be either in your story writing, photography or film. Why is it your favourite work?

LIDUDUMALINGANI

I feel like I am being tricked here (laughs). I enjoy writing and when everything about it works, the poetry and narrative, it gives me the most pleasure. I also feel that I am inching closer to making some really amazing images, both in terms of framing a shot technically and also a framing that does not undermine the subject.

(c) Enkare Review, 2017

Related