A dusty landscape with a pick up truck and several buildings

Lindokuhle Sobekwa documents his search for a lost sibling

Having spent much of their lives apart, Sobekwa has created a diaristic book as a way of understanding and honouring his late sister’s journey

South African photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa has released his first solo book, titled I carry Her photo with Me. Published by Mack, the photobook centres around his years-long search for a sister he never really knew, and who passed away when he was younger.

Started in 2018, during his Magnum Foundation Photography & Social Justice fellowship, I carry Her photo with Me constitutes Sobekwa’s most extensive body of work to date, and likely his most personal. Inspired by a family photograph he found inside his mother’s bible in 2017, in which his sister Ziyanda’s face had been cut out, the series was initiated as a means of reconnecting him with his lost sibling, and his wider family history.

A silhouette of a person wearing a head wrap standing in front of a window covered by a thin sheer curtain
All images by Lindokuhle Sobekwa, from I carry Her photo with Me (Mack, 2024), courtesy the artist and Mack
A pink tiered dress with a bow hanging on a wire hanger in front of a green wall

For Sobekwa, the search he would embark on was important not only as a way of understanding Ziyanda, but also as an attempt to find peace with previous events that had happened between the pair during their childhood. In particular, when Sobekwa was seven, and Ziyanda 13, the latter had chased her brother into the street, angered by money he was given by their father, and as a result he was hit by a car and hospitalised for three months.

Speaking in an interview with Magnum Photos about the series in 2020, Sobekwa explains: “I remember nothing but a blurry female figure standing over me, and then I was in the hospital. I don’t know if the female ghost standing over me was Ziyanda, or maybe it was the woman who lived nearby who called the ambulance. My spine was broken … from that day on, I didn’t see Ziyanda for 15 years.”

A crossroads in a South African township where several people walking in the street. The photo has been annotated in red crayon with arrows indicating specific points on the map
Black and white photo of a person reading by a small light. Next to the photo is a handwritten caption that reads 'My mother reading a bible which for her is an escape tool for stress and pain Bible gives her hope that one day all will be good'

When Ziyanda eventually returned to their family home a decade later, she was seriously ill, and not long after, sadly passed away. During this time, Sobekwa had attempted to photograph Ziyanda, to make up for the fact that the family had only a single picture of her (the group portrait from which her face is missing), but she was not interested.

Following her death, Sobekwa began retracing her steps over the decade she was missing, and learning about her life through friends who knew her. In the book, these travels around the region, including the people Sobekwa encountered along the way, are memorialised in a mix of black and white and colour imagery.

A collection of family photos in a frame with cracked glass
Dark grey clouds or plumes of smoke strewn across a sky at dusk, with two pylons in a field

Presented using a scrapbook layout and aesthetic, I carry Her photo with Me feels like a visual diary, with Sobekwa’s hand-scribbled annotations and captions accompanying the images and providing insight into the photographer’s slow unravelling of his sister’s life, and his own.

As a result, readers are brought on this journey with Sobekwa, and are encouraged to ask the same questions that he also pondered along the way. Such as: ‘Is this a landscape Ziyanda once occupied?’, or ‘Is this somewhere that she once called home?’

Black and white photo of line drawings of human figures etched on a wall

Many of the images in the book have been cut in two and placed across its spreads, divided by the spiralling wire of the sketchbook. A seemingly unimportant element, Sobekwa notes that this is actually a key signifier of the disjointed nature of this project.

“The spiral binding talks about the fragmentation of the story,” he says in his interview with Magnum Photos. “It’s disconnecting the text and images but also connecting them.”

Reflecting on the project’s impact on him, he said: “It has helped me to be okay talking about it, to talk about such things with my family, for the first time in my life. Though a person doesn’t just heal overnight – it’s a process that I’m still in. I hope someone out there who’s looking at it can also benefit from it in some way or another.”

I carry Her photo with Me by Lindokuhle Sobekwa is published by Mack; mackbooks.co.uk