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Unathi Mandela

Unathi Mandela is a South African 4x published professional photographer currently working between the United States and United Kingdom. Unathi grew up in a small town called 'Umtata' in the Eastern Cape where her vision for the digital world began. Soon after she moved to Capetown to complete her diploma in Photography in Cape Peninsula University of Technology, famously known as "CPUT". 

She has been shooting for more than 5 years, collaborating with numerous local-international productions and fashion designers in the industry.


Moevir Magazine June Issue 2020 featured edition


Photographer: Unathi Mandela @unathi_mandela

Female Model: Aviwe Menze  @aviwemenze

Fashion Designer: Lanab  @Lana_b101

production: Style Africa @styleafricafn

Hat Designer: The Real Crystal Birch @therealcrystalbirch


Tell us something about you. Maybe your life, profession, habit, dream.

I grew up in a small town in South Africa called "Umtata" in the Eastern Cape, where I was raised by my grandmother 'Nomfundo Mandela' , daughter to the late Baliwe Mandela and niece to the late Nelson Mandela. I've always had an eye for the Fashion industry, I remember when I was still in high school whereby one had to choose a career path, I wanted to be a fashion designer but unfortunately I couldn't draw so my aunt (Linda Mandela) suggested I should actually venture into the photography industry as she saw potential in me and that's where the photography came from.

I then decided to mix my fashion desire side together with photography and pursue a career in Fashion Photography. My mother (Tandile Mandela) bought me my first SLR  camera when I was 17, in order for me to start building my photography portfolio for varsity.

Could you share how you expand your vision of art, fashion?

I expand my vision of art and fashion through my photography. That's where I'm most able to really express myself and my personality as well. Whatever editorial I shoot, I always make it a point it reflects my belief on Fashion and the art industry, also my editorials are a reflection of my personality as Unathi and that has to be my own style in the Fashion Photography industry.

In your daily routine, what resources do you like to learn new things about art, fashion?

Anyone who knows me knows I'm always sharing other fashion photographer's work on my Instagram story and I'm FOREVER browsing through Instagram, going through other photographer's work, learning and analyzing and for me that's more of an inspirational tool and also a learning curve. That's how I learn and observe what's really new in the industry and what style is mostly trending now worldwide.

Is art, fashion important in your life? Why?

Absolutely! What is the world without art or fashion? For me fashion and art are more like my first born child. They are the drive that keeps me going in the industry. You know that excitement that you get when you see that amazing Gucci or Givenchy handbag? That is the excitement I get whenever we speak of fashion and art.

If you have a superpower or talent, which one do you wish to have? Why?

Definitely a super power. With anything supernatural you can be able to heal or help a lot of people. Imagine if I had the power or ability to put more black and female creatives in the industry. That would be a game changer.

What do you think about your work? Is it what you like, or simply saying a dream?

As I previously mentioned, my work is basically a reflection on my take on the fashion and art industry. Mostly it's a reflection of my personality as Unathi Mandela and I'm basically putting that into digital format.

In modern society, lots of people want to be famous, influential. What do you think about it?

Being famous or influential is actually quite a good thing. You inspire and influence a lot of people out there which is amazing but however I feel like it's also important to be influential or famous for the right reasons.

To become famous, what kind of qualities do you think the person should have?

Personally I'd prefer leadership skills. Being famous is not only just you being known and adored by numerous people. You're also a public figure, meaning people are looking up to you. They're inspired by you. By you holding leadership skills could actually help lead or uplift a lot of young people in the industry. You can guide and mentor aspiring pupils in whatever industry you're in and help them to grow and also to become better versions of themselves both professionally and out of the professional environment as well.

What will be the suggestions to new photographers?

DO NOT LET ANYONE TELL YOU OTHERWISE. Photography is not about following rules, photography is not about one eye, there are people who will not like your work and that is okay. We all have different eyes aesthetically. We all don't like the same colors, same fashion sense, same perfume fragrances, same clothing brands. Photography is all about YOUR take on it. 

What style best describes you as the photographer and your work. Imagine if we all had the same style as photographers. What diversity would there be in the industry? Always trust your work. The right clients will book you for YOUR style but also it is important to take critiques as a form of improvement. Sometimes they are there to guide you.

Where does your inspiration come from?

As cliche as it may sound but my inspiration comes from my mother(Tandile Mandela). Before she decided to settle down as an indigenous musician she used to travel the world sharing her belief on indigenous music for different audiences. She made me believe it is possible to shoot for the stars as an artist and don't let anyone tell you otherwise about your craft. She has a fighting spirit and that's what I always admire about her.

What are the most difficulties during your shoots?

It has to be when I don't get the right model for my vision. You know as a photographer you vision the outcome before even sourcing out your model(s), designer, makeup artist etc.. Now imagine if an agency gives you an inexperienced model, who probably still hasn't warmed his/herself around the camera, it gets very frustrating directing and getting the perfect shots for the editorial and more than anything, the model is what builds or breaks an image.

How often do you create new works?

I'm starting a new ritual now and I'll be creating new work quarterly , so that I can distribute the work(s) to different magazines, agencies and also exhibitions for that quarter and then the next quarter, I start creating new editorials and then I distribute again.

What is the most important thing for creating new work?

For me it has to be absolutely finding the right model and concept for the editorials. As I previously mentioned, a model can either build or break an image. Having the right model for a certain concept is very important. It completes the look and feel of the editorial(s).

Do you have that feeling? When you have a look at the work you created 1 or 2 years ago, you still think it is in fashion.

Well with fashion nothing ever really gets "outdated". Remember those high waisted jeans our parents used to wear in the 1900's? They came back and they're still in fashion till this day. Even what we shoot in the 2000's might probably still be in fashion in the 3000's. Fashion is like an ongoing cycle. It goes and it comes back again.

Will you still create new works when you are old?

Most definitely! I wouldn't mind shooting my kids portraits and hang them up in the house. If I get lucky enough and have a son or daughter who's into the modeling industry, I'd be happy to build their portfolio(s).

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