South Africa is an incredibly diverse country. This is reflected in the art created by the many talented creatives who live and work there. In the field of photography in particular, South Africa is one of the most intriguing countries in the world, with an abundance of great photographers working in every genre. From abstract to wedding photography, landscape to social documentary, they are constantly pushing the boundaries of their work to the limit and influencing photography on a global scale as they do so.
We spoke to some leading South African photographers to find out what they think makes photography in South Africa so special.
1. Neo Ntsoma
“For me, photography has been a way to see my world in different ways. Being behind a camera allows me to be creative and open-minded. I get to jump between very bizarre worlds all the time, from shooting in slums one day to hanging out with celebrities another. I get an insight into people’s lives that other people don’t – and maybe wouldn’t want to.
“Photography is the art of observation. It’s not just how you hold a camera and snap a picture but a way to see life in an extraordinary way. It allows me to feel and to share that feeling with others. I like to try new things, to deepen the way I see hence I don’t believe in having only one style.
“There is always something new to learn and plenty of room to grow creatively. I believe in having a vision, and that vision can manifest itself in many different ways. With photography, I feel like I can make art out of anything.”
“Photography is a wonderful way of seeing and sorting out a complex reality. Through frame and focus I am looking for specific details, human stories, the decisive moments to capture in order to make an image that speaks of more than its motive, somehow speaks for something larger than itself.
“Within the social documentary genre, I find this to be my biggest inspiration – as well as challenge. In addition, to portray someone’s story or situation, respectfully and honest, does not only speak to me as a photographer but also as a human being. Maybe that’s what I love most about it.”
3. Dillon Marsh
“During the course of my studies in fine art I was drawn to photography and I’ve remained passionate about it ever since.
“I also love to explore the world around me and photography is a great means by which to capture and reveal the things I discover along the way.”
“What I love most about being a photographer, and in particular a photographer in South Africa, is that on any given day you can meet a diverse range of people, chat to them and capture their uniquely African spirits with your photographs. From the indigenous San people, who are believed to be one of the oldest cultures on earth, to the distinctive people from different cultures that have been brought to this country over the centuries and shaped by this beautiful land and its sometimes turbulent history. From the Dutch, English, Malay and Indians brought here by colonisation to the various indigenous African tribes like the Zulu and Xhosa, South Africa has a rich wealth of culture and peoples, all set against a backdrop that offers some of the most picturesque and breathtaking African vistas. I try to capture this distinct African spirit in my portraits.”
5. Leon Marais
“Photography is a process of creating, of documenting and illustrating life around us, and using all the skills and knowledge you possess to do this lends extra reward to being out in the field showing clients birds, animals and other creatures. Yes, as a safari guide one get’s to spend a lot of time in the wild, and photography only enhances the enjoyment you get out of the job. Of course one is also limited by the attention one needs to lavish on the clients and their paid-for experience, so your photography has to be secondary to the job of guiding. Sometimes you just need to get out on your own to concentrate on creating the images you have in your mind, but either way, photography is immensely rewarding and helps me fill that creative void.
“Not many countries can compare with South Africa for sheer variety of landscapes, peoples, birds, wildlife and so forth, and for this reason being a photographer here is an absolute dream. Many photographers concentrate on wildlife, and that’s a great genre, but there’s so much more than long lenses and great portraits of Africa’s iconic large mammals or close-ups of colourful birds. I for one like animals in context, using an extremely versatile (but old!) Canon EF 35 – 350mm f/3.5-5.6 USM L series lens for many of my trips into South Africa’s wild places. I also like capturing the essence of what we in the safari industry do, as illustrated in the photo. Feel like getting up close and personal with a full grown African Elephant bull?”
“What I love being a landscape photographer: The privilege of spending time in nature, watching storms pass and moons traverse the skies. Seeing sunsets and sunrises change a dull landscape into a painting. Hearing the almost audible breath nature takes with every sunset and sunrise; that quietness which comes with dusk.
“I count myself extremely fortunate to explore and experience landscapes which very few people ever get to do.”
7. Nikki Meyer
“What makes wedding photography so special to me is that as a photographer you work with real people in a natural setting (not models in an artificial studio setup). You meet a wide array of interesting people and have the special opportunity of creating a reflection of what is one of the most special days in a couple’s life. Peering through my camera’s view finder is where the ordinary can become extraordinary and this delights me endlessly.”
8. Paul Godard
“As an adventurer animated by a profound desire to explore beyond the boundaries of the finite, I listen to the silence of the landscape and its natural inhabitants. The scenery that surrounds me then becomes abstract, inevitably leading to meditation. Only then, do I use my camera to capture the essence of nature.
“Like an artist of the Romantic movement, I capture the beauty of the natural world in my painting-like photographs. Each image becomes a universe on its own, capturing the essence of how the exterior affects the interior. Each image expresses a daily reflection, a soul search of the restless traveller. The message I deliver is one of purity, serenity and above all humility for the natural beauty that surrounds us.”
“But what is most important to me is to touch people’s souls with my photographs. By sharing my emotional connection with nature, I wish to contribute to global awareness about the natural beauty that surrounds us, to inspire and raise more conscious recognition and respect for the planet.”
With great landscapes, wildlife, people and lighting, it’s little wonder that South Africa has flourished into one of the finest places in the world for photographers to practice their trade. With more people taking up photography every day, we can expect to see many more talented South African photographers gaining the attention of a global audience as time goes by.