Q&A with GARY VAN WYK

ImageQ&A compiled by LIZAR VAN REENEN

Everything about local street photographer, Gary van Wyk, has nostalgia written all over him – the way he dresses, the way he walks, talks and especially the way he captures the lives of ordinary people.  Like the old masters of street photography, Gary loves to go out on the streets in search of a photographic opportunity and to patiently wait until the moment unfolds.  At the age of 17, he bought his first Minolta film camera in London.  Years later, Gary is still hooked on film.

IS IT TRUE THAT YOU BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH A PHOTOGRAPHER SHOOTING A SUNSET IN THE CARIBBEAN?    I wouldn’t say that’s what made me decide as my interest started long before – it did play a part though.  I happened to be on a beach in the Caribbean on a perfect evening with the most beautiful light during sunset with a point and shoot in hand taking snap shots.  The photographer caught my eye because he had professional gear  and he looked like he knew what he was doing.  The silhouetted figure of the photographer and the sunset were burnt into my memory.   Back in London, I got my film processed and once again by a stroke of luck, the perfect sunset was right there in front of my eyes.  That’s when I decided that I wanted to know how to do this properly, not just take snap shots, but really understand the art of photography.

BEING HEAD HUNTED BY INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER AFTER A 2 DAY INTERNSHIP AFTER STUDYING IS QUITE SOMETHING.  WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU DO THAT IMPRESSED THEM ENOUGH TO HIRE YOU?   It was during my third year of studies that I started working there.  I have no idea what they saw in me as I was so inexperienced.  I guess they saw that I was quite determined to stick around so they decided to give me a chance.  It was the best thing that could have happened to me as I learned so much.

YOU GREW UP IN THE CAPE FLATS.  DID THAT PLAY A HUGE ROLE IN KNOWING WHAT TO “LOOK FOR” WHEN OUT PROWLING FOR SOMETHING TO SHOOT?  Well, I think growing up on the Cape Flats definitely makes one street smart, which helps with being alert out there.  When I was younger, I was always out and about on the streets missioning with my friends getting into all kinds of situations – so I guess that has given me me some sort of love for the streets.  It’s exciting being on the street not knowing what you’ll find.

WITH THIS GENRE OF PHOTOGRAPHY, IS IT IMPERATIVE TO BE STREET SUSSED?  I think it helps to be street sussed but we all walk the streets at some point in our day.  It’s about having an interest in observing, recording and confronting real life.  This genre is very challenging to do in our modern society.

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON WAS KNOWN AS THE FATHER OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY.  DID HE INSPIRE YOU IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER?  Bresson is the Man!!!  Yes, he is a huge inspiration to me, and the path my photography has taken.  He has taught me about the famous “decisive” moment which I have tattooed on my arm.  When learning more about photography you discover so many masters like Gary Winogrand, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Walker Evans – I could go on forever.  Let’s not forget our South African masters like Alf Khumalo, Peter Magubane, David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole and George Hallet – the man who taught me about documentary photography.

WHAT TYPE OF EQUIPMENT WOULD ONE NEED TO INVEST IN?  One camera, one lens!!  I generally use one camera and a 35mm lens.  You have to keep it simple to react quickly.

I BELIEVE YOU ARE QUITE INTO 35mm FILM.  WHY THIS LOVE OR OBSESSION WITH FILM AND OLD CAMERAS?  I’ve always loved old things, I guess it’s the nostalgic feel.  “They don’t make things like they used to”.   Technically, I love the quality of old lenses and the handling of old cameras.  It makes you put so much more energy into every frame you make.  Film grain is simply beautiful!

FILM OR DIGITAL?  I think they both have their role to play but my favourite would have to be film.

21 ICONS SOUTH AFRICA.   HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THAT PROJECT?  I met photographer Adrian Steirn when he photographed Desmond Tutu for this project.  I ran into him a few days later and he asked me to join him.  It has been a huge honour for me to meet so many special South Africans and to hear their amazing stories.  It is definitely the most incredible and important project I’ve ever been part of.  We’ve worked hard to create this project and had loads of fun along the way.

SO EVERY TOM, DICK AND SALLY WANTS TO BECOME A STREET PHOTOGRAPHER THESE DAYS.  ANY ADVICE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR ASPIRING/WANNABE STREET PHOTOGRAPHERS OUT THERE?   Shoot as much as you can and learn from your mistakes.  Don’t ever give up!  Get out there.  Take chances.

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