Superphotographer: Koto Bolofo

Business Day (South Africa)
"Koto Bolofo: Star attitude" | March 04 | Alex Dodd

Bolofo is a snapper supreme, having shot for such prestigious publications as Vogue Nippon, L'Uomo Vogue, Russian Vogue, Italian Marie Claire, GQ, British GQ, Italian Vanity Fair and L'Officiel.

Surrounded by this herd of long-limbed giraffes, his diminutive size is the first thing you notice, but that doesn't stop him stepping into the


centre of the stage and asking them for their phone numbers. In a baggy suit and horn-rimmed spectacles he looks like a bit like Spike Lee only shorter and smarter. With his unmistakable London accent, he sounds more like the exile family in Rehad Desai's award-winning 2004 documentary Born into Struggle.

Like Desai, Bolofo was born in South Africa but raised in England after his family was forced to flee as political refugees in the '60s. His father, a history teacher, was found to have writings by Karl Marx among his teaching materials and was exiled for his communist practices.


"The American Collections: Local Color"
Year: Spring/Summer 1990, February
Models: Bill Fiers and a female model
Ph: Koto Bolofo
Hair: David Kox for Celestine Cloutier L.A
Grooming: Deborah Howell for Cloutier L.A
Fashion: Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein, Bill Robinson, WilliWear, Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, DKNY, Sabato Russo, Ronaldus Shamask, Cole-Haan, Gold Toe Hosiery, Brooks Brothers, Jeffrey Banks


The young Bolofo attended Acton Comprehensive School in the days when skinheads lurched about on a free rein calling people Wogs and Pakis. The school was notoriously featured on the television programme Panorama when its gym was burned down after an Indian child was stabbed to death.

After that Bolofo told his parents that he'd rather attend an all - Indian school. It's against this backdrop that he cracked the big time which wasn't easy for a black Londoner back in the lily-white 1980s before multiculturalism became the city's trademark of cool.


"It Might as well be Spring, the new spring clothes, just in time for a winter week in the sun"
Year: Fall/Winter 1990
Models: Tim Easton, Ray Brown, Carmen Dell'Orefice and ?
Ph: Koto Bolofo
Hair: Jonathan Conelly for Macmillan
Make-Up: Deborah Howell for Cloutier L.A


 After not making it into the prestigious Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Bolofo took a foundation course in photography at a middle-of-the-road art college where a lecturer told him: You're a load of rubbish, mate. This marked the start of his steady journey to stardom. He wasn't having any hippy art lecturer telling him he was rubbish, so he set out to prove the guy wrong. And so begins a madcap rags-to-riches tale with Bolofo pacing about the stage, adopting American and French accents in his quite dazzling coming-of-age tale.

Auteurs taking on the role of stand-up comedians seemed to be quite the thing at this year's Design Indaba, with self- proclaimed New York-based web geek Ze Frank taking a crowd of design devotees on a turbo-charged routine in which he satirised the absurdities of contemporary airline safety practice. If there was one thing to take home from Bolofo's live autobiography, it was his defining mantra: Stick to your guns. Once he started treading Carnaby Street, there was simply no stopping him.


Year: Spring/Summer 1989
"Full - Metle Jackets, a bumper crof of the season's classic outwear""
Models: David Charles, Todd Gordon and a female model
Ph: Koto Bolofo
Hair and Make-up: David Cox for Celestine Clouthier L.A


He recounts how he had to pretend he was an American to score his first shoot with British Vogue. He just wasn't taking no for an answer. Not even from Madonna. When he was commissioned to shoot the queen of the now in 1989, she wanted to wear black. Bolofo insisted black was so yesterday. He wanted her in white, he refused to compromise and he got his way. He shot Madonna in white.

As well as counting Hermes, Banana Republic, Faconnable, Burberry, Levi's, Dom Perignon, Kerastase and Avon among his clients, Bolofo has published two books and made three short films. Four of these creations draw on SA. His 45-minute drama, African Violet (1998), goes inside the minds of five white women in 1960s SA, as they consider their relationships with their African servants. His documentary, The Land is White, The Seed is Black, co-written with wife Claudia Mapula Bolofo, follows his father's return from exile in 1994.

There aren't many dull moments in Bolofo's life, it seems. The last I thing I heard was, not surprisingly, through the grapevine. He is rumoured to be doing a shoot with albinos in a burnt landscape for trend forecaster Li Edelkoort's magazine, styled by our very own Amanda Laird Cherry. Gallerist Monna Mokoena says a solo show may be in the pipeline for Gallery MOMO in 2007.

What can I say?

Per Lui
"Evoluzioni di Stile: Solo in Bianco"
Year: Spring/Summer 1988, February
Models: Jeremy Maloviere, Rob Shelton and a female model
Ph: Koto Bolofo
Grooming:  Ruth Funnell
Styling: Susi Hornung

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