Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RIP Nelson Mandela


You cannot turn your head this past week, without seeing some likeness of Nelson Mandela somewhere, alas, not even my blog.

I never had the privilege of meeting this man, I only heard what a great presence he had about him. I watched on TV when I was 12 years old, as he walked out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison in Paarl. I heard all the apprehensive, fearful, hopeful, worried, optimistic and confused opinions flying about for the next ….well, 24 years.

I heard the “Now they’re gonna chase us [white people] into the  sea” to the newly liberated opinions of white people who for years were quietly very opposed to what was going on, but were afraid to speak. I have enough memory and experience of Apartheid to realise what has transpired when Nelson Mandela handled  things the way he did. I have seen many ardent supporters of Apartheid look back and say, that wasn’t right, and that Nelson Mandela is an amazing man.

He wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t even always right, as a politician, but we couldn’t have asked for a better human being to become our first democratically elected president. We could’ve ended up with a justifiably cheesed-off, angry, vengeful president, clouded by personal hatred and agendas, much like our northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, did. What we got was someone who at times must’ve felt like chasing the the opposition into the sea and just be done with it, but rather chose the much much harder road of reconciliation. His decisive and intentional actions to promote reconciliation, and not revenge, will never be over-emphasised. As a Christian, this wins my respect. I am very grateful for that.

The images above must be the one that endeared him most to his pale skinned countrymen. Stroke of genius, is all I’ll say. I love that image to no end. What a day.

Through my career, however, I have photographed a bunch of his contemporaries, and associates, struggle comrades and the like.

Even though I never met him, I photographed his wife Graca Machel, at his home in Cape Town, a number of years ago. I was able to sit in his couches, see the scores of awards and tokens of appreciation displayed around the house and get searched more thoroughly by the security personnel than I ever even did in Libya, under Gadaffi! She was professional, dynamic and very impressive.

Graca Machel

Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu is quite a quirky character. Witt and charm and tenacity is certainly part of his make-up. I’ve photographed him twice. Once at his office (images below) for an article, and another time at a TB awareness campaign in Gugulethu. I would like to say we had a lot of time to share and talk, but simply this was not the case. I had about 3 minutes to shoot. He kept saying, “Ok, that it? Another one? Ok ok ok. Ok. Another one? Ok, done now, Done now.” He then shook my hand and shuffled off to see to more pressing matters than smiling into my camera. He was polite and friendly. I hope I get to shoot him again. With my camera. And chat.

Desmond Tutu Lead_3666Desmond Tutu

If you’ve seen “Invictus”, are South African or have read a bit, you’d know about the relationship of Madiba with Francois Pienaar, Springbok Rugby captain in 1995 who led the Springboks to become Rugby World Champions the first time they were allowed into the tournament. He is the dude in the pic at the top of the page. Down-to-earth, impressive guy.

Francois PienaarFrancois Pienaar1

Cyril Ramaphosa, the MC at Nelson Mandela’s funeral (today, as I write this, the ceremony is being carried out over a big flat-screen TV from the FNB Stadium, Soweto), was another very influential contemporary I had the privilege to photograph a couple of years back. Also, a very charismatic guy, very approachable, and a powerful businessman to boot. By the way, that’s another feat that Mandela managed, turning hard-core socialists into even better capitalists!



My assistant at the time, Philip, got this very cool pic of the two of them afterwards.

Johnny Clegg IMG_0020

Johnny Clegg, the White Zulu, internationally acclaimed recording artist, and supporter of Nelson Mandela during the Apartheid years. He wrote the well known ASIMBONANGA in 1986 as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. (at that time imprisoned, and kept out of the media completely).

Barry  van Zyl, drummer for the Johnny Clegg Band, remembers it like this in his newsletter 2013/12/10:

The song was banned by the South African government, but became a hit in Europe, Canada and the USA.

we have not seen him
we have not seen Mandela
in the place where he is
in the place where he is kept

In 1999 on my first outing with the Johnny Clegg Band we got a dose of Madiba Magic while onstage in Frankfurt.

We were playing Asimbonanga and after the first verse the crowd roared which delighted us, thinking they loved the show so much.
A few seconds later we realized that the applause was aimed at Nelson Mandela doing his famous jive across the stage toward Johnny!
After we were done, he insisted on shaking hands with every band member, and then asked us to repeat the entire song!

See it here:

I photographed Pallo Jordan, then minister of Arts and Culture, at parliament also.

Palo Jordan3

These are just some of them. I photographed Jeff Radebe, and various other role-players in the Struggle.

So, Madiba left his magic through-out my career, nevermind the fact the I studied photography at what was a traditionally black institution, my lecturers being anti-apartheid activists, my best friend since 1996 being a guy of colour, and that I have the freedom to associate and befriend whoever I like.

So, the theory goes that we’re all separated from others in the world, by  six degrees. Well, in my line of work, and once you’ve met some of Nelson Mandela’s friends, it drops down to like 2 or 3.

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Shooting Loki Rothman

Loki Rothman is a solo music artist from Cape Town, a session guitarist for the likes of Jack Parow and Die Antwoord, a producer and guitar teacher. His singles have been in heavy rotation on national and local stations, and once you listen to it, you’ll understand. Co-produced by DJ HiTek of Die Antwoord, there is no shortage of credentials behind this guy.

He contacted me to get his publicity pics done and also some images for his latest single “Clocks”.


I’m not going to go into too much detail of the technical specifications of the shoot etc. Basically he gave me a good brief, on what he needed for the CD cover, for publicity and for his equipment endorsements. We booked a day in the studio and had Joleta Keane come do the make-up. What was clear from the moment I met him in a coffee-shop, and take note aspiring musicians and artists and entrepreneurs; he was all business. Prepared, researched, diligent and clear with what he wants. Professional and a really hellavu nice bloke. 20130730_0065i My own hand-painted backdrop. This backdrop has seen Bryan Habana, Bismarck du Plessis and some really interesting individuals in-front of it.



Endorsement pictures need to show gear, person and attitude. In that order.


Loki is a pop musician (almost no guitars), plays on stage with a hip-hop act, studies jazz and classical guitar, and can session in a whole lot more genres. Thus, his image is varied, and we need to take that into account for his different marketing approaches.



The studio set-up was fairly simple.



Loki is also sponsored by Puma, so images needed to bring this across.


Next up was the images for the CD-cover. He had a distinct idea what he wanted, which made it easier for me to focus on getting that exactly (or at least vibe-wise gettting it exactly). We could then work on options.


An interesting quirk about Loki is that his fingers on his right hand are slightly disfigured. Now if you consider this guy’s skill on guitar (especially his finger-style playing), it is quite amazing. He also doesn’t mind showing if off as you can see.


Loki had the idea of blowing some smoke. We took lots of pics. He had his intake of nicotine for the year sorted in about 15 minutes of shooting. So did I. And so did Joleta’s yet unborn son at the time, Aiden. Considering his name means “fire”, it is fitting I suppose!


Anyways, after hours of makeup and shooting, we had a nice collection of images in the bag!


Team Shoot Loki. Good fun as always.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Porsche Slantnose 930 for Total 911

Porsche 911 Turbo 930 SE-1lr

Earlier this year, myself and automotive journalist, Wilhelm Lutjeharms, found our way to Chapman’s Peak Drive, probably the most iconic automotive advertising locations in the world, to photograph the rare Porsche 911 Turbo 930 Slantnose for Total 911 magazine in the UK. 

I’m decidedly not a petrol-head, and have been driving panel-van’s, commercial vehicles or station-wagons for most of my adult life. This is probably due to my job, and the requirements I have for lugging around equipment. I can’t change a spark-plug, or a car’s oil for that matter, and I don’t know the muffler from the crank-shaft. (Ok, I do, but you catch my drift.) Having said that, I have driven, and driven in some of the most iconic, intense vehicles ever to land on these shores.

Being a rather aesthetically inclined individual, I can appreciate a beautiful machine, and the noise it makes. As I’m not comparing performance, torque and whatnot when I appraise a car, I’m generally unencumbered by such prejudices, as it is rather pointless when you yourself drive a van with a 0-100km/h of around 15 seconds. If it roars, looks cool and …..yes, basically, if it does that, I’ll be sold and will be making the car the hero in every shot I make. If I was critical about cars, it would make me a worse car photographer, as the prejudice might trickle down into my unconscious and influence my thinking around shooting the car.

So, if you’re looking for the technical low-down on this beast, I suggest you subscribe to Total911 and get your fix there. Here, I’ll just post some of the pics and fun of the day.

Porsche 911 Turbo 930 SE-2lrPorsche 911 Turbo 930 SE-3iPorsche 911 Turbo 930 SE-4lr

A beautiful lay-out really really helps the photographer display their work. This one is a case in point.


I love shooting with rigs, and getting some movement tracking going.


Flare. I love it. And in Cape Town we have lots of sunlight that creates flare. And flair. (Gosh, that had to be the worst attempt at intended punning ever.)

On composition: when shooting editorial images, you’re ideally shooting to leave copy-space for the designer to work with, thus you don’t shoot the same way as you would advertising images, where the vehicle will generally cover 50% of the canvas real-estate. Hence, you’ll find that I tend to shoot a lot of images with a epic sort of, landscape, feel.

I’d love to think it tells a bit more of a story, and pulls the reader into the scene and setting. In the past, a lot of editorial automotive imagery was merely information motivated, with cars parked in parking lots, even lighting and ….no flair. (I’m going to keep going at it till I get it right.)



The location. Chapman’s Peak Drive, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa.


When shooting driving interiors from the back-seat of a sports car, with two doors, and a back-seat barely big enough to keep a toiletry bag, it is a bit of an operation for a 6-foot photographer to get out of the back-seat.


Here I’m putting Wilhelm and the owner of the vehicle to use with some reflectors so I can shoot some epic interiors.


It’s a pretty machine. And it goes. And it’s just way cool. I can totally see myself in it…and then I picture a roof-rack or a Venter-trailer attached to it with all my equipment, and I realise, it’ll have to wait till I’m retired, or I can afford a Cayenne.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Danie Nel INSIDE: Jenny Morris -Taste The World Shoot

Jenny Morris Taste the World Cover lr

Taste the World with Jenny Morris

Jenny Morris, the Giggling Gourmet, has launched another beautiful book. I was privileged again to be able to be a part of this amazing project.

Jenny’s previous book, “Cooking with Jenny Morris” was a blast of colours, tastes and fun.This time around, Jenny took her inspiration from her travels, and brought them to the kitchen, where myself and Caro Gardner, the stylist, were charged with making everyone see how awesome these dishes are.

First off: the cover shot. I’m not going to discuss that here, but you can read the blog post relating to that shoot (it was done prior the commencement of the food photography for this book). Herewith a video to refresh you memory, or show you how that went down.

Shooting the cover for “Jenny Morris–Taste the World”


As I’ve mentioned before, Caro Gardner took care of the styling on this particular job. For those who think styling food on a project such as this is just pushing leaves around and playing with tweezers, you’re in for a surprise. It’s hard physical labour, especially if you see how many props she had to carry into the studio!

Apart from having to make the food look good, the stylist (and her assistant, also called Caro!), cooks most of the food, sources the ingredients and props, returns it, plans and conceptualises shots and generally perform the duties of a producer. As a  photographer my job is to get what they do on the table to look phenomenal in the final image.


As you can see, Jenny realises the effort the stylist puts in!

I’m not going to bore you with all sorts of technical information on shooting the food. Rather, I’ll just show some pics, and a little home-movie style video I took with my phone during the 5 days of shooting the book.

Behind the scenes shooing Jenny Morris’s book: Taste the World


On food shoots, I don’t travel light either. Normally I have 4 lights on hand, a bunch of reflectors, tethered laptop etc etc.


…and yes, as always, we ate the food.


This is part of the team:

Caro (Caro Gardner’s assistant), Caro Gardner (stylist), Abdul (Giggling Gourmet Chef’s Playground Executive Chef), Jenny Morris and myself.

Do not be mistaken into thinking that these 5 people made the book happen by ourselves. They were just there on the day of the pic. I also worked with Ceri Prenter (publisher), Michelle Marlin (editor), Marius Roux (design/art direction) and Jenny’s wonderful team at the GGCP.

Now, go and buy the book.