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Kalebe’s pictures tell more than a thousand words

Mamohlakola Letuka

MANY people view photography as a hobby but for Justice Kalebe, images have put food on his family’s table.

A photo journalist who looks younger than his 40 years, Justice has managed to turn passion into a career and a source of livelihood. Through his work, he has earned himself a place in the world of photography and even went further to establish his own photography brand called ‘Justice Kalebe Photography’ in 2015.

This is not a surprise for a man who grew up in a family that loves pictures and seeing his father who could not get enough of taking pictures of his wife and children.

Some of the pictures taken by Justice Kalebe

After falling in love with photography, in 2014 Justice began his part-time Journalism studies at the University of Witwatersrand to enhance his photographic skills.

Today, he does not regret taking the path of photography, highlighting that it has taken him places as a travel photographer and provided opportunities to work with some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in South Africa and Lesotho.

“When first I realized my love for photography, I never thought I could take that career path mainly because my father took pictures for fun. It was while working in the NGO sector in South Africa that I realised there were many opportunities to document activities through pictures,” Justice said in a recent interview with Xpress People.

Justice has worked as a programme assistant at Skillshare International Lesotho before he left for South Africa in 2009 to work at the Australian Volunteers for International Development for the southern region.

In South Africa, he was exposed to different exciting cultures he felt he needed to document through some pictures and share with the rest of the world.

“I travelled a lot and at the same time realised there was not much emphasis to keep memories and to properly document the community-based work we were doing in South Africa. I decided to take some pictures, which were shared with partners and also used in programme documentation,” he said.

As he continued taking pictures, the organization he worked for also began to appreciate the power of good quality pictures and how they supported efforts to highlight the plight of the marginalised communities and other human-interest stories.

When Justice returned home in 2015, he decided to do a lot more photographic work, imagining the beautiful mountains high-up in the sky and all the things that make Basotho a unique people.

“What fascinates me the most is telling through pictures, stories depicting rural Lesotho, the simplistic way of life and the communities’ role in supporting the tourism sector in the country.”

While enjoying the beautiful nature and breathing-in the fresh crispy air in the mountains, he has interacted with the herdboys and became intrigued by their stories.

“Herdboys have a lot of stories to tell, they can be good tourism ambassadors because they are out there most of the time and they get a lot of opportunities of meeting with the tourists and acting as tour guides.”

In his photographic escapades, he has gone so deep in the mountains and got lost in a maze of undulating beauty.

“That is the whole essence of the Lesotho mountains, getting lost and having the opportunity to rediscover what the herdboys already discovered.  Many a times they have come to my rescue and that is how I have acquired knowledge of some mountainous areas of Lesotho,” Justice said.

However, his images about the rural Lesotho are not just about the scenic beauty, herdboys and the livestock he comes across in the mountains. It is also about people and their culture and what makes their lives worth living and indeed worth profiling.

“Rural life identifies with our past and who we are as a people. Once upon a time we lived in a certain way before modern civilization came and transformed how we lived, what we ate and how we interacted as a people. I believe that is the genuine Lesotho we should mainly sell to the world. It’s a life lived in a certain beautiful and simplistic way, a life found nowhere else on this planet because there is but just one Lesotho,” Justice said.

He said it was high time Basotho were proud of their traditional norms and values and make an effort to preserve what separate them from the rest of the Southern African region.

Other than taking travel and tourism pictures, the “Justice Kalebe Photography” is also working with some local NGOs, documenting their activities.

Speaking of his company, he said establishing it took some guts, “Because a lot of people around us always encourage us to seek real employment,” he said.

“They do not always encourage entrepreneurship. Looking at my photographic skills, many people did not believe that I could actually earn a decent living from taking pictures,” Justice said.

His vision for photography in the country is to see local photographers chasing the unique features and people in the country.

He added it was about time that photographers put their skills and talents to good use and have their pictures tell stories beyond Lesotho.

“Compelling pictures always carry your name and therefore, for local photographers to be known globally, they should strive to take pictures that can compete internationally. In the process, we can contribute to marketing the country to grow the tourism sector and attract investors out there.”

The best way of having pictures on the global space, he said, was to find out what is trending and sell competitive pictures to local newspapers’ websites and the international media, in addition to entering them in photojournalism contests.

The late iconic photojournalist, Hlompho Letsielo made a name in the global photography sector through his powerful images that earned him recognition by the likes of Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Wangari Maathai who was part of a panel that judged his award-winning work in the African-wide global contest. Before his death in 2015, most of his pictures were published by Agence France-Presse (AFP News Agency).

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