Hello, Grethe here! 🙂 Continuing with our Get to Know the Admins series, I want to cast the spotlight today on my partner in crime, the magnificent Gita Claassen! 🙂
When I founded SA Women Photographers, nobody really understoon and valued my vision as much as Gita did – she just got it! This made her the perfect and logical choice to be my co-pilot and I haven’t regretted it for a day! 🙂 She does a lot of work for our community and I cannot manage without her!
Gita is an extremely talented and passionate travel, lifestyle and journalistic photographer and person and I think I love her most for her take no prisoners -attitude. I managed to corner her for some twenty questions! 🙂
- GITA. To me, you are the personification of wanderlust and I love you so much for it – where are you from, where were you the past year and where are you now?
I’m a Karoo girl born in Beaufort West, but grew up all over and under many interesting conditions. In 2015 I decided to take up studying again and moved from Gordon’s Bay back to Beaufort West where I worked for my dad’s tour company as part of my practical experience for my Diploma in Travel and Tourism. In November 2016 I moved to Prince Albert, which is a hop, skip and a jump from Beaufort West in Karoo terms – or 165km. It’s a little piece of heaven reclining on the foot of the majestic Swartberg Mountains, and for me, a return to my roots and the source of my inspiration. As a visual artist I definitely need to be surrounded by beauty of some sort, and this really is an idyllic a place as you can ever get.
- Tell us about photography – how did it happen for you, where did you start? Was it always something you were interested in or passionate about, or did it happen by accident?
My dad used to belong to the Beaufort West photo club back in the nineteen-voertseks, and he had an impressive slide collection of over 15000 slides, and we would find him on the floor poring over those slides for ages, and on Friday or Saturday evenings we would have slide shows where he would show slides from all our trips all over Southern Africa, or one of the three dreaded boxes: our baby photos! This would normally be after a braai with friends, so the slideshows were a real social event in our household.
We were never allowed to even touch his cameras, but he did have a little point and shoot thing into which he loaded rolls of 36 film and we would use that on vacations. Of course, there are three of us, so we each got 12 pictures, and 12 were NEVER enough for me, so I traded stuff with my brothers to get more pictures on the camera.
When I started working after school, I bought a Kodak 3 megapixel digital camera and although I had been studying and working in other fields, and never gave a career in photography any mind, I think that’s when the bug really bit. A succession of fateful events occurred, I worked at a Kodak lab in Stellenbosch for a while, and I met the first real professional photographer in my life, Lizane Louw, who was then a photojournalist at Die Burger and Rapport, and we became friends and that connection really inspired me.
By 2008 I sold my life pension and bought a DSLR, and I started doing photography full time, purely because I had at that stage been rebelling against “the system” and didn’t want to work for another boss. The rest is history.
- I like to think of you as an investigative journalist with a camera, how correct am I?
Well, with my very early inspiration being that of Lizane Louw who introduced me to others in the photojournalism realm, I think you’re not far off.
But because I was first an artist (I used to be really good at watercolours, even exhibited as a kid haha), I think the artistic tendencies in my work make them less suitable to true journalism.
You can’t portray a thing in its most aesthetically pleasing form when that alters the true story, and so I’m wary of calling myself a journalist, even though I studied travel photojournalism through MatadorU and my work focuses on realism, portrayal of real events and subjects, and creating compassion for the natural world through education.
Having grown up a little bit alternatively – I was homeschooled, we travelled a LOT, my folks were involved in nature conservation and bird-watching, yes those with feathers – I think I developed a sort of investigative scientific approach to everything in my life, including photography. I investigate light, colour, form, relationships, effects, and other phenomena, but the aim is always to tell the story in an aesthetically pleasing way.
- When there’s something unfolding in front of you, what do you think of most – the story in front of you or the image that you see through the viewfinder?
Once a story has captured my attention, I definitely focus on the composition of the image. That ultimately makes the story stronger or weaker for me, and because I’m a perfectionist of note, I always strive to have all the elements in the right place, perfectly. A well-composed image can make even an initially uninteresting story become something.
- Since there are always people who would like to know, let’s talk gear. What’s in your bag?
When I got my first DSLR I phoned Lizane for advice, and as a photojournalist she recommended Nikon. So I’ve had Nikon since the beginning of time, mostly because it’s too darn expensive to switch after you started building up an arsenal to suit Nikon, but I’m not a brand-nut, and I love my Tamron lenses.
Currently I have:
- Nikon D610
- Nikon D7100
- Nikon 50mm 1.8
- Tamron 24-70
- a Sigma 150-500 (which I have a love-hate relationship with)
and a few crop lenses like
- Nikon 18-105
- Nikon 55-200 which I love
- Tamron 70-300 Macro which is ancient.
- Three external flashes (Metz, Nissin and an ancient Sunpak – did I say I’m not a brand-nut? I’m a brand-whore)
- Cactus remote triggers
- Softboxes and umbrella
- Sturdy Hahnel tripod with a Manfrotto head
- and my bestest buy ever which I can not live without: BlackRapid double strap.
- Also, I have enough batteries to last me through an actual apocalypse. Gotta be prepared when the zombies strike.
- Which parts of your photographic career and genre do you consider most challenging?
Hmm. Getting people to understand why pushing a button can be so expensive.
But aside from the obvious, I think getting to places in time for the best light is probably my biggest irk. Travelling doesn’t always go as planned, so sometimes you miss the good light, and that’s always a bummer. A lot of travel photography is VERY dependent on being at the right place at the right time, so the very real possibility is always there that you won’t get your shot.
It’s also expensive to get to the various places, and there are time-constraints, and often the places I go to are not easily accessible, and especially when we’re dealing with live subjects, they don’t often cooperate.
Doing travel portraits has its own set of challenges and is especially difficult because your models aren’t professional, have often never even seen a camera nevermind had their picture taken by a complete stranger, and you need to gain trust in such a short amount of time usually.
But I live for the challenges, because when you get it right, it’s a huge victory.
- Do you consider yourself a fine artist or more of a journalist? Or even both?
A bit of both, but as I’ve said, I’m more of an artist than a journalist. I do try to tell stories through my pictures, because I feel it an obligation since I photograph things and people that have never had a platform before. I don’t take that responsibility lightly, but I also acknowledge that art has as an important a role to play in preserving our heritage as journalism.
- One of the coolest things that’s ever happened to you in your career?
SO MANY THINGS. I had to think on that a bit, because I had the travels and the adventures to take into account, but I think in the end that finally having the opportunity to document Antoinette Pienaar and Oom Johannes Willemse on their farm Theefontein, which is close to home, last year, took the cake. Not only was that an almost lifelong dream, but it opened so many doors of opportunity for me, and some of my work is even currently used to promote their show on VIA TV. No one in my circles cares that I’ve exhibited or that I’m published in six continents. I’m on TV, and that’s all that counts!
- Which photographers would you consider your greatest influences?
This is difficult. I tend to not turn to photographers for inspiration out of fear of subconsciously copying them, but if I do search for photographic inspiration, I find it in other genres than travel photography.
One person I can without a doubt single out is Jacki Bruniquel. She is a goddess.
And then I have fangirl love for Sebastio Salgado, Art Wolfe, Steve McCurry (yeah, still – I mean: Afghan Girl is probably what got me into art never mind photography) and Ansel Adams. I’m unashamed to say that I have a book of Adams’ work that is too big to fit on my kitchen table. He’s a cliche because he was a genius.
I also love the work of Ross Cooper and David Lloyd, because they have managed to bring art and documentary wildlife photography together in a way that keeps both pure.
- You have a great passion for community, which I greatly admire. Where would you like to see our group go within the next year?
You know, while I was thinking of my photo heroes above, I realised that I don’t know a single female travel photographer. Not for lack of stunningly outstanding female travel photographers, but because the guys run the show. I would like to see that changed.
I would like to see more women of colour being acknowledged for their work, and getting the opportunity to develop their skills. I’d like to see the womxn in this industry stand together more, support each other more, and become wildly successful.
I’d love to have every single womxn photographer of this country be a member of this group (I make it my life’s mission to recruit members as I come across them!), be active, and learn and grow as much as they can everyday, because it’s an amazing place and I’m very fond of the sisterhood we have going there.
I’m also excited about some projects we’re getting started with in the background to realise some of these goals, and which will help grow this community into something unstoppable. So keep watching this space, ladies!
- Favourite colour? Blue and green.
- Most fun you’ve had in an hour? This is a trick question, isn’t it? 😉
- Do you read? What is your favourite book? OH GODS YES. I have this unhealthy obsession with books and they will be my downfall one day. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is still the most visually descriptive thing I’ve ever read, and so it stands out. I mean, you could actually SMELL the forests. That’s some mad writing skills, and probably the thing I measure all art to – whether it stimulates all your senses or not.
- Three things you can’t live without? Tea, Passport, and this Prestige vegetable peeler I bought at Game. That thing peels like a dream.
- First thing you do when you wake up? Groan: “TEA.”
- Flying or driving? Both. I love both.
- Cats or dogs? Both, but I like cats more because they bury their own poop. Dogs are messy AF.
- Name one thing that people don’t know about you… I am legit borderline OCD. Straight lines or DEATH. Having a kid in the house is nothing short of torture, and I’m sure I repay in kind by being a torturous presence in my household.
- Lover or a fighter? Fighter.
- Favourite season? Spring.