MEET ANTHONY BILA.
Better known as The Expressionist, the street-style photographer bringing Africa to the world and the world to Africa, Anthony Bila talks about how street style can influence the catwalks.
Anthony Bila is an urban phenomenon. His street-style fashion blog is part of a movement that’s upending the fashion industry, showcasing what real people wear on the street. Through his association with various brands, including G-Star Raw, Adidas, Asics and Mr Price, he is actually influencing what fashion does by documenting it. He’s been featured in New York magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and every fashion rag in the country. He even starred in a film (about a street-style photographer called Anthony Bila) that was shown at Cannes earlier this year, and has an exhibition planned at the Swedish Embassy in Stockholm. He works in advertising at a digital agency by day, but the rest of the time, he’s harnessing the power of the street and the reach of the internet to breathe new life into what we wear. Meet The Expressionist, the most interesting man on the street…
“My take on street-style photography was born out of what I kept seeing online. There was a kind of disconnect, because when I googled fashionable people, it was always European people and people from America. And I just didn’t see people that looked like me or were from the same places as me.”
“I realised when I started about four or five years ago that no one was really documenting the current moment and representing how we’re interpreting fashion. Now, fashion from the streets informs what happens on the runway, rather than the other way around.”
“I could be just a fashionable guy from Tembisa or Soweto, and if I’m cool enough or fashionable enough, I can get a following. Then brands are forced to take notice of who I am and that informs their strategies. I see a role reversal where power is being given back to the people because of the democratisation of the internet.”
“I’ve gotten more work with Topman UK and from publications overseas than I have at home. They’re tired of seeing what they know, and now they want to see what Africa has to offer and how it can inform the conversation there.”
“Initially, my favourite places to shoot were Braamfontein and Jeppestown, or Maboneng, as people like to refer to it. Within the first year or two of my shooting in those places, they became the mainstream. Now I try find anywhere where the people that I started documenting initially have escaped to.”
“I have collaborated with a lot of local fashion designers to expose them to as many publications as I have access to. There’s a young designer whom I’ve worked with: his name is Zano Sithetho, and he’s got a brand called Skorzch. He makes bespoke menswear suits, and he started out in a back room that he was renting. I did a shoot with him, and that shoot got a lot of traction. South African Fashion Week (SAFW) invited him to showcase for the young designers’ fasttrack competition, which he won. The next year he did a fashion show at SAFW, it snowballed, and now he’s designing suits for musicians like AKA and Mafikizolo.”
“I’ve got this theory that you find time for the things that you are most passionate about, no matter how busy you are. I use weekends and public holidays. I find the time between things, after hours, before and after midnight, making the time where I can.”