The snapshot is not as simple a statement as some may believe. It represents something each of us has seen – more as human beings than photographers – and wants to keep as a memento, a special thing encountered.Ansel Adams
I was 16. An Afrikaans bush teen always wondering what it was like for those other kids in the cities. I was in boarding school at the time, so going home on weekends was great! I spent my time exploring the bush veld and I was pretty wide eyed about the world. I grew up in nature. It was my birthday and my dad told me to get into the car. We drove for one and half hours to town and went into the camera store. Then the words came out of his mouth . . . “Come on, choose one!”
I had a camera before, a 35mm point-and-shoot snap camera, and the concept was not that new to me. My dad should get the credit as my inspiration. He had an old Nikon FE and shot slides of his work. He was the veterinarian for the Kruger National Park, a 2 million hectare playground. I loved nothing more than taking the little white squares out of their labeled boxes, and holding them up to the soft winter sun through the window. These mini pictures were windows to a world, an experience, that I wished I was in. He let me use his camera from time to time and explained the basics to me.
Anyway, back to that defining moment. I knew exactly which one I wanted. I had been spending my time in that store looking at the gear while my mom would buy the groceries. I worked there during holidays. I knew every camera and there was only one for me. A Nikon F80 in silver and black with 28 – 80mm lens. For those Post-Film kids reading this, this was a 35mm film camera. Let’s face it, it was not the best piece of kit there. There was a F100 as well, but that was definitely out of the family price range.
The golden Nikon box was in my hand. 3 rolls of Velvia in my pocket and I was invincible. Dad paid, we drove home and I think I looked through the viewfinder for the entire drive home. This was my passion . . .
I shot whatever I could point the lens at. My high school IT Teacher now gets the next accolade for furthering my interest in photography. He had a Nikon F4 with a 500mm lens and allowed me to use it for photographing the team sports. He helped me understand the settings, pushing the ISO, and then my hunger for new gear started. It was infectious to have people come up to me and ask if I had got a shot of them. In the 12th grade I presented a rather embarrassing portfolio to the school on the cultural evening. Thank goodness those negs got destroyed by a flood!
Up to this point I had no exposure to my heroes: Ansel Adams, Newton and Dan Eldon. So I had no framework to grow into. Internet was not available like it is today. A friend at the camera store gave me tips and tricks whenever I visited. We looked at his photos, and mine, and he advised what I could have done better. Never ignore the advice of others.
In 2000 I went with one of my teachers to Mozambique, to help with the relief work after the massive floods. I had my dad’s FE2 and 10 rolls of film. 2 days into the 2 week trip my light meter stopped working and I shot “blind”. Calculating every exposure from the f16 Sunny rule. To my delight, every exposure was workable when we returned home. It was a great trip and I came to realise that “documentary” was my style of photography.
After school I had the opportunity to work in the South African Television and Film industry. My mother pleaded that I get some sort of tertiary qualification behind my name, and I finally buckled down and applied to the Vaal Triangle University of Technology for Photography. I still had the F80 but now I also had a second hand Nikon F3 (my favourite 35m film camera). It was mind blowing being exposed to the greats of photography, learning about them, getting a peek into how they saw the world. I loaded, shot and exposed over 5 km of film in my first year of studies. Never satisfied with the end result, relentlessly reshooting and spending days in the darkroom. Bleached hands and forearms from the chemicals marked me. I was like a madman obsessed with light.
During my studies I was exposed to all the formats, mediums and kit I could have desired. The school was under great leadership in our department and we had everything at our disposal. I pushed to be top of my class, hassling my lecturers for extra hours in the studio at night. When I did meet friends I was “that guy” with the camera. I lived photography. It was one of the best times of my life.
Then, I’m not sure why, it changed. Sort of tapered away. I lost sight of the light. I changed my course to film studies and jumped between schools for another 4 years. Lomography pulled me back. I happened to stumble upon a Lomo LC-A in a pawn shop. It called to me. I still don’t know why I bought it – I guess I missed film, because by that stage, you had to shoot on digital to stay relevant. I had a D90, but the process was heartless to me. I had moved house so many times that most of my kit had gone missing, my darkroom equipment was being eaten by rats in some box on my parents’ farm, and I had lost the love for this wonderful journey called photography. However, this little Russian camera sparked that old flame in me again. I loved it. Always in my pocket, ready for a moment. I really enjoyed that little plastic “toy”.
I got a great job as an assistant to a photographer, at his studio in Cape Town. The city is great, especially back then. He taught me a lot. His speciality was product photography and the nitty gritty details mattered, a lot. He had a lot of great equipment, and made good use of my set building skills that I had studied as part of my film courses. It was a really great time and I longed to have a setup like his one day.
Anyway, life happened. I was a Steadicam operator at the time. I guess I was chasing pay-checks rather than my passion at that stage. Don’t get me wrong, the rush of lifting my rig off the stand and letting the weight sink onto my body was exhilarating. Plus, the large scale lighting setups I learned from the industry leaders, was fantastic. I believe it’s important that photographers learn from DOP’s, (Director of Photography). It was really good experience and work, it was just not my own. . . Then, like that day my dad gave me the world with that F80, I felt that same incredible excitement again. I met my incredible wife.
Michelle sparked my inspiration again. She makes me truly happy and loves taking photographs too. Birds are one of her passions, so we often take trips to Kruger National Park – the brakes on my Jeep take a beating from all the “Stop! Bird!” moments. I have also purchased cameras for our two daughters, and it seems the saying is true: “The apple never falls far from the tree”.
If someone asks why I enjoy photography so much, I don’t really have the answer. It’s not so much that it makes me happy to pick up my camera, it’s more that everything just feels right when I look through the viewfinder. Photography has always been with me, my best and worst moments.
My journey has been good thus far. To be honest, a blog was never a part of my plan, however, I hope I can share insights, and learn from you over the course of time. Nothing just comes to you. You have to fight for it. Let’s get out there and shoot!0