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Photographer Angela Conti captures the beauty of African people

Shirley Hawkins | 3/19/2008, 5 p.m.

The eyes of young and old South Africans shine bright and proud in the photographs, filled with the hope of a new South Africa--a South Africa where the future is full of possibilities.
The pictures were snapped by Los Angeles resident and former educator Angela Conti, who said she is on a God-given mission to assist South Africans in their quest to build their country and to secure a bright future.
Conti is currently on tour with an exhibition of her work that is traveling through Atlanta and Washington, D. C. to raise funds for several orphanages and schools in South Africa.
It was several years ago that Conti picked up a camera for the first time, and according to the former educator, it was love at first sight. I knew I had found my calling, said Conti.
I decided to take a photography class, and the teacher said that although my photos were good, I had just been lucky to get the shots, recalls Conti.
The words deeply stung the budding photographer. Discouraged, Conti abandoned her dreams of photography. There is so much power in the spoken word, that I put my camera down, she recalls.
But during a trip to South Africa in 1992 with her church, Conti once again dusted off her camera and began shooting. Inspired by the sweeping regal landscape of South Africa and the beauty and resiliency of its people, Conti experienced what she calls a life-changing experience.
I was able to capture the spirit of the people and give them a voice through my photographs, said Conti.
Capturing the emotion of the moment is one of Contis joys, and aiming her lens at a joyful young man several years ago resulted in one of her most popular pictures, entitled Shout. I was in Johannesburg during their National Youth Day on June 16 several years ago, recalls Conti. Its the day that commemorates the day that African children demonstrated because they did not want to be forced to learn the white African language, Afrikaans. During the demonstration which took place on June 16, 1976, the police shot 200 children.
Conti said that Shout depicts a young man at the commemoration who was fervently praising God. Shout has become one of her biggest fundraisers.
Returning from her trip from South Africa, Conti said she wasnt sure what she should do with the pictures. I had just moved into a new house and I needed some artwork for my home, Conti recalls, and I decided to blow up and frame my South African photographs. A friend of mine, Jay Brown, came to my home and began staring at the photographs. He said, Who took these photos? When I told him I had, he immediately said, You need to have an exhibit.
With the help of Brown, Conti held her first exhibit of photographs at a private home in View Park.
Im not a trained photographer, but Im a gifted photographer, disclosed Conti. When God gives us a gift, we think nothing of it, it seems insignificant. But once we place it in his hands, it exceeds our greatest expectations, and we can use that gift to help other people.
Contis riveting photographs caught the eyes of Dr. David and Mamikie Molapo, founders of the I CAN Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing about change in South Africa. They were just blown away by my photographs, recalls Conti. The Molapos invited Conti to join the I CAN Foundation family as a missionary.
Conti now lives in and travels throughout South Africa eight months out of the year snapping photos of its proud people. The money earned from the photos is used to fund various projects in South Africa. Not only does Conti snap photographs, but she is deeply involved in several projects whose purpose is to educate and empower South Africans.
I do staff development, leadership training, and team building for the I CAN Foundation, said Conti, who said she also works as a motivational speaker.
The photographer is also involved in youth development in South Africa, traveling to schools to help establish a curriculum for at-risk youth and serving as an advocate for education. I challenge the students to be the new vision and the new voice of South Africa and not use apartheid as an excuse, but to use that experience as a foundation to build upon, said Conti. If they always look to apartheid as an oppressive organization or structure, then that holds them there. They need to go past apartheid and transform the country into something new, and they can do that through education.
Conti also serves as an advocate for HIV/AIDS orphans, providing training to educate South Africans. I use photographic art to bring awareness and raise funds to combat this disease, said Conti, who said she is diligently trying to raise funds for several orphanages established for children orphaned by AIDS.
Conti also acts as a workshop and seminar facilitator for womens empowerment, providing leadership training for South African women.
If that wasnt enough to keep the photographer and advocate busy, Conti, who served as the chairperson of the Magic Johnson Foundation/Taylor Michael Group, is also deeply involved with The Renaissance Group, a group of young people who established the non-profit organization in June 2006 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I had six of the Taylor Michael scholars come to visit me in South Africa, recalls Conti. From that visit, I showed them some of the projects that I was involved in and they decided that they wanted to get involved.
The Renaissance Groups mission is to provide faith-based outreach through skill and social building initiatives to South African youth. The Renaissance Group comes to South Africa every year to conduct a leadership youth conference in Durban, said Conti.
The international youth organization is also working with the SOS Childrens Village, which provides homes to children who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS; the Sparrows Nest, an in-patient hospice facility offering care for terminally ill adults and children with HIV/AIDS; Happy Day Preschool, and Inanda High School where 85 percent of the 1,500 children are orphans because of HIV/AIDS.
Conti hopes that her photos of South Africa and its people will continue to educate, enlighten, and inspire. As a missionary, I feel blessed to be able to touch the lives of others, said Conti.