Koto Bolofo on His Obsession with Craft and Cars
<i>Koto Bolofo launched his photographic career by striding into the offices of British Vogue sporting a black suit and wielding a fake New York accent, charming all with his brazen disguise. Since then, the acclaimed South African-born photographer has become a fashion world cult figure, shooting regularly for The New York Times Magazine, Interview, and GQ, as well as creating advertising campaigns for Burberry, Levi's and Hermès. His 2008 book on Venus Williams was a magnificent paean to athletic prowess, and his love of rarefied expertise is again manifest in his photographs of vintage Bugatti cars, collected in Vroom! Vroom!, out next month from Steidl.
I’ve only had an assistant for the last eight years. I used to do everything myself. That’s how I started, and I like working that way. Vroom Vroom! I did by myself, and it took me back to the way I [previously] did photography—just standing out there with a camera, a tripod and no lights. My signature is very light, fresh and positive. An eccentricity is definitely there, it’s not a made-up thing. There’s a madness in me which is a positive madness. The thing is, I’m a real simple lad—I love girls and I like cars and I don’t drink beer. I can’t help [loving] things from the past, it’s like a magnet—a Morris Minor, or a car that’s been hand-built… it doesn’t matter what it is. I love the sense of craftsmanship. I still do black and white hand-printing. When I got involved with Bugatti, [I thought] here is something I really aspire to: beautiful cars. They were made in factories, but they were panel-beaten. They got a flat piece of metal and they shaped that metal with a sand bag and a wooden mallet. You get a form that is absolutely magic to see. It’s like forgotten hands, or what one can do with your hands and with a sense of vision. I have always liked cars. Dad always had nice cars—I mean, they weren’t called “vintage” at that time, but he had a VW Beetle and a Ford Corsair… we went through cars. And I was the one, with my brother, who would wash them on Sundays, and we felt good about it. One of my upcoming books with Hermès is called Bugatti. It’s about the Bugatti Veyron, the modern Bugatti which is worth millions. Hermès had a fantastic relationship in the early days with Bugatti, and used to make the traveling cases for the cars. They had this relationship, and [recently] they were making the  Veyron and Hermès was doing the leather interior. So I had the opportunity to go and photograph this car. They were cutting and fitting the leather pieces for the seats. It is interesting that Hermès was able to work with something ultra-modern and still use hand-craft [techniques] that were established hundreds of years ago.