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Not Your Average Soul: a photo series redefining the image of ‘sneakerheads’

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A quick internet search on the term sneakerhead displays a diversity of young people from different parts of the world- rocking the latest trendy sneakers-posing in front of backdrops of sneaker collections. Not just on the net, a scan on streetwear also displays how differently branded sports sneakers add some flavour on everyday outfits irrespective of the design and techno quality it is intended for.


Like a number of ‘sneakerheads’ who walk the streets, South African photographer, Irvin Khumalo is a lover of sneakers, In the series, ‘Not Your Average Soul’ he merges his love and interest for sneakers with his craft to explore a flow of culture, where the young are urged to look out for the old. The series can be seen as a reverse generational handover where the young share their sneaker game with their grandparents.

Not Your Average Soul

Khumalo started photography in 2010, a love birthed when he saw a photograph by Annie Leibovitz in Vogue Magazine, he is intrigued by “how a photo can speak for itself without a caption.”

Through his photographs, he aims to bring attention to things that people hardly pay attention to. In the series, ‘Not Your Average Soul’ he missions on visually teaching and convincing people to buy “dope” sneakers for their grandparents.

“I’m passing on the culture from the young to the old. Dressing old folk in sneakers, because they are comfortable and just plain dope!” he says.

Not Your Average Soul

The idea of the series came about in 2013 when Khumalo took a long walk from Mofolo to Mapetla (Soweto), walking in his new Nike Airmax 360, the comfortability of the sneakers planted the idea of the series in Khumalo’s mind.

“I thought DAMN! ‘these Airmax sneakers are mad comfortable, I literally started thinking about the long distances our grandparents walk when they go to the clinic or fetch their monthly grant money,” he says.  “Then why not buy dope sneakers for grandparents so they can feel the technology implemented on the sneaker. Chances are, the sneakers might help them walk comfortably.”

This is a necessity- especially for old people in Soweto, other townships and villages were old people live far from health facilities and market places. Foot, leg and ankle swallowing is a common thing for old people especially those with a history of working as unskilled labourers-a reality for most black South Africans.  

Not Your Average Soul

Apart from the comfortability and the convenience of the sport trendy sneakers, Khumalo created the series to interrogate the common perception that sneakers are only reserved for young people, the “cool kids”. In this, he conveys the message that stylish sneakers are for everyone. Just like how young people are now found dressed in vintage apparels and styles that have been recorded to belong to older people.  

For Khumalo, this is “a figurative age of fashion, depicting how it passes from generation to generation, and the literal age”, as seen in the people on these photographs making sneakers fashionable.

The project was also made possible through the help of Khumalo’s friends; Tshepiso Kgarebe, Sibangani Ncube, Mangi Mbitshana, Moipone Rapetsoa and Tebogo Maleka who sponsored the project with their sneakers for the photoshoot.

Not Your Average Soul

Khumalo says, his subjects (old people) were happy to participate in this project, the plan was to convince old people to try out these sneakers and get feedback from them which was not much of a struggle. To him, the most beautiful thing about putting together the series was hearing the feedback he received from his subjects who said that the sneakers were comfortable.

“So, the next time you’re out shopping for the latest pair of kicks, grab a pair for your grandparents as well, bring cool back to them… Now that would be something!” he says.

Not Your Average Soul


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