A few dynamic young creatives are changing negative perceptions of Africa and taking the world by storm

When Innocent Mukheli and his friend Vuyo Mpantsha were growing up in Soweto, little did they know that as adults they would be making magic – and waves – with a new brand of storytelling. Back then, it was all about going on ‘missions’ – skating, playing sports and having fun. But, as they grew older, they noticed the difference between how they experienced Soweto and how the city is viewed by the media-influenced public. ‘There is a tendency to see Soweto as a place of desperation and unrest,’ they say. ‘The Soweto we know and love is vibrant, exciting, dynamic, and filled with uniquely South African experiences, stories and creativity.’

Innocent and Vuyo, who were working in the advertising industry at the time, joined forces with Neo Mashigo, chief creative officer at M&C Saatchi, to paint a different picture of Soweto, and started a photographic blog on Tumblr in 2011 called ‘I See a Different You’. ‘We dressed in interesting outfits, and took photos of ourselves in grungy areas of the city,’ says Innocent. ‘We brought the element of cool fashion to places people would recognise.’ 

The more they captured the urban environment and its people, the more the real stories, creativity and dignity of the community emerged. ‘We began telling our own authentic story, not the media’s. This was very important to us,’ he adds. Their presence on Tumblr attracted the attention of Diesel Global and led to their first big break, where they were featured in a campaign called Studio Africa, which identified young African creatives doing great things. This led to the brand sponsored a photographic exhibition of their work in Japan. ‘It meant big exposure for us. We sold everything in the gallery.’

The hype around the exhibition provided the momentum for I See a Different You to develop into a fully-fledged production house, working with brands to produce TV commercials, consulting with agencies as a creative partner, and growing their own considerable artistic and photographic talent, which included producing content and images for two of the country’s largest financial institutions. 

At the beginning of this year, I See a Different You welcomed Diesel SA on board as a client. ‘We already had the relationship with Diesel, and now we continue to grow with them as a business and as friends,’ says Innocent. The combination of project-based work and retainer clients like Diesel SA and SuperDry has given them the space to grow. ‘We spent the last year and half cementing our business, and now we can play a little again,’ Innocent smiles. (Look out for the upcoming nationwide exhibition ‘The Kings and Queens of South Africa’, developed in conjunction with Jeep SA and the Department of Arts and Culture.)

More recently, their collaborations with brands like Scottish Leader and New Balance have come to mean more than the selling or promoting of products; they’re about creating platforms where stories are told, where the young can learn from the old, where new skills and tricks are learnt, and where communities can grow through mentorship. Innocent’s message to the youth? ‘Never be afraid to ask questions. 

Everything starts with you, don’t wait for approval. No one was born great, so work towards your goals. Things take time and patience, but anything is possible. Mix with people of value, don’t try to be cool. Cool isn’t going to pay. Build your talents and character. With hard work, more luck will come your way.’ Innocent, Vuyo and Neo’s vision for Soweto became one for Africa, and through the mediums of photography, advertising, film, music and international showcases, I See a Different You is able to share this vision with the world.

I SEE A DIFFERENT YOU I SEE A DIFFERENT YOU Reviewed by Jet Club on October 07, 2019 Rating: 5

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