We all know Grethe as the driven, mouthy badass with pink hair and an incredible talent for fashion photography. She’s been wildly successful in her career, and an inspiration for women photographers everywhere. She’s also the founder of SAWP, and the only person I know who rivals my capacity for whisky and tea. I asked her a couple of burning questions.
Grethe, we know you as the badass with pink hair. Tell us: who is Grethe at home?
Simultaneously nothing like you imagine and exactly what it looks like, haha! When I’m not doing anything related to photography, I’m reading (either books or stuff on the internet), watching Netflix on the couch with my fiancé and our two unruly cats, listening to really loud music, staying up all night, studying my German or Russian, drawing stuff in Photoshop and writing stories for fun. Basically, I’m an all-around nerd/geek who drinks way too much tea and will sleep when I’m dead!
Where did your interest in fashion photography come from?
To be honest, I am not exactly sure, but since my varsity days, I have always been fascinated by celebrity culture and the stream of very polished imagery that surrounded them, especially since this was in a time before Instagram where everyone has an “all-access pass” sometimes right into the very most intimate areas of these people’s lives. There was something very glamorous about seeing these carefully curated photographs representing these mythical gods and goddesses – which is something that we don’t really have anymore, not only thanks to social media, but also thanks to the accessibility of photography these days. The fantasy aspect of it was absolutely thrilling to me!
When I was in college, I would have what can only be described as “fashion editorial book club” with one of my friends (whom I’m still very close with today), where we would download pics of our favourite fashion shoots and we would swop them with one another to admire and dream about. I distinctly recall us going through a Lady Gaga phase – mine never ended, though – where we would basically just gorge ourselves on her incredible aesthetic and wait with bated breath for the next video or photoshoot, which was very exciting at the time!
So, I think I would say the fantasy aspect of it really appealed to me – a lot of fashion, editorial and beauty photography is absolutely not real, which can of course be interepreted in many negative ways, but I personally enjoy the endless creative options thereof! I liked the idea of stepping onto a set and being instrumental in creating these alternate realities that are steeped in so much power and grandeur.
You studied art and photography – would you say that helped you in your career as a photographer?
I did – I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography! In photographic communities, the value of formal education in the field is disputed a lot, but ultimately, I’m glad I pursued it. Personally, I would say that on a pure technical level, it laid a very good foundation for me to build on as a photographer, but the parts of my education that I value the most are things like visual literacy, critical thinking, artistic integrity and work ethic. I was taught to adhere to very high standards and to strive for absolute excellence in both the quality of my concepts and their execution, which are characteristics that I’m very proud of and take very seriously.
What would you say are the steps to getting your work published?
My history of publication thus far had been a very organic and mostly undefined process – sometimes a shoot would be submitted by either myself or someone else on the creative team, sometimes an editor would contact me about a feature/interview and sometimes, it would be because of a business relationship I’ve built with a certain brand over the course of a few years. In fact, on the last point, quite a few brands I’ve been working with to great success are people who started out round about the same time I did and we’ve all grown together, so keep in touch with your mates! 🙂
What’s in your bag? Any strange objects not normally associated with photography?
So, as far as weird stuff goes – there’s always a roll of tape, tampons, around fifty bucks and a couple of Ziploc bags in it. Not that weird, haha!
Otherwise, here’s the equipment list:
– Canon 5D Mark II
– Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L
– Canon 70-200 f2.8mm L
– Canon Nifty Fifty (50mm f1.8)
– Canon 580 EX II Speedlight
– Canon 430 EX II Speedlight
– Phottix Strato II wireless triggers
– Rogue Colour Gels
– SO MANY BATTERIES
What do you find most rewarding about your photography?
While I’m always chuffed to bits when clients are happy, I’m incredibly achievement-driven and when a shoot meets my own personal goals – like be recognised or published by a reputable brand, or even just wildly exceed my expectations of what I wanted for it – it’s always the best and it makes it all worth it! Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to see my name up in lights and that’s why seeing my work in print, the social media pages of big brands or even on national television is just the ultimate reward for all the gruelling hours I put in. Photography is a train I never thought I’d get on and now that I’m here, I’m having as good a time as a dog with its head out the window!
What do you find most challenging?
Dealing with impostor syndrome, fear and self-doubt.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I don’t think there’s every been just one – it’s been a series of small victories, but having had my work featured on Top Billing last year as part of an insert I did for a client and having a shoot be recognised and featured by GUESS are both up there for 2016! 🙂
Who do you follow for inspiration?
A lot of well-known names like Zhang Jingna, Rankin, Von Wong, Miss Aniela, Ellen von Unwerth, Emily Soto, Margarita Kareva, and more, but I also hang out a lot of inspirational platforms such as Behance, LooksLikeFilm and Retouching Academy.
And finally, since you are a regular receiver of it, how do you cope with the tone-policing of women in the industry? What is your advice to women who are judged on their tone instead of what they have to say?
I don’t think I have any advice other than the immortal words of Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Never be afraid to make your voice heard, there’s a reason you have one.
Favourite colour? Fuschia and Orange
Most fun day of your life? So many, but I think when my fiancé and I boarded the plane for our trip to Germany four years ago. We both saved up so much and worked so hard to be able to go on that trip and it was so gratifiying and exciting to finally get there! Oh and an aerobatic flight in a 75-year-old ex-SAAF Harvard at Air Force Base Swartkop!
What are you listening to right now? I have a playlist of Unbox Therapy Music that I listen to during the day while working – instrumental hip hop, chillstep and the like – and it updates all the time, so there’s always something new. Otherwise, I’m pretty into Avantasia and ABBA songs in different languages right now, haha!
Three things you can’t live without? Computer, phone, tea.
Favourite drink? Tea, red wine, whiskey, vodka.
Flying or driving? Flying, without a doubt – I am a bit obsessed with aircraft and airports! Aside from bucket-list destinations, I have a bucket list of aircraft I would like to fly in – the Germany trip got me on an Airbus A380 and it was amazing!
First thing you do in the morning? Feed my cats, make a cup of tea.
One thing people don’t know about you? Some people already know this, but I can’t ride a bicycle, can’t swim and I’m scared of heights, despite my love of flying. Oh and I play woodwinds (clarinet, sax, flute), piano and sort-of drums.
Lover or fighter? Both, but I’m very guarded about the lover side. Most of you will only ever see the fighter side! 😉
Favourite season? I think you know this one… WINTER! ♥
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