Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Puku Story Festival - Part Two: Story-Telling

In February, 2015 I was privileged enough to be asked to photograph Grahamstown's Puku Story Festival - a festival aimed at promoting the telling, writing, publishing and reading of stories in isiXhosa. This is part two of my experience of the festival.

Stories. They fill our minds with wonder and open new worlds for our imaginations to explore. They show us our own world in a way that we had never quite seen it. Whether they're meant for the young or the old, stories allow us to both escape from the world and to find our place in it.

The Puku Story Festival celebrates stories of all forms - sung, spoken, written and acted. It embraces stories that have been written, and encourages the writing of them. It encourages those with a voice to use it in whatever way they can to tell their own stories, and more than anything, it encourages them to tell those stories in their own tongue, and in their own way.

Those who follow this blog may know that I have a tendency to tell stories through photography and explain them through words. I don't want to explain too much today. I think I'll just let the photographs tell their own story of the wonderful Puku Story Festival that I was privileged to be a part of.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Puku Story Festival - Part One: Hitting the Road

In February, 2015 I was privileged enough to be asked to photograph Grahamstown's Puku Story Festival - a festival aimed at promoting the telling, writing, publishing and reading of stories in isiXhosa. This is part one of my experience of the festival.

I can’t understand a word that they’re saying.

There are over forty children, all under six years old, crammed into a classroom with no fewer than six adults, myself being one of them, all talking at once, and there is not a single word that I recognise. My primary school lessons have failed me, my “Khunjani khakuhle” nothing more than a mixed up memory that makes no sense in the real world. At least not when strung together in the sing-song way that stuck in my head. And not only is this just day one, it is just school one of day one. What have I gotten myself into?

The answer? Three days filled with endless smiles and laughter. Three days of excited shouting and running and twirling around to “Lizzy Lizzy”. Three days of making music with hands and mouths, emptied tins of jam and sosatie sticks or washing pegs. Three days of barely understanding a word that is spoken, but seeing with my own eyes wide faces filled with wonder at stories that I can’t understand, and don’t need to.

The Puku Story Festival was on its way to Grahamstown, and I spent three days travelling from school to school for road shows in areas that I didn’t even know existed, and got to see the excitement first hand as the children were told stories in their mother tongue. I got to capture their spell-bound glances, their shoulders hunched in anticipation and their unrelenting joy at having story-tellers come to visit.

I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying. I didn’t have to.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Visitor

Ashlea Strydom

There is a phone call that I look forward to every year. It's a call that will come out of the blue and brighten my spirits. "I'm coming to visit," a voice at the other end of the line will say, and there will be little shouts of joy as I let Grant know that Ash is on her way.

This year was a little different. This year involved Grant and I informing Ash that we were in town to visit, not for long, but wanting to see her. We went to lunch - it was innocent enough. And during the course of a three hour meal and conversation, we managed to convince Ash to come and visit us once more. For Christmas nogal!! We had our doubts that she would brave the bus trip, but she did, making it in one piece, more or less, and with a lot of stories to tell from the journey.

When Christmas day came around, we sat together, Grant, Dee, Ash and I, under our tiny, makeshift tree, and tore wrapping paper to shreds (which I would later force the kitties to sit in so that photographs could be taken) as we unwrapped gifts. And while many wonderful gifts were given and gotten, one stood out as the bestest for me.

"I hereby promise to do a photo shoot with you before I leave... (and you won't even need to nag this time hehe)"
I was practically jumping for joy. In fact, some jumping may have been involved. And so, on a sunny day in January, Ash and I made our way from the lounge to the studio, and from the studio to the botanical gardens and I got to have fun taking some wonderful photographs of my gorgeous, amazing, one of a kind friendling.

It's taken awhile to get them up, but here they are.

Thanks once again to Ashlea, for being the best kind of sport - climbing trees on command and doing things that must have made you think that I was out of my mind. Here's to another two decades of friendship, and many many MANY more visits!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Simply Stunning

Verne and Monique
Cape Town

"Are you sure this is the place?" Grant asks as he pulls up outside the facebrick house.
"I think so," I say, though I'm unsure myself. It's not all that different from the houses around it - nice enough, but not exactly the wedding venue that I had been imagining. I know that it's going to be a small wedding, but from this perspective, it doesn't look like the house could fit more than 20 people inside it. Maybe 30 at a stretch. I ring the doorbell, expecting a confused voice on the other end when I say that I'm there for Verne and Monique, but instead I'm met with the groom himself making his way down the steps to greet me. As he leads me through the house, I start realising just how much effort has been put into the day by Monique's family - champagne glasses line one table while a candy station that rivals even the best Sweets From Heaven lines another. Beautiful bouquets of hydraengas dripping with pearls sit atop collections of books making up the centre pieces for each beautifully laid table. A bright blue pool filled with white roses begs you to jump in. More roses held in glass teardrops sway from the side of the tent in the breeze. The more I look around me, the more I realise just how perfectly the space suits the two of them - it's simple, but stunning. I pull myself away to go and see the bride.

Monii is nervous, not used to being fussed over or being the centre of attention, but she's hiding it well. On the other side of the house, Verne's almost as bad, but both are handling the excitement and nerves by remembering one important thing - today is the day that marks the beginning of the rest of their lives together. As they come together and walk hand-in-hand onto the balcony to the applause of the family and friends that have gathered to celebrate them, it's as though a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. The speeches are filled with recollections and advice, the conversations with joy and laughter as old friends meet far-away family members and drinks are shared from picnic baskets filled with goodies. Some notice the geeky details like the Skyrim theme being played for the first dance (though few realise that the inside of the rings are inscribed with "Player 1" and "Player 2", a reference which I delight in) while others comment on just how beautiful the bride looks in blue. By the time the couple are ready to slip away for a short sunset photo shoot, the atmosphere has slipped into comfortable relaxation making it easy to sneak out almost unnoticed.

It's the first chance that they're really had to be alone all day, and as they watch the lights turn on over the city, the lean into each other and I step back, letting them have the moment to themselves. They talk, out of my earshot, but I can see it in the faces and their smiles. They could be talking about the cars, about games that they want to play, about work for all I know, but their expressions and the small gestures that they share speak volumes. It's the little things in life that mean that most, and it's clear to me that Verne and Monii mean the world to each other.

I would like to thank Verne and Monii for inviting me to be a part of their day, and would like to thank both the Mulholland and Franszen families for making me feel so welcome!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Verne and Monique
Cape Town

Monique and Verne are a playful couple. Mostly I've known them to love playing computer and board games, but it was the playfulness between them that stuck in my mind when I was trying to think of somewhere in Cape Town to do a couple shoot with them. I grew up in Cape Town, right up the road from where the two of them were staying, and all that kept running through my head was the idea of playgrounds. So we found one!

At first there was a bit of hesitation, both Verne and Monique not being used to being in front of the camera. But before long, all the awkwardness was forgotten and it became an afternoon of fun and laughter. From tyre swings to tiny slides, roundabouts to seesaw horses, there was a lot of talk about childhoods spent in parks and memories coming up left, right and centre. To top it all off, we found a perfect tree for climbing, and Monii graciously volunteered!

Thank you to Verne and Monique for a wonderfully fun afternoon reminiscing about childhoods, laughing and climbing trees. You guys were absolutely fantastic! This is actually the second shoot that I did with this awesome couple. Watch this space for the photographs from their wedding, coming next week.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Meant To Be

Rudi and Roxanne

“Just make yourselves comfortable,” I tell them, as they sit down on the bench and I turn my back to grab my camera. By the time I turn around, they are already hand in hand, leaning against one another, him laughing raucously, teasing her relentlessly, and her taking it all in her stride, her smile unwavering. There is nothing on earth that could ruin this day – the day that Rudi and Roxanne got married.

Rudi and Roxy are one of those couples who are absolutely, without a doubt, meant for each other, and I can hear it in the way that they talk, their conversations filled with loving teasing and inside jokes. As Rudi’s family joins us, I can see how much a part of the family Roxy has already become, laughing with her second mother and her new sister, giggling as the family tries to share a bottle of champagne that has been warmed in the sun, but which they swill regardless, because this kind of celebration requires champagne, even if it is warmer than you’d want it. The bubbles flow with laughter and hugs and happiness abound.

Before long, the celebrations move from the peaceful quiet of the Monument to the Mouse and Budgie, where friends gather to celebrate with the couple and chilled champagne awaits. It's a small party, but the kind that stays in your memory, filled with good people, good food and good fun. And so a beautiful marriage starts and a wonderful relationship continues with friends and family, well-wishes and joy.

Rudi and Roxy, wishing you all the best for the many many many years to come.