Maatla Seetelo, better known in the streets by his alias SainticalOne, was born in Sebokeng but is from from Orange Farm, with different African regions playing a role in his life. His passion for impacting the creative world is deep-rooted in the exploration of his first love – Graphic design.
I first met SainticalOne earlier this year at Back To The City, but my interest in his work stretches back to very early last year. His photographs not only feature bright, vivid colours and high energy shots of performers and some of South Africa’s most loved hip hop figures, but they also portray the soft and tender sides of people. It was only after observing a friend’s interest in photography that he, too, became inquisitive and slowly grew on his abilities as a self-taught photographer with some help along the way. “I got a camera and started fucking shit up because I believed that I could,” he explains as he begins to delve into detail with me about the journey that he’s currently embarking on. “I met other people who taught me other things. Like your Mpumelelo Macu, Jeff, Masimba Sasa, and more. Those were the guys that told me to not stop.”
While being inspired by other people during his career is something that SainticalOne speaks of fondly, he makes it very clear that he’s not willing to succumb to any kind of pressure to produce a repilca of another person’s work. In the creative industry, the desire to create something that one knows will do well because of someone else doing well off of it is becoming a common desire. In fact, Maatla uses this idea to speak to the level of limited originality which he has experienced. “I want to create my own lane. I don’t want to follow anyone. If every kid wants to do things like someone else, its messed up because you don’t discover the person you can be…. I had a guy come to me with my fucking portfolio not knowing it’s me. He was like ‘This is what I do.’ Like WTF?”
“I used to follow people around trying to do things. Now they want to do things and I’m not really interested. That’s what I’m trying to make people realize: The culture is more important than any individual. If you document the culture then you’re doing your job well. Then it’s timeless.”
In this day and age, the name which a creative uses to share their work may or may not hold a meaningful history, but for Maatla, this interesting alias does. I ask about his unique name and he dues it to a friend of his. “Some people choose for you,” he explains. “I had a friend named Thuso Ledwaba who taught me graffiti. Before he passed away, he gave a name. He used to call me Chaotic Saint. He said that when people see me, they see a good side of me. But once they get to know me, there’s a different side – it’s a mess.” People shortened the name to Saint, an adjustment which later made way for the birth of the alias which currently stands, the alias which is steadily making an imprint in SA’s photography space. “Eventually I thought: I am the SainticalOne.”
Between stolen equipment, difficult corporate situations and struggling to get his mother to see more of photography than the painful memories it can bring back, Maatla has faced his fair share of challenges. But he’s going strong and doesn’t allow anything to halt his process and his still-unfolding story. Last week on a biting Winter morning, I caught up with SainticalOne to discuss how, through his work, he is trying to shift his audience’s focus on to African, hip hop and street culture and the beauty in the people…
Tell me a bit more about Eplazini?
SAINTICALONE I basically own Eplazini. I’m from Orange Farm and, because of that, people used to say that I’m from “eplazini” because of the infrastructure. It started off as a t-shirt idea. We printed t-shirts called Eplazini and sold them in the neighbourhood. I sold 30 of them and I never sold another one ever – I was just bored of the whole thing. After that, I started a company called Eplazini. Out of starting a company under media, it branched into other ideas I had which is where Eplazini Lifestyle came in. A lot of people would say “You go to these parties and we don’t know what’s going on. You buy these clothes and you hang out with all these people. Can you at least share that life with us?” Eplazini Lifestyle is basically ‘Street, Lights, Caption’. Anything on the streets that has a buzz, we need to put light on it and give it a caption, people need to know about it. Fortunately enough, a year ago I could combine a team of about five cats that shared the same passion. We started documenting cool ass events and we’d get invites from people. The first gig we ever did that was dope was Sneaker Exchange four years ago. I can openly say we’re very selective with the gigs that we do.
“I don’t want to do stuff that everyone’s doing. I don’t go to places that everyone’s going to. If the culture’s not tied to an event, I don’t go.”
At the moment, there’s a really large burst in photographers online. How do you distinguish yourself from other photographers pushing their stuff on Instagram?
SAINTICALONE I have a method to my photography: SPACE, TIME, and GOD. That’s how I document things. There’s a certain space I need to be in, to capture something. Timing is very important, too. Hence, to a lot of people, most of the pictures I put out are good timing because I waited for the moment. For example, the Maraza picture’s I took at Back To The City this year. I got the list with the line-up before the actual show, and I chose who I wanted to photograph and bumped their music. When Maraza got on stage, I already knew the climax moments and I could capture that. In terms of GOD, there are moments that man can’t control. Even I get shocked after capturing the moment. I’ve been trying to come up with a different way of documenting things. Like you said, everyone’s doing the same thing. I came up with a couple of themes and ideas and one that I started with is Everything Is wrong. I remember I was bumping an Interpol album with the homie Alister Duff – who happened to introduce me to them – and they were like “Everything is wrong” and then I started looking at the whole world around us and I was like “Shit, everything is actually wrong.” We’re told we need to get XXX followers to do something to get this and that and that is WRONG.
A lot of your work online is of concerts and live performances. Why do you like this environment so much?
SAINTICALONE Like I said, I’m a designer first, and colour’s my thing. There’s this stage lighting that I love. The whole smoke and lights – I love that shit. I love events, but I love the culture more.
“I’ve had role models that I looked up to but I couldn’t be in that space. And once I got to that space, I wanted to document it and how I got influenced by this culture.”
There’s this Scoop image that I keep fighting people over because everyone claims they did it. I want to document the culture. I want people to look back at my picture and understand the time we’re living in.
You mentioned wanting to create your own lane. It seems like you have a broad scope and dont want to affect just one area. What is the ultimate impact you’d like to have on the culture?
SAINTICALONE I’ve always gotten a lot of people from around the world, e-mailing me saying that Joburg is the next New York. Everyone is paying attention to [us] and [we] need to be the voice of whatever is happening in South Africa. That’s how I’ve always seen everything. I want to create a platform (Eplazini) where it’s about African content – nothing western. When I studied philosophy, I found out that there’s not a lot of black philosophers and it bugged me. Which then led me to photography to say: “How can I use my photography?” The ultimate goal is to help people realize that your everyday life is actually the content to show the world, like what Kendrick is doing. People undermine that. Someone can take a picture of where they’re from in Soweto, but when they take one in Newtown, it’s two different things and they like the Newtown one more than where they’re from. It’s trying to shift how people think of using photography. You’re African. Share that. Tell those stories. Be the voice that we need. That’s the goal: sharing stories that people think are not important, but are important because they are part of our everyday life.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself as you began your journey?
SAINTICALONE I’d say, “Do you B.” Half of the time, we try to do something else before we do us. I used to look at people’s styles and tried to do that. All the ideas you ever had that you doubted, you were supposed to do them. Do you, Be you, imagination destination. Whatever you imagine, you can get – it doesn’t matter the time, and it doesn’t matter the hustle.
Is there anything for people to look out for from you?
SAINTICALONE I once did a series called COBS (Confessions of a Broken Soul) and it was for women going through crap, saying “It’s okay, we love you the way you are.” I had characters. I’m re-shooting that again and might drop it next year, I’m doing it with Flex Boogie and Cookie Mylo. I’m also going to do a one man show soon with 10 kick-ass images I’ve taken, and share them with the world. I want to set the bar straight and say I did those, so that every time people see those images, they know it was me. I’m also planning on doing a series – with my homie Cookie Mylo who is an illustrator – called Fatherless Nation. We’re planning to have a show. We realized we need to start funding our own things because brands turn to limit us or use us.
Do you think there are enough platforms for emerging creatives in Joburg?
SAINTICALONE Well I think it depends where you want to be. When I got into the industry, people would always say there aren’t a lot of galleries or magazines until I started looking on the net and going and out more and then I realised: if you’re in Joburg right now, today, in 2017, you are fucking rich as a creative! Everything you need is around you. Everything is here. And even online, there are things to help you reach the world.
Do you have and last words to get out there about your message?
SAINTICALONE I’ve always believed in being on the ground more than above your head. You’re more impotant to yourself as a creative than you are to the world. If you’re not fine, you won’t be able to create. I think that’s one struggle I’ve always had.
“Discovering who you really are is hard. When you’re young and you’re Black, you go through shit and you give up. So I’ve always emphasized to peope that you’re more important to yourself. Your job is a transaction –it can fire you any day. Your craft can go away any day. It’s mportant to always look after yourself. “
When that friend of mine came up with the name Chaotic Saint, he always said: At some point, you’ve got to lose one side. Eventually, I chose to be the saint. You don’t allow anyone to choose who you are… you do that for yourself.
To follow more on SainticalOne’s work, follow him on:
Instagram – @SainticalOne
Behance: Matla SainticalOne Seetelo
Eyem: Matla “SainticalOne” Seetelo