Niel Bekker (Bkkr)

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Niel Bekker a.k.a. Bkkr (b. 1983, Johannesburg)
Cape Town

What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?

I learned how to shoot from a war photographer, so at first I was only trying to take pictures as an observer or a historian. Then I discovered the fun of consciously “making” an image with another person.

The images that I’m drawn to most are nudes. It’s hard to explain, but let me try: when you put an apple on a well-lit table, there isn’t necessarily magic in the room. On the other hand, when a person is naked to the world, there is always some kind of crackling energy or magic or vulnerability in the room. And when you can capture even a bit of it with a camera, it’s fantastic. Like putting lightning in a bottle.

Describe your photographic style.

I suppose I see a tension between bodies as sculpture and bodies as the vessels of real personalities. There is also a sort of romanticism in my pretty scenes with pretty people, but also occasionally an eerie nod to the non-privacy of these moments (or at least I hope there is).

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’ve actually become more anti-photography the longer I’ve been taking pictures. Not everything should be photographed, some moments are meant to expire and are not to be shared. I’d like to think it’s made me more judicious about when it’s the right time to review/record/take stock of life, and when is the right time to live it.

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?

They don’t always create my best work, but I like to photograph in-between moments, before someone has a chance to think how to present themselves, or when everything is just in natural motion. Odd; I go to all this trouble to set up a scene, to plan and to pose, and then I want shots that look unplanned and un-posed!

Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?

No, I do far too many things for my own good. I also make cold brew coffee and manage a small co-working space.

What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.

I started shooting film with a Lubitel 166, but for the last few years my main camera has been the Hasselblad 500cm with a 50mm lens. It’s apparently not the “right” lens for portraits, but the locations I use are often cramped so I need something pretty wide. When there’s good sunlight, I also make sure to bring my Fuji Instax 210 for that Polaroid-y fun factor.

As for the film itself, I love shooting with Kodak Portra 400. I’ve just started experimenting with Ektar 100 as well, which has a completely different, harsher feel.

Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and enthusiastic about your work?

It’s always gratifying to share ones work with other people and see how they connect with it (or don’t!). The other thing that really propels you forward is learning – whenever I “get” something about retouching or scanning or lens craft for the first time, it feels like I’ve just grown taller as a photographer.

What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or things that generally inspire your image-making process.

Helmut Newton and Ellen von Unwerth are the most formative ones – their pictures were these formidable constructs of femininity, not so much about their subjects per se. But, perhaps more inspiring, are all the photographers I’ve found on Tumblr and elsewhere on the internet. It was those internet weirdos that helped me realise that there was no reason why I couldn’t just start shooting my own stuff. Off the top of my head it includes Teknari, Clayton Cubitt, Ellen Stagg, Corwin Prescott, Akif Hakan, Bleeblu, Mikey McMichaels, Rick Ochoa and Pablo Anwar among others.

What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)

I play soccer as often as I can and I collect the nerdiest boardgames you’ve ever heard of. I like movies in foreign languages where nothing happens.

Any tips for aspiring film photographers?

Try not to focus too much on gear and just shoot! Oh and don’t be shy about approaching photographers, models, stylists, make up & hair people about collaborations, etc. – they’re usually very nice and the worst they can say is no.

What lies on the horizon (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels etc)? And what do you hope to achieve in the future?

I’ve been experimenting with some slightly more fantastical themes and it will be fun to see if I can make that work as well as my more natural-looking work. You’ll see some of that I hope when I exhibit again next year.

I have no illusions about doing anything particularly new in photography – I am just another “guy with camera” photographing women. But I do want to encourage everybody to start making things, bringing things that they like into the world. Making art or bread or even a garden is far simpler and far more fun than most people realise, but we always seem to wait for permission to take on the projects that we really feel something for.

Instagram: @itsbkkr


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All photos by Niel Bekker (Bkkr)

DEAD TOWN™ | Film-only Photographic Showcase ©2017.