Art

Poetry in the Township. Natalie Payne

Johannesburg is a rough, tough, brutish sort of city that has its own particular beauty and a very raw energy that I love.

Images by Natalie Payne - Interview by Teo J. Babini
©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

From the rough and tough environment that is Johannesburg, Natalie Payne looks down through her lense to find some semblance of brutish beauty. Get to know the lay of the land through the people she captures.

Before we delve into your personal work, tell us a bit about your professional photography career?
I am a self-taught photographer; I picked up my first camera at age twelve and have been snapping ever since. I assisted fashion and advertising photographers to learn about the industry and have been freelancing since then, photographing editorials for magazines, working on film sets, etc. A few years ago I started teaching photography and am currently working at The Market Photo Workshop, a school set up by esteemed photographer David Goldblatt in the 1980’s, to cater for those disadvantaged by the apartheid system. I also lecture in fashion photography at LISOF, a fashion design college. Finally I am trying to complete an MA in portrait photography at Wits University in Johannesburg!

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

Your work, in general, seems to favor human subjects, specifically those either semi-naked or in somewhat elaborate outfits, can you explain why you are drawn to this?
I guess I am interested in the expression of selfhood—either through clothing and identity or through body and place. I am also interested in a sense of either vulnerability or confidence that people exude when semi clothed in a private space.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

How do the fewer still-life fit into your larger body of work?
They are the little details that give one a sense of place.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

The series “Portraits-Alex” begins with shots of ballet dancers in a home like setting, what brought about this combination of elements?
Very practical reasons in fact – I was commissioned by a magazine to photograph these dancers at a ballet school established in Alexander Township, a very poor area on the outskirts of Sandton, which is an extremely affluent area and I wanted to know more about these girls personal lives. I got to know one girl in particular, Dina, who really helped me with this project and introduced me to her friends.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

Most of the boys, on the other hand, are not dressed for dance. What is their role in the series?
These are Dina’s brothers and friends.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

All but one of the models are young people. Who is the elder woman, and how does she fit into the bigger picture?
She is the grandmother who looks after the kids.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

How did you use lighting with these portraits and what camera did you use? How does this help you tell the story?
I work with natural light and love the chiaroscuro effect of window light. I use an old Rolleiflex medium format camera that I have to look down into. I prefer the action of bending over the camera to that of pointing a lens in someone’s face. I photograph using film because I love the unknown and unexpected of analogue photography. This camera enhances the unexpected as it has no auto focus or light meter and the viewing screen is very dark so I never quite know what I will get.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

Can you tell us a bit about living and working in Johannesburg?
Johannesburg is a rough, tough, brutish sort of city that has it’s own particular beauty and a very raw energy that I love. Living here sometimes feels exhausting, but it is inspiring, surviving as a photographer is tough and very competitive, like any major city in the world, but I would not choose to do anything else. In summer, we have afternoon storms and when the thunder and lightening roll away the golden late afternoon light coming in under the gray clouds, hitting the mine dumps and cityscape is breathtaking. In winter, the sun shines continuously! Like everywhere, there is the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

©Natalie Payne

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