In Conversation: Anthony Bila
Always striving and always evolving, Anthony Bila is the embodiment of a true creative. With a camera in his hand, he captures great moments and tells unforgettable stories. The journey is just beginning for our next #CSARadar star
Words: Tshiamo Seape
Making a name for yourself in photography is not an easy task. The highly stressful, creatively draining, constantly critiqued field is hardly a place where success is likely, nevermind guaranteed. There are those chosen few, however, who break through the clutter of a thousand wannabes to make a name for themselves and create a lasting legacy.
One such artist is Anthony Bila, first and foremost an expert photographer working with globally respected brands like G-Star, and future favourites from the local scene. On the subject of himself, Anthony is direct and sees his work as a photographer and director as visual art. When he’s not behind the camera Anthony ventures into the world of fine art and design – both fashion and furniture.
Anthony is currently in the middle of a creative hot streak. His most recent endeavours showcase his talent to new and bigger audiences and his accomplishments are catching up to his ambitions. Anthony recently helmed a project for Brand South Africa that featured Radar stars – Gemini Major and Imraan Christian as well as local favourites (Prime Obsession, FAKA, DJ Doowap and more) for years.
Being in possession of so much talent, and respected throughout varying creative spheres, we relished the opportunity to get in touch with the man himself and find out what he’s all about.
With no boundaries what brand would you like to collaborate with and what about them makes a collaboration so appealing?
I’m fortunate enough to already have worked with brands that I aspired to while growing up, but looking forward I’d like to do work on a bigger scale with multinationals like G-Star or H&M. It’s about collaborating on a wider scale and incorporating the other avenues I work in terms of design and fashion and also as a photographer and director and bringing those together under one project.
I understand influence so differently to it being a numbers game and a social media game. Some of the biggest influencers in my life, in the township that I grew up in, didn’t have social media
Photography and blogging is a very crowded space. How did you separate yourself creatively from people who were doing similar things?
For me, its all about authenticity. I never tried to misrepresent myself or where I come from and I didn’t try to give the world what I thought they wanted. I think that’s the danger with social media now. People want to pander to the public to gain followers. People are scared of coming from an alternative space and speaking on a subject matter you feel comfortable with. Also, consume a wide variety of media. Inspiration comes from all kinds of things, from all kinds of places.
As one of the Top 50 Influencers from across Africa, what influence mean to you?
Coming from an era that is pre-internet, I understand influence so differently to it being a numbers game and a social media game. Some of the biggest influencers in my life, in the township that I grew up in, didn’t have social media. Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist. For me influence transcends popularity and I think sometimes people conflate those two things – people think if you are popular you’re influential. I took a decision back when I started to want to be somebody who focuses more on creativity and ideas, rather than being the face of something or being cool for cool sake. I wanted to make an active contribution to the African narrative and expand it and tell interesting and different stories. What is the cultural impact outside of looking at how many likes this campaign had?
For me, it’s about shifting the mindset of what it means to be young, black, and African. also, breaking down stereotypes when it comes to sexuality and other preconceived notions that exist outside of the commercial space. Culturally and socially, how can I contribute to making an impact?
I take it your work with Brand SA was very deliberate in this regard?
Yes, the work that I’ve done with Brand SA is a testament to that, because the whole campaign was about making people more aware of their constitutional rights and responsibilities. Gemini Major, who I directed, spoke about xenophobia, which is a very hot topic. Imraan Christian’s was about his right to freedom of expression. It’s those kinds of messages where people do cool work and they work with brands etc, but we’re getting to the core of why they do what they do outside of just the commercial space because I think that can limit the possibilities a lot of the time.
You’re one of a few photographers on our Radar (Including Imraan Cristian). Are there any Photographers from across the continent on your Radar?
Some photographers that I really look up to or admire are people like Imraan Christian, Andile Buka, Nicholas Rawhani, who are creatives I collaborate with quite often. There’s also Sarah Waiswa. I really enjoy the work that she does. It does a similar job to mine in that it’s traversing different worlds and bringing social issues into the spotlight, and also doing really cool brand work.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing?
It’s a tricky question because I do all those things. I work as a director now, as a fine artist, as a designer -even if it is on smaller projects. I would always just be a creative. As a kid, I dreamed of being an actor, and that dream quickly changed because I realised actors aren’t really in control of the story or the narrative. But, funny enough, I have been in a movie so I guess I could say I fulfilled that dream. I played myself in the movie. It was a really great experience but also a really odd one.
Did you have a say in how you were portrayed in the movie?
I was pretty much the same Anthony I am in my entirety. I guess the challenge was when someone tells you “to be yourself” on screen, it can become quite a challenge – you don’t know what to do with your hands. You don’t have objectivity about yourself. But, it was a fun experience and got to work with a great director. The movie went to Cannes and Tribeca, which was cool, but I’ll probably never act in that way again.
Just going back a bit, could you tell us little more about your work as a clothing designer?
I’m actually working on the new one (collection) now, it’s a capsule collection called Studio Bila. It’s a company that I started, which tackles different kinds of design: textiles, fashion, furniture, or layouts for magazines. We do all sorts of things and it’s just like a creative hub where I collaborate with different people. But the fashion side is quite heavily influenced by Japanese culture – the Ray Kawakubos and the Yohji Yamamoto of the world, but it has these African sensibilities that I try to bring into it because as much as I admire and am influenced by them, I want to bring thought he sense of being African in the world.
For me, its all about authenticity. I never tried to misrepresent myself or where I come from and I didn’t try to give the world what I thought they wanted
Where can we see it?
It’s all by order. So what I did with the first collection last year I just did a small lookbook shoot and made it available to friends and family. They ordered it and it was made to measure for them. I don’t think I’ll ever do mass distribution.
I’ve noticed you want to get into documentary filmmaking. Can you tell us about some of the subjects you hope to tackle?
There are so many South African stories that need addressing, but when it comes to documentaries for me it’s tackling the issues that young, black creatives deal with finding their own place in this world. I think we are misrepresented and underrepresented. There are a variety of stories even within that. When you think of the queer community, when you think about female creatives, and when you think about black creatives in general. There are a lot of nuanced stories about that that I really want to tackle. The theme that runs through all of that is understanding our place in time and our context in relation to the world as young black people who are just trying to make a name for ourselves despite the history we’ve had to deal with.
In the next five years, what aspect of your creative expression do you want to see pushed the furthest?
In the next five years hopefully, I’ve done enough work in the interim to have an influence over the next generation. I really want to get into a space where I’m mentoring and developing young talent and creating fertile ground for them to grow – It hasn’t been easy. When people see things online they don’t see what it took to go from A to B to C. There’s been a lot of rejection and struggle and a lot of things that I had to deal with, so I want to make the spaces for young black creatives to really be heard and for their ideas to flourish.
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