See What I Saw

Beautiful undocumented moments in remote areas

Some see dust in us, they fail to see the gold. Location Sekhukhune (Limpopo)

How did your love affair with photography begin?

I believe we start taking pictures the first moment we open our eyes as babies. I fell in love with pictures when I realised I could draw images better than most kids could. In 2008, I borrowed a camera from a friend and started using photography as a medium to express what I see out there.

What sparked your particular interest in documenting people of rural and street environments?

South African born travel photographer, TC Maila, captures life in rural parts of the country with such depth and understanding that his photographs seem to naturally transcend themselves, telling meaningful stories that remain etched in your mind.

I was born in a small village in Limpopo called gaMaila. Later, when my family moved to a township, I started appreciating the simple life we left behind in the village. There are such beautiful undocumented moments in remote areas!

What are some of the challenges and triumphs of photographing in remote parts of SA?

Some places are just impossible to get to by vehicle. However, that makes the journey more interesting for me as I get to interact deeply with life in the village. I experience the rawness of the environment by talking to people, using alternative modes of transport, being accommodated by strangers in their homes, and offered food without anything expected from me. So far, I’ve faced more beautiful situations than challenges.

What personal attributes or qualities do you believe make a good travel photographer?

Make sure you empty your cup when you’re about to travel. You can only come back with a cup full of rich experiences. 

What do you look for when choosing a new travel location to experience/photograph? 

Since I discovered that I enjoy being around people and nature, my destinations are always influenced by that. However, I always keep an open mind, as beautiful moments can present themselves at any time.  

Can you highlight the best story told through one of your images?

As a travel photographer, I always come across people/strangers randomly asking if I can take pictures of them. I was in a village, and a man walked up to me and asked for a picture. I lifted my camera, and he had a smile, but when I was about to click his face changed, and he dropped his head. I took the picture, but he did not even want to see the image. He walked away. The picture I took captured the most moving raw emotion, and to this day, it isn’t easy for me to look at the picture without my eyes heating up.

What skills are required in pre-empting a spontaneous moment that will translate strongly in an image?

I avoid capturing rehearsed moments. They have a short lifespan, in my opinion. One thing I don’t do is take pictures I would not enjoy drawing.

 Travel is a big part of your work – where are some of the best places you’ve been and what remains on your bucket list of places to go?

All the villages I’ve been to have been memorable. Even though there are challenges, I still appreciate how life isn’t manipulated and forced there. I would love to visit all the small towns and villages across the world. Starting with Africa, of course!

How do you think you have evolved as a photographer through your body of work?

While visiting the village my Uncle lives in, I took some pictures of him, and everyone kept on telling him he looked so good in the picture. He was happy to hear the compliments. And, while everyone gathered around me to see his picture, he then asked, “Now how am I going to see this picture everyone is raving about?” His question was a very difficult one to answer, as my Uncle is a blind man. And, this in turn posed a bigger question for me: “Why am I a photographer?” It was then that I made a promise to myself to take pictures with a deeper meaning beyond what the eye can see and instead take pictures that a mind can never get tired of seeing. So, I stopped taking pretty pictures and focused rather on taking pictures that tell a story.

What has been your biggest lesson learnt through travel?

The biggest lesson learnt through travel is that people that travel are less troubled.

Any secret tricks of the trade you can share with aspiring travel photographers out there?

Don’t go where everyone is going or has been before. And, if it happens that you find yourself where everyone is, then don’t take a picture of what everyone is looking at. Take a picture of what you are feeling, when looking at what everyone is looking at.

What are your future goals in the photographic industry?

I would love to see my work hanging in buildings and homes in all four corners of the world, so I can afford to buy myself a home and hang some of my work on my walls.

To contact TC Maila:

084 041 3597/