15 August 2014 by Lethabo-Thabo Royds

Love South Africa: Photos by Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

We showcase one of the many talented photographers contributing to the Love South Africa Flickr group.

Artist MadC at work in Newtown. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Johannesburg-based photographer Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins, is a regular contributor to the group and most of his work is of urban art and graffiti. Though he regularly goes out on his own on a shoot – 'I always go solo,' he says – photographing graffiti is his hobby.

He has always been interested in architecture, especially old architecture, he says. And it is through this interest that he came to photograph street art. 'I started looking at the role of street art and the role it plays in a city environment ... it beautifies places,' he tells us in a recent interview. One such example is the work done by the Viva Foundation Township Art Project in Mamelodi township in Pretoria East (photographs below).

Painted home in Alaska Settlement in Mamelodi. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins
Painted home in Alaska Settlement in Mamelodi. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Another example of great art in a township is this work (below) by Falko in Kliptown. Smith argues that graffiti and street art are more mainstream than when he first started photographing the work some years ago: 'It's becoming more acceptable, which is great. It's an integral part of cityscapes and I'm happy with that.' 

Speaking about projects that bring graffiti into townships and into the homes of the township dwellers, he says, 'It brings colour to the world.'

Art in Kliptown by Falko. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Many of his photographs are of pieces in Johannesburg, and he usually includes the artist's name in the caption – such as the caption he provides for this photo: 'Nelson Mandela tribute piece in Troyeville done by Rasty Knayles for MTV Awards. Respect.'

Art in Troyeville by Rasty Knayles for the MTV Awards. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Over the past few years, Johannesburg's inner city has undergone, and is still undergoing, a refurbishment – there are various initiatives to grow the economy of the inner city through markets, new places of interest and bringing street art into areas, all in the spirit of creating exciting places in which people can spend their time and exchange skills. 

One such example is a project by the Johannesburg Development Agency, in collaboration with a few other organisations, called Fashion Kapitol, where the piece below by PCP was photographed. 

The Fashion District, where you will find a central square that is the Fashion Kapitol, has always been a place to find fashion-industry items like fabrics and sewing machines. But now Fashion Kapitol is also home to fun stores that sell African crafts and clothing, restaurants, studios, fashion schools and fantastic street art. The Fashion District is also a great place to buy gorgeous African material like shweshwe fabric.

Art in Fashion Kapitol by PCP. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Another great example of beautifying Johannesburg's inner city is a project by the Braamfontein Improvement District that began with upgrading tarred alleyways; this involved a workshop, with local artists contributing to the refurbishment. Walking the streets of Braamfontein en route to meet friends, it was a lovely surprise to see art in the alleyways, like this umbrella piece by Pumla Gqada (below). 

Umbrellas in Braamfontein. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Also in Braamfontein is this incredible piece by Rasty. It was painted as part of the Converse #ClashWall #JHB, where onlookers could tweet words or ideas to @Converse_Africa and then watch as their ideas and tweets come alive through the talent of Rasty. There is also a #ClashWall in Cape Town, but the one in Johannesburg is said to be the biggest in the world at the moment. This is a great example of legal graffiti and how this culture is becoming more recognised as an important part of a city's aesthetics. 

Smith says of graffiti artists: 'The guys who do the work don't want to do illegal work; they want to do the walls, leave it behind and [leave the work] as a legacy for the city.' In the caption for photo below, Smith says: 'Rasty Knayles, Curio & Myza420 painted this monster wall in three days. This is the biggest Converse Clash mural in the world – more than 10 stories high. Well done guys, you did yourself and all Jozi painters proud. Huge respect.'

Converse #ClashWall in Braamfontein by Rasty Knayles, Curio & Myza420. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

Smith tells us that one of his favourite pieces is by 'one of the top groups in the world', namely Herakut, a crew based in Germany. He says 'they do amazing stuff – they've got a very distinctive style ... very, very distinctive ... and beautiful'. This piece (below) was painted in Chinatown as part of the 2013 City of Gold Urban Art Festival – a festival to promote Joburg as a great graffiti and street-art location, as well as to promote the development of the local industry. The group is made up of two artists, Hera and Akut, but it seems Hera could not make it to the festival and this work was painted only by Akut but signed as Herakut.

Art in Chinatown by Herakut. Image courtesy of Derek Smith, aka Mr Baggins

'Most of the graffiti artists have fine-art degrees or are qualified in some form of art, and they use the walls as their canvas,' Smith says. Over the years, he has managed to build relationships with many Joburg-based artists, and 'that’s why I don't sell photographs [of the art] – because the copyright of that work belongs to the artist. I don't sell my photos; I just do it for the passion because I love the colour.'

We love seeing South Africa through your lens, so why not document your experiences in photography and share those photos with the Love South Africa Flickr group? We can't wait to see what you see.

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