Alet Pretorius (b. 1980)
What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?
I am a compulsive photographer. I photograph everything with my camera and often my phone. I find that the medium sometimes dictates what and how I photograph. If I use my phone I am more relaxed and not really thinking about the outcome. Photographing objects, people, light… indiscriminately. When I use my DSLR, I go into work mode. I become very conscious of the outcome — where the photograph is going, what the story is. When I shoot film it feels more personal. I tend to shoot more intimate subjects like friends and family, but mostly I prefer shooting people. I love portrait photography. I enjoy working with people and telling their stories.
Describe your photographic style.
I prefer using natural light. I try to use the technical language of photography to tell the story. I have a journalistic style but I like to experiment. Film gives me freedom to experiment. I try to incorporate what I learn from film photography into my digital photography, for example I have been experimenting with double exposures on my digital camera lately. I try to think more about the light and how it will affect the outcome. With digital you get lazy because you can see the outcome immediately and correct accordingly. With film you have to actively think about light and how it will affect your picture. I would love to translate the intimacy of my film photography into my professional work.
Photography is a lot about the journey. How has it influenced your personal life
and the way in which you view the world (around you)?
I think your view of the world, your personality and your photography have a reciprocal relationship. They influence each other. Photography has definitely influenced my personality and world view. I have learned patience and to be more methodical. It’s a cliché but you do learn to look at the world differently. You try to see the story behind everything, the symbolic meaning of every object. You learn to look for detail and how that fits into the bigger picture. My personality has also influenced my photography. I am an observer, I like to be in the background — this is why I prefer documentary photography. The empathy I have with people translates into my photography.
Photography is also about capturing a moment in time. What is your approach to a
shot, and your approach to a new body of work?
I always look for the light first. I like to research a lot but know that you have to be flexible. I like to just start a project and see where it goes. The act of photographing is like a kind of investigation for me. Ideas evolve while I take pictures. Sometimes you have to pin down an idea otherwise the project just gets to big.
Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?
I am a professional photographer. I worked for a daily newspaper for 13 years, but recently started freelancing and get to work on more diverse projects now. I still love photojournalism, but also work on more commercial projects.
What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.
I currently shoot with a Pentax ME Super which I bought for myself just before going to university. I have a Nikon F80 which I actually used when I started working for newspapers. I was part of the generation of photographers who switched from film to digital. Looking back, it is hard to imagine that we shot news on film. We shot a lot less pictures but still got good news images. I like the immediacy of digital photography for journalism work.
I shoot with my Nikon D750, transfer the images with the built in Wi-Fi to my phone, email or tweet and the images can be distributed to people within minutes. But I miss the process of film photography – you have to think about what and how you photograph. The time between taking the picture and having the picture ready for publication leaves a lot of space for contemplating.
I recently bought a medium format camera, a Zenza Bronica. I’m still trying to come to grips with it but want to shoot a portrait project soon. I mostly use any expired film that I find wherever I can. I love various kinds of films and the different feel each give your photographs.
Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and
enthusiastic about your work?
I lecture at the Market Photo Workshop from time to time. Interacting with young photographers is exciting and I think I learn a lot from that exchange. It is inspiring to be in an environment where so many of the great photographers in South Africa studied.
I take part in some projects by Pretoria Street Photography. It’s great to meet up with different photographers and work on one goal. Everybody brings something else to the table and we inspire each other.
What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or
things that generally inspire your image-making process.
There are so many in SA and internationally. I can mention a few:
Locally; Samantha Reinders, James Oatway, Retha Ferguson, Ernest Cole, Santu Mofokeng, and Omar Badshu.
International; Nan Goldin, Sebastião Salgado, Mario Testino, Andrea Bruce, Ami Vitale, and VII Photo.
I love reading, watching movies and looking at art. Other artistic mediums influence my photography a lot.
What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)
Most of my interests are photography based. I love photography books. My boyfriend is a painter and we have a project where he paints on my photographs. We have had two exhibitions and are planning another one soon. I have also collaborated with artist Banele Khoza for a Found Collective exhibition at No End gallery in Johannesburg.
Any tips for aspiring film photographers?
Look for mentors. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Find someone that can help you edit. Work on projects that mean something to you. Shoot more. Walk more. Be curious. Look for the light. Be brutal when you edit.
What lies on the horizon (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels etc)? And what do you hope to achieve in the future?
I am working on a couple of portraiture series at the moment that will hopefully be finished by next year. I want to start a big documentary project too. I also want to shoot an intimate personal project on DSLR and a big commercial project on film.
All photos by Alet Pretorius
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