Celebrating Tourism Month

Archery in Parys

Trying my hand in Archiery at the Real adventures place in Parys, Free State province. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

My first road trip was with three of myvfriends. We planned the trip from Durban to Cape
Town in three months. We were young and carefree. We divided the trip into two parts with an overnight stay in Knysna.

For dinner we ate sushi for the first time, in a restaurant by the harbour. This was followed by a late night of drinking at the bar at the backpackers’ where we were staying before stumbling to our four-bunk bedroom in the early hours.

The next morning on the road was rough, we were tired, hungover and excited at the same time about reaching Cape Town. We arrived just before sunset at the Green Elephant backpackers in Observatory, our home for four nights.

The staff welcomed us with open arms and we formed friendships that are still alive today. We spent the days sightseeing in the CBD, shopping at the V&A Waterfront, sipping cocktails in Camps Bay and driving up Signal Hill.

2. Quad Biking in ParysPicture:Paballo Thekiso

The nights were spent playing pool in Lower Main Road Observatory and club-hopping in Long Street. Without realising it until the last night, we had spent most of our petrol money. Our parents came to our rescue, but not before scolding us for our irresponsible
behaviour. Memories from that trip remain fresh in my mind.

What made the trip extra special was we managed to save the little money we had at the time for an adventure that would see the four of us bonding… we learnt a lot about each other during the long drive in a small Corsa.

“I would like to think this trip ignited a lust for travel in each of us”

Since then, the four of us have travelled extensively in South Africa, as well as in Europe and the US. Contrary to what some might believe, one does not require a fat bank balanceto be able to travel, be it local or international. However, some saving and smart planning is key.

Common sense goes a long way. For example, buying a plane ticket a few months before you travel will be cheaper than booking the flight the day before you are due to travel.

In the past, I have taken the Greyhound bus to Durban to visit my family and overland trucks to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Namibia for holidays. The experiences are priceless.

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Queening with the BaSotho women dressed in their traditional wear called Thebetha

“Venturing out of your comfort zone and learning about other people and cultures will teach you things about yourself and the world you won’t find in a textbook”



Enjoying a sunset cruise on the Vaal River. Picture by Paballo Thekiso.

One of my favourite Sho’t Left (domestic travels) trip include a visit to Joburg where I caught up with friends and family. On a recent trip there I spent a weekend in Soweto, which is home to some of South Africa’s world famous names, such as Nelson Mandela, and is known for history changing moments such as the 1976 Soweto student uprising.

During my stay there I visited the Mandela house in Vilakazi Street, a buzzing street lined with restaurants and cafés… a not so common sight for a township. There is an electrifying energy that hangs in the air that when I left, I felt empty .

Recently I paid a visit to my home town, but opted to stay at a hotel in the city centre instead of home as they were busy renovating. I saw Durban through the eyes of a tourist for the first time and I became one.

I visited art galleries, museums, took long leisurely walks on the beachfront promenade and discovered cafés where I spent hours watching people. I returned with a new-found appreciation for the city where people have no whims about striking up conversations with strangers. I realised how much I missed this simple act of ubuntu (human kindness) that is still alive there.


Last week I spent a week in the Free State visiting several towns. It was my first time there and I experienced a number of firsts. I learnt about towns I never knew existed, such as Vredefort near Parys.

I quad biked, I tried my hand at archery and went river rafting on the Vaal River. All these sporting activities were never on my to-do-list of fun things while on a holiday before this trip.

1. L-R Liam Joyce and Nontando Mposo river rafting in the Vaal RiverLiam and I slaying. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

September is tourism month, an annual celebration focusing on the importance of tourism for the economy. The theme for this year is Tourism For All: Promoting Universal Accessibility.

It aims to encourage everyone to explore and rediscover our country. So, round up a group of friends or family for a Sho’t Left somewhere.

Visit:www@shotleft.co.za for more travel inspiration. 


Connect with me and follow my adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat @Nontando58. 

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on September 2016. 



Portraying the joy of African children


My favourite painting by South African contemporary artist Nelson Makamo is that of a young boy sporting a short afro and red glasses.
The expression on his face is pure joy… I can almost feel the warm laughter bubbling in his belly. Looking at the artwork brings back childhood memories of playing for hours without a care in the world. I have the image saved in my phone and I look at it each time I need a quick pick-me-up. It always makes me smile.

I tell Makamo this when I meet him at a Cape Town hotel for the interview and he smiles knowingly.
“When you think it, a lot of art that comes out of the continent, some would describe it as sombre or dark. However, come winter or summer it doesn’t matter, we always have the sun… that is the thing about Africa,” he says.


“It’s the beauty of how Africans smile through everything and that is how I look at my subjects and from a child’s perspective as well. It doesn’t matter where you go in the continent, when you find children playing there are similarities that take you back to your own childhood,” he says.

Makamo’s large-scale portraits of children display various features and personalities of quirkiness. Each lined sketch drawn in charcoal, watercolour or pen and ink is distinct and is often done in black and white with pops of colour.

At 34, the Joburg artist is one of South Africa’s celebrated talents. His paintings are worth thousands of rands with one of his drawings, So full of youth – not yet abused selling for R250 000 at a recent Stephan Welz & Co auction – a record for the artist at auction.


“As an adult there are a lot of things that we do that we pretty much fence ourselves around from, that we don’t feel or see certain things anymore. That free thinking and openness to learning we can only see it through the eyes of a child,” says Makamo.

Born in theLimpopo town of Nylstroom, now Modimolle, Makamo moved to Joburg to join the Artist Proof Studio in January 2003. There he studied on a bursary for three years and worked for another two as sales representative and curator of the gallery. He has since held solo exhibitions here at home and in France, Italy, the US, the Netherlands and Scotland.

His childhood was like any normal child raised in a small town environment, he says. Sundays were for church, weekdays were for school and his free time was spent reading Marvel comics such as Spider- Man and Iron Man… which planted the roots for his artistic talent.

“My stepdad pretty much made me the man that I am today. Being the only child in most cases there is this preconception that you are spoiled, but I never experienced that. During school holidays my parents would send me to my cousins so I sort of grew up with a lot of cousins around me,” he says.


“My love for art started early and was mostly influenced by cartoons. We collected a lot of Marvel comics at home… that is actually how it all started,” says Makamo.

He sold his first drawing in high school for R125.
“Most of my drawings then were about comics. I drew characters such as the Ninja Turtles and Batman and would show them to my peers.

Being an artist was not my first choice. In Grade 10 I decided that I wanted to be a chemical engineer, so after matric I briefly studied Engineering at the Vaal University of Technology.

“Three months into it I was like, “I don’t think I see myself as an engineer, this is not something that I want to pursue’.

“Looking at the communities we are raised in, one often doesn’t think that you can turn your Godgiven talent into a career. Some people even went as far as saying I should become a cartoonist , you get all sorts of advice,” says Makamo.



The beginning of his career was no walk in the park, he says.
“The first three years after graduating were not easy for both myself and my parents. They were always concerned about how I was going to make a living with art. It also didn’t help that there was little information on South African artists… there was no fully documented history of art that one could study. The focus is mostly on old masters, such as Pablo Picasso and Michelangelo.

“Digging deeper I discovered SA artists such as Gerard Sekoto and Dumile Feni, who belonged to a township movement of black artists. They became pretty much my influencers”

“Through their art you got to understand our country and where our cultures come from. This sort of gave me the confidence to say that I can make a living out of this. Most of them didn’t have proper materials to draw with so they used cheaper mediums such as charcoal and oil soft pastels.”

Makamo never leaves home without his camera and his “bible”, a small sketch book in which he scribbles things and sketches people who catch his eye.

“I always say that I am a storyteller because I live and see things from a third-person point of view. I draw mostly from memory, but sometimes I see a scene and I have to capture it quickly in my ’bible” or I use my camera.

“In my work I try to capture emotions in a language that the person next to me gets without me having to explain. It’s interesting if you think about it, how we are all connected.

“There are a lot of things that bring people together and a lot of those things you can only see through the eyes of a child,” says Makamo

“Children are the most forgiving beings. It is always heart-breaking when you travel or when you google African children, the images that they give you does not represent who we are, only that of poor and starving children.. it’s actually so disturbing when you think about it.

“I took it way too personal, that is why I started basing my work around it. It’s a way of saying, there is another version of an African child that I can give you.”

When some people ask me about my background, it’s almost as if they expect me to give them a poor background and take away the talent. I would be doing myself and the beautiful culture that I was raised in an injustice.  That is why I portray most of my subjects with glasses, as a way of saying they are geniuses, he explains

“Why do you look beyond us, judge us and have your own conclusion about us without sitting down and having a one-on one-conversation with us?

“The support I have from South Africans, regardless of who buys my work or not, is very inspiring and it is what drives me… makes me stand taller. It is as if people were waiting for someone to wipe away the stereotypes,” Makamo says. 

Nelson Makamo.JPG

l Find the artist Nelson Makamo on Instagram -@nelsonmakamo

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on August 8 2016. 

Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: @Nontando58. 


AW 16, the H&M South Africa way

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Shamiel and I are wearing H& M South Africa


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Shamiel wears boots from H& M South Africa and I am wearing their knit dress. The rest of the clothes are our own. 

The cold winter months are here. I am not particular a fan of winter shopping but I do enjoy layering, a long stylish coat and knits. Shamiel Hagee (model and stylist, find him on Instagram: @Shamielsham) and I recently did a really cool streetstyle photo shoot with photographer Ashley Robertson (IG handle: @Majesticaash06).

Wearing the latest H& M South Africa AW16 (http://www.hm.com/za/)  range, we took over the beautiful streets of Cape Town. Here are the dope images we produced. Happy shopping Fashionistas!!!


How amazing is this dress?!! The fit and material is just perfect. Dress by H&M South Africa.


Dress and sequins jacket by H& M South Africa.

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Shamiel and I are wearing bomber jackets by H& M South Africa.


Bomber jacket and knit dress by H& M South Africa


Jacket and dress by H& M South Africa.

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HM Shoot 1

This is my favourite shot. Until next time SLAY!! Find me on Snapchat: Nontando58.

The story of the man in suits

WELL-SUITED: Brian Lehang sports an ensemble at the biannual menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Italy this year. PICTURES: FABRIAZIO DI PAOLO

WELL-SUITED: Brian Lehang sports an ensemble at the biannual menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Italy this year. PICTURES: FABRIAZIO DI PAOLO

THESuitableMan, Brian Lehang’s story began at Retlile Primary School in Soweto, when he and a group of friends decided to dress like gentlemen to impress their peers and teachers.

“We used to be naughty boys at school and just before graduating we realised that we needed to do something that would get our names into the school’s good books,” he explains.

Brian Lehang 1

Dressed in black trousers, khaki shirts and ties – Lehang’s tweed was borrowed from his uncle – the effort earned the group a spot in the principal’s good books.

“I suggested that we wear ties with our uniforms so we would look more like gentlemen than naughty boys. Mine had sentimental value as my uncle had inherited it from his father. Even before we got to school, people at the bus stop were already giving us strange looks.

Brian Lehang 5

“That day the principal gave us a smile for the first time,” he says.
I first noticed Lehang at the inaugural SA Menswear Week (SAMW) last year.

He was dressed in a classic “five-piece suit” – a pants, jacket, waistcoat that also included a shirt and tie (or bowtie).

Dressing up for a fashion week is not uncommon as most people are there to be seen and show off their outfits. However, wearing a suit these days without good reason, such as to a wedding or a black-tie event, is rare, unlike the early to mid-20th century, when the suit was an acceptable look for day and night.

Lehang’s sartorial look – complete with a matching pocket square, hat and clutch bag – therefore raises as many eyebrows as it draws stares.

Brian Lehang Golf

Introducing himself as a professional golf player, Lehang says his journey to becoming The SuitableMan was established on the golf course. After trying a number of sports at high school, including running, swimming and soccer, he fell in love with golf after seeing a neighbour practise the sport in a backyard.

“I immediately thought: ‘This is the sport for me’. I was drawn to its uniqueness at the time… no black kid in Soweto played the sport. I started playing with my neighbour after school and I did everything to learn about the game, from reading about the sport to visiting golf courses,” says Lehang.

“Playing golf is expensive so in Grade 10 I started working at a golf club in Roodepoort as a caddy in return for golf gear, equipment and a place to play.

“A new era began. I gave away all my denim jeans as I only wore formal pants or chinos and golf shirts to work. I became popular in my community… people were curious about the young boy catching a taxi with a golf bag.

My golf was not that great at the time, but I very much looked the part.”

Brian Lehang 4

Growing up in a female-dominated home, Lehang’s only source of style inspiration came from magazines and books, and from studying what golf pros such as Tiger Woods wore on and off the course.

“There was no father figure to show me how to wear a tie,” he says. Lehang says fashion and golf are interconnected.

“I fell in love with fashion as much as I fell in love with golf, to a point where I started looking at how men used to wear suits in the old days.

“I have spoken to old men who used to live in Sophiatown and Meadowlands, and they told me fascinating stories of how they only wore suits on pay day.

“I fell in love with suits and started buying them at jumble sales.
“A neighbour would alter them to make them the perfect fit,” he explains.

Now fashion has become a serious business for him. Not only is he a permanent feature on the fashion scene, but he has made it his goal to visit the world’s top fashion capitals, such as Paris and New York to learn from the masters.

At the recent biannual menswear trade show, Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy,Lehang was among the most photographed people there.

“I felt like I was at home in Florence. People were not looking at me with raised eyebrows, like they sometimes do here.

“It’s not just a place where people go to be photographed. I met tailors and shoemakers from around the world since I am trying to learn as much as possible in terms of how to put together a suit and where it comes from. It was a magical time”

“As much as they say that fashion is unrestricted there is certain etiquette that a gentleman has to know when it comes to suits.

“Such as if you are wearing braces or suspenders you can’t put a belt on as the braces were meant to hold up the trousers.

“Or when you are wearing a slim fit tie, you wear it with a slim fit tie clip for it to look more proper. There are also rules on how you wear your hat.

“I believe in being a traditionalist when it comes to suits… keeping it sartorial all the time,” Lehang says.

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Brian Lehang’s style tips

●Buy a suit off the rack and have it tailored to fit.
●Do your homework. There are many shops that sell suits, so take
your time and compare prices and quality.
●Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most sales people are very helpful,
so don’t shy away from asking for information even if you’re not planning to buy at the time.

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on March 31 2016.

Bringing the stylish hijab out of hiding

Pics by :Ferdinand Van Huizen- MUA:  Marietjie Hurter-Stylist:Roshan Isaacs

Pics by :Ferdinand Van Huizen- MUA: Marietjie Hurter-Stylist:Roshan Isaacs

The demand for “modest wear” is growing and a number of top designers are now branching out to cater for the untapped market of Muslim women who want to be glamorous and conservative at the same time.

New York-based fashion house DKNY did it first by creating a capsule collection for the Muslim holy month of Ramadaan last year, and other design powerhouses such as Oscar de la Renta and Tommy Hilfiger followed. On social media, several campaigns have been launched such as “I love hijab” which encourages women to post photos of themselves in full Islamic wear. What it has shown is that a number of young Muslim women are choosing to wear colourful and stylish hijabs instead of the traditional black. Roshan Isaacs, managing director and editor in chief for Style Africa Fashion Network, believes that modest wear in the fashion industry is still undervalued.

The online network is a portal for the latest trends in fashion, design and creative talent, and aims to inspire South Africans to buy locally designed and made products in order to develop and promote domestic talent.

“The market for modest clothing is a multibillion dollar industry yet a lot of designers have not tapped into it. Most Muslim women have to get their clothes custom-made in order to be on trend and that needs to change,” says Isaacs.

Isaacs was recently appointed the South Africa country manager for the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC), the world’s leading modest fashion and design (art, architecture, interior) council representing the Islamic economy and its stakeholders. Her responsibilities include supporting and developing the modest wear fashion industry through services and initiatives intended to expand its platform in the country.

“One of the things I am working on is getting a collection of modest clothing on a runway. Modest clothing is a huge market that exists but has never been seen on a runway here and yet Muslim women are people who represent South Africa as well.

“Also, there are many designers who don’t know how to reach the market and my role is also to connect and train them to understand the market,” says Isaacs.

“Muslim women aren’t often seen in a positive light in our societies, but mostly viewed as oppressed for being forced to wear a scarf. My work is geared towards changing that perception. People wonder how I shop or how I manage to match my scarves with my outfits… I probably have enough scarves for the nation. It’s part of my wardrobe, my attire and so I incorporate them into my outfits,” she says.

Pics by :Ferdinand Van Huizen- MUA: Marietjie Hurter-Stylist:Roshan Isaacs

Pics by :Ferdinand Van Huizen- MUA: Marietjie Hurter-Stylist:Roshan Isaacs

Isaacs is a regular face at South African fashion weeks, and her immaculate fashion sense and colourful, beautifully wrapped turbans and scarves are highly praised and admired in fashion circles. I met her at a contemporary café in Claremont, close to her home from where she runs her online magazine.

Isaacs was born into the world of fashion as one of four daughters of Abobaker Isaacs, a talented designer who owned a fashion academy and designed for the likes of Gucci.

“My family tree includes Indian and Irish blood… my background is completely mixed. I feel like I am authentically South African because it’s the only country I know and I love it’s diversity… My one sister looks like an Arabian queen and the other one is a redhead. We are a very diverse family,” she explains.

“My father did couture and his parting gift to his daughters was our wedding dresses. He designed each of our wedding dresses and the nice thing about it is that he did it in a way that personified the relationship he had with each of us.

“Mine was gold with a high Victorian collar, which is what I love… I love the Victorian era.”

Pics by :Ferdinand Van Huizen- MUA: Marietjie Hurter-Stylist:Roshan Isaacs

Pics by :Ferdinand Van Huizen- MUA: Marietjie Hurter-Stylist:Roshan Isaacs

Launched in 2013, the online network is run by a team of industry experts who are passionate about promoting South Africa’s fashion talent, Isaacs explains.

“I have been in the broadcasting and media industry for about 20 years and it wasn’t giving me the fulfilment that I craved… of developing and training young people. My ‘aha’ moment came when I was standing in front of a magazine shelf and didn’t see any magazines which appealed to me as a South African.

“Besides being a Muslim woman, there weren’t any magazines that portrayed authentic South African fashion. Everything there was a syndication of the magazines from all over the world. I felt that we are not the East or the West, but are authentically African and have something to offer the world. That is why Europe and Indonesia are interested in what we have to offer, but we are not showcasing that,” says Isaacs.

“Building the company’s credibility in the fashion industry was of high importance. The company is now solely run by me – from curating to selecting stories, writing, social media and attending events. But when it gets too much I reel in my reinforcements who are always ready and willing to contribute wherever possible,” she says.

“I love media and I love broadcasting and so I married the two and created Style Africa Fashion Network as a media platform… It really was not about profitmaking but about exposing the industry to the rest of the world and building the country’s design label,” says Isaacs.

“My challenge is getting funders to see the investment opportunity in helping Style Africa market our proudly South African design industry and having them share the same passion and drive as I and so many South Africans do.”

Roshan Isaacs’ top 5 fashion tips

●I love turbans and scarves, not only draped on my head but used as a blouse. When I need to pack light for a holiday, an array of colourful scarves make for amazing blouses which you can fix up yourself with no buttons, stitching or zips required.

●Play around with colours – sometimes we think certain colours won’t go well together but when you play dress-up for the day, try colours which complement, contrast or are mismatched. You will find a new outfit created with colours you least expected would work.

●For an elegant and chic look, stick to clean lines and make a statement with colourful, bold or even edgy accessories – be it a bag, belt, shoes or earrings.

●Dress your size – it’ll fit and look a hundred times better than a body bulging at the seams of a tight-fitting outfit or you looking bigger in an oversized garment.

●No matter what you wear, always finish it off with confidence and a smile.

●Roshan Isaacs hosts The Modest Chapter for the IFDC on www.youtube.com and is also a presenter at the Voice of the Cape radio station. Visit the Style Africa Fashion Network at http://www.styleafrica.co.za or follow her on Instagram@RoshanIsaacs.

*This feature first appeared in the Cape Argus on November 9 2015.

Symbolism… and ‘an eye for for the unusual’

'In with the new' by Justin Dingwall

‘In with the new’ by Justin Dingwall

Recognised locally and internationally for his portraiture, contemporary artist and commercial photographer Justin Dingwall describes himself as someone who possesses “an eye for the unusual, a passion to explore avenues less travelled and the desire to create images that resonate with emotion”.

The Joburg-based Dingwall recently exhibited a series of portraits, Albus at the FNB Joburg Art Fair held at the Sandton Convention Centre last month, featuring a series of striking photographs of Durban- born model Sanele Xaba, who has albinism.

Dingwall also made the top 10 list of visual artists in The Absa L’Atelier Art Competition 2014, an annual art award competition for South African visual artists between the ages of 21 and 35. The Tshwane University of Technology graduate says the imagery he creates is not bound by language or culture. Instead, he wants his work to speak for itself and for people to interpret it in their own way.

Dingwall explains more about his work and what inspires him.

Sanele Xaba by Justin Dingwall

Sanele Xaba by Justin Dingwall

How did you start the craft of photography? I have always been very artistic, but the first time I picked up a camera was at the age of 18 when I applied to Tshwane University of Technology.

Tell us about the ‘Albus” portrait series, what inspired it and what message did you hope to communicate with it?   The discourse about albinism is generally avoided as taboo in the South African context. When discussed, it is usually viewed as negative or as a sought-after “oddity” in fashion and art trends. My aim is to create an intimate perspective to foreground the myths surrounding albinism.

“This series developed into an exploration of the aesthetics of albinism in contrast to the idealised perceptions of beauty.”

It began as an interest to capture something not conventionally perceived as “beauty”. I began this project with the ethereal portraits of Thando Hopa, a legal prosecutor who is using her visibility to address the negative perceptions surrounding albinism. The inspiring new work features Xaba, a young model with albinism, and uses specific elements to foreground the symbolic meaning behind each work.

“My intention is for the images to become a celebration of beauty in difference. They are not about race or fashion, but about perception, and what we subjectively perceive as beautiful.”

I wanted to create a series of images that resonate with humanity and make people question what is beautiful… to me diversity is what makes humanity interesting and beautiful. The symbols of light and dark are a reflection of my medium.

I use the characteristic nature of photography to capture a unique frame of reference and paint with light in such a way as to represent the revealing of the unseen.

Light represents truth, and it is contrasted against the element of darkness to emphasise the unenlightened state of mind of previous misconceptions.

Water is another element l use to reflect society’s perceptions. Water suggests self reflection and it is often used in literature as a symbol of change.

'Reveal' by Justin Dingwall

‘Reveal’ by Justin Dingwall

The snake connotes transformation – as in the shedding of old skin to make way for new and also, as in medical discourse, to represent healing. The butterflies aim to influence the
viewer’s vision to be transformed, allowing them to view albinism in a new light – as something unique and beautiful.

'Mob' by Justin Dingwall

‘Mob’ by Justin Dingwall

“Butterflies go through a major metamorphosis, and embrace change unquestioningly. For this reason, they have become symbols of growth, surrender, transition, celebration, resurrection and fragility.”

What would you list as your best accomplishments?  My career highlights include my Albus exhibition, which is a major milestone, shooting for Adobe (The creators of Photoshop and Indesign) and creating a mosaic with 48 other artists from around the world that was exhibited at the Lincoln Centre in New York for the launch of Adobe Creative Cloud, and winning the image and magazine cover of the year 2015 at the Caxton awards. And that I have exhibited in London, Seattle, South Africa and New York.

What is your favourite photo shoot you have done over the years and why?  There are way too many to count, but one that really stands out was when I flew to Zanzibar for a week to photograph the actress Terry Pheto from the movie Tsotsi for a magazine cover, inside story, as well as a portrait shoot of a fishing village on the north coast of Zanzibar.

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What/who inspires you and now? Every day life inspires me, but I also do a lot of research. I am inspired by many great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Lucian Freud, Charles Thomas “Chuck” Close and Eloy Morales.

And photographers Richard Avedon and Roger Ballen.

Before I became a photographer I was an assistant for four years, and learnt from many local, as well as international, photographers the craft of photography.

But if I have to single out two photographers that have influenced my career, it would be Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz.

“Their dedication, time spent crafting, researching, production and planning to produce a single photograph is very inspiring.”

A place in the world that you have not been you would like to photograph? Without question, India. It looks like an engaging, colourful, chaotic, beautiful country. I have heard from friends and family that it engages all of your senses – all of them, nearly all of the time. I also have a soft spot for Italy.

What are the greatest challenges to making it as a photographer or an artist in South Africa?  As a freelance photographer you can never sit on your laurels, if you aren’t working you aren’t earning. You constantly have to be promoting yourself and getting your work out into the market.

“The very early mornings and the very late nights. But one of the most important things is to be a problem solver. You have to be able to think on your feet.”

What cameras do you use and how important is photoshop to your final images? I use both digital and film. When I shoot film I use a Hasselblad medium format camera and when I shoot digital I use Canon or Hasselblad.

When I started studying and working as a photographer there were no digital cameras, only film. So it was very important to get everything 100 percent correct before shooting. I still live by that principle, but Photoshop is an important tool.

Justin Dingwall

Justin Dingwall

Who is a young or emerging photographer or artist you consider one to watch at the moment?   Tony Gum. I recently viewed her work at the FNB Joburg Arts Fair and she is creating some amazing self-portraits.

        “I live by these two quotes: Gary Player: “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” and “You reap what you sow.”

This feature first appeared in the Cape Argus on September 30 2015.

Charting the emotional quest of a photographer

Activist Jes Foord by photographer Gary van Wyk

Activist Jes Foord with  Gary van Wyk

Cape Town photographer Gary van Wyk was 18 when he took his first memorable photograph – of a Caribbean sunset.

“It just happened to be this amazing sunset. I witnessed a photographer setting up his camera and tripod to take a picture and I took a picture myself. When I looked at that photograph at home, I went ‘wow!’ There was just this connection… it was like zooming into the sunset as if it was in front of me again. I liked the idea of being able to represent something like that,” Van Wyk recalls.

That was during a two-year gap period which Van Wyk spent travelling after completing matric at Plumstead High School.

“When I finished school I was 17 years old and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I went to London after hearing great stories about it from a friend’s sister who had visited there. I was the first person in my family to leave the country… I literally left with a few hundred pounds.  That move changed my life,” he says.

After taking that photograph, Van Wyk saved up for a Minolta camera and started taking pictures.

“I decided then that I wanted to go back to South Africa and study photography. Nobody in my family was a photographer or doing anything artistic… I had no idea what photography was,” says Van Wyk,

who was raised in Belhar and Lansdowne.

Returning to Cape Town, he started studying photography at Peninsula Technikon, now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 2001, and was headhunted by Independent Newspapers during his second year.

“I started my internship at the Cape Argus in 2003. I was supposed to be there for only two days but I stayed for five years. When Cape Town photographer George Hallett introduced us to documentary photography, I jumped at it… it just made sense to me,” he says.

“It was the best training and experience I could have asked for. I learnt how to shoot under pressure. It was the best way of learning… the best thing that ever happened to me.”

After leaving Independent Newspapers for another company, Van Wyk was approached by photographer and filmmaker Adrian Steirn to join the production team of the socio cultural multimedia project 21 ICONS, which was working on its first season.

Launched in South Africa in 2013, 21 ICONS is the brainchild of Steirn, who is known for his black and white portraits of some of the nation’s most notable individuals such as Nelson Mandela and Nadine Gordimer.

The series, which is produced by the Ginkgo Agency, celebrates the lives of extraordinary South Africans who have been catalysts in shaping the nation’s global landscape in politics, the environment, athletics, sports and the arts.

That was in 2013. Now in its third year (and third season), Van Wyk, 34, has taken over from Steirn and stepped up as principal photographer while Steirn captures the behind-the-scenes images.

Visual artist Athi-Patra Ruga photographed by Gary

Visual artist Athi-Patra Ruga photographed by Gary

“Working with the people from the first two seasons was an incredible privilege. It meant having the chance to be a part of South Africa’s history. Now in Season 3 we are getting to meet emerging South Africans. These are our country’s new leaders and change makers, and working with them, taking their portraits is an extraordinary opportunity,” says Van Wyk.

The short-film series will launch its new season on Sunday on SABC 3, and will feature 21 youth icons, the next generation of South African leaders and influencers. The season will also see a move from black and white portraits to colour photography.

The season’s first five icons include performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga, rape survivor and gender activist Jes Foord, community activist and co-founder of the Kliptown Youth Programme Thulani Madondo, paralympic wheelchair tennis player Lucas Sithole, conservationist and eco-preneur Catherine Constantinides, and textile and knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo.

“Black and white photography deals with the past, it deals with memory and is very nostalgic. Season 3 is about the people making a difference now, who are under the age of 35 and up-and-coming South Africans. Colour just makes sense moving forward… showing the rainbow nation for what it it now,” Van Wyk explains.

“Colour is literally what life is in the now, it describes more than what black and white images could. Also it gives a new energy to the project,” he says.

“Behind each portrait lies a carefully planned concept that captures not only the essence of each icon visually but also their spirit. Each portrait pays tribute to the unique path carved by each icon,” Van Wyk explains during our meeting at the Ginkgo Agency office in De Waterkant where a few of his portraits are displayed on the wall.

“It’s a very interesting way of doing it. There are many ways of doing cool portraits with cool lighting and angles, but it’s not enough to tell a story so that even a child can look at the portrait and ask, ‘Why is that woman standing next to that shadow?’ Or for an adult to be able to look at it and say, ‘I remember that moment’.

“Each portrait has to tell a story. We had to take into consideration everything, including the location and lighting. There is a lot of pre-planning and production involved and it can be tricky. When you watch the films you will realise why the portraits are like that, that makes it even more powerful,” he says.

Working for Ginkgo means Van Wyk travels a lot, photographing a variety of things – from the world’s biggest tiger in Nepal to capturing the Amazon rain forest.

“I get to meet all these famous people and it’s amazing and a privilege, but for me photographing everyday people is the most amazing thing.The most powerful shots for me are spontaneous, raw moments. I live life and photograph the experiences that I have in life.

“A lot of people say that when you take photographs you are missing the moment but for me it heightens the moment. Normally if you are looking at things, you are passing by. But because I photograph things I look at things so much more intensely… I look at the colours and the light.

“I find that I pay much more attention to things since I started photography. The way I look at the world is completely different, everything fascinates me.”

Van Wyk’s girlfriend Caron Gie, who is a teacher, and the works of great photographers are among his biggest inspirations.

“My studies taught me the technical side of things, but technical ability doesn’t teach you photography, photography is a way of life. Everyone observes things differently and if you are able to photograph the way you see things, you are able to photograph the world. You need the technical ability to interpret what you see,” he says.

“You can’t become a better photographer with a better lens or camera. You become better by being more in touch with your emotional state, the way you observe things – deeper and deeper, that makes you a better photographer.”

And what makes a good photograph? “A good photograph strikes an emotion in someone. Even if you can’t explain why, but it does. It has to do with what you see and how you interpret it,” he says.

Van Wyk’s tips for budding photographers include studying the works of great photographers and as taking as many pictures as you can.

“Work hard, that is the only reason I am where I am today. “I don’t think that I have any special skills or ability, I’ve literally shot every day from the time I started and it’s the only way I learnt. I carry a camera every day, everywhere I go and I photograph anything and everything.

“There are many reasons I take pictures. I love the art of photography. There is that magic that you can freeze time. Being a photographer gets me out of the house, it gives me purpose in life and it gives me an excuse to stare at things. It gives me an excuse to be inquisitive.

“It also gives me an opportunity to explore the world and exploring is the biggest reason that I do photography,” he adds.

●21 ICONS (season 3) debuts on SABC 3 on Sunday, September 6, and will run for a further 20 weeks.

This feature first appeared in the Cape Argus on the 1st of September 2015.