Darwin Mentorship: Meet Karabo Mooki

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Courtesy of Karabo Mooki ID: A man in a white cap, and black shirt with 3 's''s across their t shirt. A silver chain hangs from their neck. Their mouth is open and eyes are squinting down at us. Behind is blue skies and clouds.

For those who don't know you Karabo, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to taking pictures?

I am Karabo Mooki, also known as “Mooki Mooks”. I’m a photographer, visual artist and content director.  

I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. My passion for photography blossomed from my insatiable desire to discover and experience life through the inclusive worlds that celebrate counter culture. My heightened curiosity of the world led me to wanting to document the unconventional paths I would wander and inadvertently led me to capturing unforgettable moments I shared with all walks of life that I interact with. A tool to enter people's personal spaces, to learn more about unfamiliar cultures, photography became my passport to discovery.

You travel a lot and try not to be pinned down to one place, how do you think that influences your approach and style?

 Travelling has and always will be something I hold dear to me, and it allows me to keep my third eye open, persistently looking for intrinsic moments that are unfolding in environments I would only dream of finding myself in.

Through travelling and photography I've developed a need to seek and want more out of my experiences wherever I roam. I learn more and more as the journey goes and I'm always redefining my style and my approach through the lessons I've undergone on different travel experiences. For the most part travelling has allowed me to become fearless in my interactions and the destinations I've visited and it has made me realise the fragility of time and it's fleeting moments. One can always tell you about their personal favourite images captured, but I find I never forget the moments I wasn't able to capture.

Courtesy of Karabo Mooki ID: men dance in the street with onlookers behind them.
Courtesy of Karabo Mooki ID: Three young men dressed in blue clothing sit on an antique sofa. Skateboards and bottles of beer are around their feet.

One of your projects which focuses on the black punk scene is full of energy and life. How did you come across this scene and what did you want to show people by making it?

I came across the Black punk scene through the small skateboarding scene in Johannesburg, as a skate enthusiast and documentarian I had always documented my friends and the unbelievable talent they harness.

When I came across this band that came out of Soweto, South Africa, I knew I had to document a golden era that resonated deeply with me, as young Black man, who is attracted to facets of life that society deems as taboo, such as punk and the energy behind it, I felt that these individuals were singing the language of owning your own identity against the prejudices and judgements of society.

The emphasis on not fitting into peoples pigeon-holed perspective is something I wanted to celebrate and document.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel alone, or like a token Black kid at the punk shows, here were people I knew carving their own way and caring less about what others thought of them.

Courtesy of Karabo Mooki ID: Two men are sitting on a wall. One is standing on it to the left and in the middle a man is stood behind.

Your portraiture is what caught our teams eye going over submissions, what are your influences behind taking them?

There are a few factors that awaken the desire to photograph people. I am drawn to people's personalities, those who hold captivating stories of their own, the unconventional nature brewing inside of the people I work with and the nostalgic energy that resonates with me. I believe there is an energy we all possess and more often than not I can see the beauty beyond the physical. For me taking a portrait photo is an opportunity and an attempt to capture a side of people that they themselves cannot see.

Courtesy of Karabo Mooki ID: A young man wearing a floral womans dress with a flower behind their ear looking directly at us. Behind is a tree silhouetting their head

What do you hope to learn from the mentorship?

I want to push myself to places I haven't had the opportunity to explore.

There is a level of intimacy and trust that comes across within your work. How do you go about your process when it comes to collaborating with the people you photograph?

Authenticity is the key, creating a conversation and learning about the philosophies and experiences of people I work with, spending time with people and doing my own research is imperative before photographing anything. Building relationships and carving time to be with people for a day helps me become closer to the people I am working with.

Courtesy of Karabo Mooki ID: A man in a black suit with gold teeth is throwing pink flower petals towards the camera.

What can we be expecting from you photographically in the future?

Post-pandemic, I am invested in working on more personal stories, photo-documentary work and continuing to share stories that I believe need to be recognized, I am only a vessel sharing pertinent stories for those who aren't known publicly, it is my duty as a photographer to use this tool to share and showcase the stories of those who are underrepresented in the most authentic manner.