Meet Tony Gum

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Tony “Zipho” Gum’s fresh and intriguing visual imagery is creating a stir. Her work, published on her blog spot, tumblr and social media platforms, is getting national attention and has earned her an impressive following. The most recent, “The Coke Evolution: Black Coca- Cola” features Gum in a series of photographs, in different poses and attires with
a Coca-Cola bottle. We get to know the 19-year -old “allrounder” creative who calls Pinelands home, but credits her early childhood in Langa for the the “energetic mindset” she has today.

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How would you describe yourself? I enjoy solitude a lot; mainly because it allows me the time to bask in my thoughts. I appreciate meaningful encounters and fruitful conversations. I’m a hectic beat devotee and when the relevant time of retirement comes, I hope to produce soulful beats till my heart is content.

I love dancing and I have this obscure obsession with dancers, mainly because I
respect them. I have this weird affection at times and an undying kind of love for my family.

I don’t take the term “friend” lightly, I believe true friendship is earned and learned over a period of time. I am also an observer; I tend not to say much so I express myself through visuals.

Tell us about your creative journey?
My creative journey is one that is still evolving… Growing up in kwaLanga township, a place that I believe is the root of creativity, made the transition to living in a suburb (Pinelands) quite unbearable at first as I was young at the time.

But my upbringing is something that I enjoy speaking about. I believe that the bliss and the still very vivid memories of living in kwaLanga had so much to do with the energetic mindset that I have today.

I didn’t have friends in my new Pinelands neighbourhood, children didn’t come out to play. It was strange but, as time passed, I grew accustomed to the lifestyle. When my father had the internet installed at our home, I discovered that there is much more to the internet than just Google. It became my playground. It was the portal to everything I wanted to expose my eyes to: quality and quantity. I surfed the internet for hours at a time.
I “hired” my cousin, who was 12 years old at the time, to take pictures of me showcasing my outfits in various and sometimes dangerous locations. I was 15 years old when I started blogging.

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What inspired the “The Coke Evolution: Black Coca-Cola” series and what
message, if any, do you hope to communicate with it?

Largely consumed by black people in South Africa, I feel that Coke needs an individual that black people are able to relate to – culturally mostly. And what better way to share that opinion than through my own cultural experience.

As simple as the beverage may be in comparison to the Xhosa culture and its traditions, together they complement and elevate each other. In other words, I want the relationship between the product and the consumer to be more than just “a purchase”. I want it to be a proud and sentimental experience. The moment the consumer realises that Coke is now
touching on relatable terms, that’s when a connection is made, that’s when Coke is no longer “just a Coke”, that’s when greatness is shared.

(But) I encourage the viewer to also create their own understanding of the series.

What would you list as your most notable accomplishments so far?
I’ve never been fulfilled with the title “blogger”, it just seemed too boring. Being recognised as an artist on the other hand feels like power. I am represented by the Christopher Moller Art Gallery in Gardens. Now I know my “artist” title is real, it’s exciting.
I also got the opportunity to do a “cross continental” collaboration with Teff The Don, also known as The Expressionist, a New York photographer. It was an experience that kept me on the edge 24/7.

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What or who inspires you?I can’t necessarily pinpoint and narrow it down to who or what inspires me. I’m an observer and I seek inspiration through my daily observations.

Which photographers influenced you – your thinking, photography, and career
path? I have so much respect for Teff The Don’s attention to composition and colour. Gabriella Achadinha is officially the queen of the film in my eyes. Artist and photographer Nakeya B’s conscious concepts are impeccable and Dutch Vogue contributor Ivania Carpio is the reason why I can proudly say that one day I’ll drop my bags of colour to become a devoted minimalist.
Because of such people, I’ve come to appreciate and focus on the importance of what is in the frame. I don’t generally work with a good camera and at times I just use my cellphone. Attention to detail is what I could say is my forté.

What is it you want to say with your photographs and how do you actually go about achieving that?
Visuals are important. I live by three rules when it comes to my work: composition, aesthetics and consistency. How I go about doing so? Once I’m set on how the subject will look, I then look for elements or props that will be used to enhance the focus on the subject. Complementary backdrops/backgrounds are very much taken into consideration.

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When did you first become interested in photography?
I can’t say that I’m generally interested in photography. Rather, I’m interested in what’s in the frame. I haven’t had the privilege of working with a photographer who understands the vision, that is why I’ve taken the liberty of playing the role of a photographer.

How would you describe your photographic vision and style, and what kind of look do you try and create in your photos? It’s like a Wes Anderson film but in stills, interconnected with artist Hassan Hajjaj’s astonishing portraits. Simple, yet striking.

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Who were the mentors who helped shape your style, and who would you count among your biggest influences, photographically or otherwise?
Jesus, a true representation of selfless love and peace, is truly inspiring. My brother, his business mindset and his experience in the art definitely helps with my gathering my thoughts out of the clouds. And my parents, they are so supportive of the indecisive creative that I am.

If you could visit and photograph any place in the world that you haven’t been to, where would that be? Nairobi, Kenya – considering the fact that I’ve nicknamed myself
“Naairobi Naairobi”. Morocco may take the cup as my dream destination. It looks packed
with colour, organic and rich in culture and religion – it’s a dream.

What are the greatest challenges in making a living as a photographic artist and what is key to succeeding at it? The challenges I’m facing at the moment are the resources. I still don’t even have a proper photographic camera, but I’ve come to learn that such challenges are not impossible to decipher; they can be faced and challenged, literally.

I’ll never forget the day my brother was driving me to my first photoshoot as Tony Gum. I was ecstatic, busy raving about all the things I needed to get because I had finally made my “big break”. He just simply said: “Work with what you’ve got.”

His words flew right past me because at that very moment they meant zilch to
me. I needed the latest Canon , the finest attire – in essence, I wanted the best of the
best. He went on to ask: “Do you have a camera? Just use what you have. It’s been working for you thus far.”
Challenges are blessings, more so, they are lessons. I’ve come to understand them as diamonds in the rough.

One just needs to work hard so that you can see the results of your challenges are equal to diamonds.

Check out more of her work here>> OR

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on June 10 2015

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