Telling South African stories

Josh Rubin

By Jaime Uranovsky

Josh Rubin, one of the Cape Jewish Chronicle’s two official photojournalists during our national lockdown has always been devoted to photography.

Now, as a full-time photographer and short-documentary maker, Josh is dedicated to telling stories that often go untold.

He has enjoyed his work for the Chronicle. “Since I left school I’ve been slightly out of touch with the Jewish community, so it was really nice to work within the Jewish community and to meet people within the community.”

During lockdown, Josh covered many areas, such as the CBD as well as townships and the Cape Flats. He has been doing work with gangs since around the age of 17/18, so, when he read about the gang truce in Manenberg, he jumped at the opportunity to cover stories in that sphere. He was then approached by Sky News Italy, who wanted footage regarding gangs on the Cape Flats. To Josh, sharing stories about gangs gives an opportunity to represent gang members in a way that is different to how they tend to be portrayed in the media.

Josh notes, “This is a passion of mine. I like to do things that other people don’t generally do. Most people think very badly about the gangs and I want to tell the story of why these guys are the way they are, and what brought them to this point. I’ve met many gangsters, and I’ve spent hours with them without my camera just building up relationships. I see people who have been brought up in a system that is completely broken, they’re not just ‘bad guys’; they’re complex human beings in a complicated situation.

Josh’s journey with photography began at the age of 10 when he received a camera from his dad. He says, “I would sit outside my house, there’s fynbos everywhere, and I would sit there and take photos of animals for hours and hours and I would just disappear. And as I got older, I started moving on to more documentary style work and portraiture.” Today, he shares his work on both Instagram and Facebook, where his large followings are testament to the quality of his work.

In the last year, Josh (joshwideawake on Instagram) has been interviewing his subjects and constructing narratives through this medium. He explains, “The people I was meeting were so interesting so I started doing interviews with people and some really interesting stories have come out of that that.” Indeed, his portraiture, documentary photography and the accompanying interviews constitute his favourite work.

It is also important to Josh that the individuals he interviews are not simply subject matter. He explains, “I don’t want to leave people in the same way I found them. I try to do what I can. Obviously, I’m limited because I’m still young and I don’t have a huge income, but I try to tell their story in a way that inspires people to want to help.”

Initially, Josh aimed to create a four-part series about different aspects of the Cape Flats, of which gangs would form one part; however, this has become a longer term project because of both the large scope of the project and the recent gang activity that has started up again in the area, which has slowed down Josh’s work. Currently, he is shooting short documentaries, conducting interviews with residents and gang members and telling individual stories.

He says, “I want to show the full picture.” He is also releasing a series of photographs taken during his time with gang members in the Flats, accompanied by their stories. Among Josh’s most meaningful work is the short documentary he created about Mdalaga Mrisho, a former child-soldier originally from Burundi, who is now living in South Africa.

Josh was approached by Dean Joffe and David-Phillip Dirks, who had met Mdalaga and wanted to assist him. Josh explains, “They know that I do these short documentaries and interviews, so they approached me about raising funds for him initially and we’re still raising funds for him, we’ve been supporting him through the lockdown because he hasn’t been able to work at all.” Since February, the group has so far raised over R100 000 for Mdalaga and are aiming to secure enough funding to finance his studies.

To follow Josh’s work with gang members in the Cape Flats, to watch his documentary about Mdalaga Mrisho and to learn more about the photographer’s ongoing initiatives, visit or his Instagram page, @joshwideawake.

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