Xavier Vahed is a new wave young South African photographer with an extensive portfolio of work across many genres within the field of photography. With some high profile collaborations and a student Loerie nomination already making up a portion of his earlier work, his last exhibition titled Tradition still remains one of the personal high points in his career so far. As he currently investigates the idea of exploring more documentary photography in future, we caught up with Durban-based Xavier to discuss his conceptual work and process, the disruption of social media on photography, as well as finding out about some of his dream projects.
Hi Xavier, we’re very excited that we finally got hold of you. Please will you tell us a bit more about yourself.
Hmm, I’m not too sure where to begin. I think I’m pretty simple. I love photography and all things related. I love manual labour and anything that requires a mechanical process. I have a slight obsession with cats and hands down I make the best popcorn.
What first drew you to photography and how did you discover a passion for it?
My dad, like most men, loves gadgets and new toys and will always purchase the best if his pocket and/or my mom allow it. While I was in high school he bought his first DSLR and gave me the usual run down before he unboxed it: “Do not touch”. As with most of his latest acquisitions, the moment I had the house to myself, I would dive in and fiddle. I’m not sure why but from the moment I began to “play”, I felt that this is exactly what I want to do. I love its many facets and I try as much as possible to dabble in as many as possible. It suits my fickle nature. More recently I’ve begun to appreciate photography even more, as it facilitates my other hobbies. Like avoiding conversations with people I don’t want to talk to, watching people and telling people what to do. I feel at home in photography. I get homesick. I even get sick of being at home.
You’re very well rounded as a photographer making it look easy to dabble in various disciplines of photography. But what type of photography are you naturally drawn to?
There are two genres I feel closest to: I love the sort of photography that requires the vast majority of the work to take place before I need to pick up the camera. Planning, research, discussing styling, location scouting. I’m a man of process and the creative one is my absolute favourite; the best part of it being the “incubation” period where any activity can be considered part of the journey. Lately the only shoots that require that are personal ones. It’s also these sorts of shoots which tend to be quite a production and require a team of people to get things done. I love team work… especially when I’m the captain.
The other is documentary photography. As much as possible, but not often enough, I try to keep my camera with me to record things I see. Generally this form of photography takes place when I’m exploring corners of Durban I’ve not yet seen or the odd adventures I go on with friends. I’d love to do more photojournalism work but I don’t think now is the time for that. For now I just shoot what I see or what I want to see.
You have an exciting way of working with and manipulating colour, perspective and effect. How would you describe your photography style?
- All over the place
- All of the above
Sometimes I absolutely hate the tangled web of work that I’ve done and wish I could rather focus on one in particular. Other times I love how diverse my portfolio is. I can never decide. Mostly I feel that I’m in no rush to decide. I look at a lot of photographers who I aspire to be like and most of them only really settled into their niche much later in their careers. I’m only 25 and I still have a long way to go.
What are some of the clichés in photography that you try to steer away from?
I think I’ve gone head first into most clichés as a photographer. I didn’t necessarily make much of an effort to avoid them either. I think it’s important to give every technique a try at least once even if the only thing you get out of it is to learn its limitations. That being said; selective saturation makes me die inside. I will judge you for using it.
Who would you say are some of the photographers who influenced your work?
On the more commercial side of my work, I would say I draw the most from Erwin Olaff and Phillip Toledano. Especially Olaff. His lighting keeps me up at night. From a documentarian point of view, David Goldblatt and Henri Cartier Bresson have always been my heroes. More recently I’ve really been drawn to the work of Benoit Paille. I envy the clarity in the connection that he makes with everyone he photographs. He is also quite bold and experimental in his work. Plus, his poorly translated rational on his LSD project (one of my favorites) makes me laugh every time.
How do you think social media such as blogging, Tumblr and Instagram have played a role in people understanding photography?
I think it’s accelerated the growth and rise in popularity exponentially. I believe that Instagram was revolutionary for photography in its purest form. Besides all the shitty chinograms and selfies that it’s clogged up with, the vast majority of the Instagram community is constantly visually hunting throughout their day and more and more people are simply enjoying the process of photography.
If you could work with 3 artist from any medium on a dream project, who would they be and why?
Considering how diverse my work is, I feel it’s limiting to choose only artists to work with. If I were to work with any 3 people I would have to say Ryan Schude, David Attenborough and Louis Theroux. I’m fascinated with the scenes that Schude makes and I would love to learn from him. With regards to David and Louis I love the innocent approach both of them take to their work. They also each work in two extremely different genres of documentary, both of which interest me equally.
Is there anything you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
I attempted a street portrait series in 2010 which I’m about to dust off and try again from a different angle. I’ve also started working on series about wedding photographers in botanical gardens. There are plans to do more along the lines of my previous exhibition, “Tradition”, but for now I’d like to focus on more documentary work rather than conceptual work.
Where can we follow and find your work?