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Sunu Gonera/Pride

Sometimes it's true. You just don't quite have a clue. I had such an experience recently.

Last year I photographed a young guy, Sunu Gonera, for O Magazine (Oprah SA) at Kennedy's Cigar Lounge in Cape Town. As is often the case, you're actually not briefed on who the guy is, or who he is becoming. I found out as I was shooting him, that he was indeed a film director. Now, in a city that spawns hundred and thousands of ads, music vids and features annually, that in itself is not a big deal. He did mention that he had just gotten a great contract in Hollywood and that he would be leaving for the US soon to go and direct a movie.

As I've often heard that type of story, I assumed it's a low-budget, possibly TV-movie, or at best, a seriously obscure art movie. Snotty and cynical, I know, and I repent! Anyways, if the guy is such a big deal, why get me to shoot him? (Ok, we all have a  bit of insecurity to deal with!) Also, he was wAAAAAAAAY humble, and cool. My experience of people on their way to going places, as opposed to those who have actually made it, is that they tend to be a bit arrogant. Not him. Really, if you ever get to sit down with this guy over a beer or a coffee, I'm sure time will fly. He is a Zim-born, South African resident. By the way, he has the most gorgeous little daugther and cool wife, they were at the shoot as well. Now that alone score points with me, 'cause I've got kids and have had my wife at a couple of shoots. I've used my daughter in 2 or 3, but that's a different story. Point is, I didn't think much of the big Hollywood movie idea. (Jeez, I'm really starting to feel bad.)

Anyways, the shoot came and went and I never even saw it in publication. Then, a couple of months back I get a syndication notice that the image of one Sunu Gonera has been sold somewhere else and some royalties was coming my way (yay!). In such instances you suddenly start remembering every single detail of said shoot, which at first glance I thought was a mistake, as I couldn't initially remember it. Then, about the same time, I see a trailer for the movie Pride and the name Sunu Gonera pops up. Now, I'm not John from a Beautiful Mind, but I can pick up the most basic of patterns. (Pattern by the way is a secondary principle or building block of visual perception according to the laws of Gestalt, a psychologist. Pattern is referred to as rhythm, and since 79% of our sensory perception happens visually, this is a big deal for any image maker...but more on that some other time...)

Getting back to the aha! moment. I realized this was the guy I photographed. Just to make sure, I checked the net and indeed, it was him. I then also remembered promising him to send him a pic of his daughter, and then somehow losing his email address. Well, finding that now amidst all the PR and Hollywood hooha is near impossible. Talk about going to the orthopedist to retro-fit your leg so you can give yourself a huge kick in the backside! 

By the way, Pride (, features the likes of Bernie Mac and Terrence Howard in the lead. Now, I really wouldn't mind to shoot either of those gents. And had I kept his email address, WHO KNOWS?

Herewith - shoot notes:

The book infront of him in the poker room,... I don't remember if that was the real script. Now, what I hugely respect in anybody I photograph is the ability to give me a hearty guffaw-laugh on command, and as this was for Oprah Mag, I had to have a couple of those. I wouldn't have minded just shooting in the serious poker-faces in the poker cubicle for hours on end in low light with ISO 1600, but hay, I want to get paid. The Danny  Devito poster in the back was just serendipitous, and I was really glad I could shoot him in front of it. The great thing about actors is that you can direct their expressions and speak in terms of "sense" and "feel" and "moments". Models are a tad plastic-y when it comes to showing real-life emotion and expressions. Another such an actor is Dean McCoubrey (Standard Bank internet web-cam ad guy), also a great client of mine. He'll actually step into the moment. When he's art-directing shoots, it's great, cuz not only is the model properly let into the idea, but also myself, the photographer, but again, I DIGRESS!!! Herewith - pics:


1 Visatec 300W head in the lounge, with 60x60 soft box. Poker room - 1 times 60W Tungsten bulb, at about 1600 ISO.

Sunu Gonera 0046i Sunu Goneralr

Sunu Gonera 0029lr Sunu Gonera 0038lr


julia said…
I love these pictures. Sunu has been a good friend of mine for 15 years.
He's just an incredible guy and reminds me that you always have to dream big! I am sure he would love to see the picture of Hannah. You can find him on facebook!
x julia pettengill
Danie Nel said…

thanx so much for the comment. It's always inspiring to meet people who were willing to dream big. I'll try and find him on facebook. Thanx for reading the blog.

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