Next up in our annual Young South Africa series is Cape Town based fashion and portrait photographer Katja Marr. Having shot for the likes of Elle, Chasseur, and Girls on Film her work has come a long way since we first featured her in 2013, but it certainly hasn’t lost its whimsy – whether it’s a set of ultra wonderful and bizarre portraits of Thor Rixon or a 90s grunge lookbook for Vintage and the City. Often treating photography as a form of escapism, Katja’s images are youthful, enchanting and full of character. Even then, the medium is simply one facet in the life-long artistic pursuit that lies ahead of her – she wishes to exercise her creativity in as many different fields as possible, and we’re excited to see where that desire may lead.
We spoke to Katja about the novelty of shooting analogue images in a digital age, the position of the youth in our country and why finding like-minded people is essential in the creative industry.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in photography, and how have you gone about doing so?
I don’t think I ever had a moment when I said “I want this to be my career”. I’ve always wanted to exercise my creativity in many different fields. In the beginning I was just curious to see how far I could take it. Since then the focus has really been honing my craft and finding a style I’m happy with. In my eyes I’m still an amateur (I’m starting to wonder if that will ever change) so I’ve been trying to grow as much as I can.
Your work contains a mythological thread – mermaids, goddesses, etc. What appeals to you about creating visual stories about things that don’t exist in our natural world?
Who says they don’t exist though? 😉 I think it’s a childhood fascination of mine. I enjoy using these themes with a modern twist to make them relatable. It’s an aesthetic appeal as much as it’s an escape from reality. I like treating my photography as a form of escapism.
What else inspires your creativity?
I’m going to be very millennial and say “the internet”, by which I mean the vast amount of imagery I find online. I think we all have that folder full of random images we like. So it could be a scene from a movie, the work of a photographer I admire or an image of a beautiful setting. I’m also inspired by the people I work with. Sometimes a model or stylist will approach me with a moodboard depicting what they’d like to shoot (I won’t take credit for everything) and we’ll bounce ideas off each other. I enjoy working with inspiring people for that reason.
How would you describe your current aesthetic? Is it very different from the pictures you were taking when you first started out?
I think my aesthetic has evolved along with my skills. So, because I’m better at properly composing an image my work has a more mature nature now. I think the more you learn the more your work changes/improves.
How do you know when you’ve taken a good photograph?
It’s when your image embodies a certain feeling or emotion. When all of the technical aspects of your image (composition, exposure etc.) work together to convey that sense.
You’re tapped into a movement of young people who still shoot film. Why do you prefer this medium in a predominantly digital age? Is it an aesthetic or process-driven decision, or does it have something to do with the culture surrounding it?
Since I started photography I’ve always shot on film. I think it’s become my comfort zone, because I get a little freaked out when I shoot digital. I also think I’m a little addicted to the rush of getting film developed. There’s always that anxiety of “What if the film gets destroyed by the chemicals” and I love that moment when you see your images for the first time and they’re everything you hoped for. So I guess the process adds thrill. I also like having to be patient when shooting film. I feel like it’s taught me about photography a great deal faster than if I’d had SD cards to fill with images – because wasting film is a sin and an expense. I won’t say I’ll always shoot on film, because professional photographers need digital skills. But for the moment I like the novelty of shooting film and capturing the emotion that digital photography sometimes misses in an image.
What comes to mind when you hear the words “Young South Africa”?
Creatively I feel like South Africans are just finding their feet on an international scale. We’re breaking away from identifying our art as “South African” and seeing it compete with the world. I think the South African creative industry is maturing, and the younger generation is helping to drive that transition since we’re exposed to so much more information than our predecessors.
What is unique about the position of the youth in South Africa right now?
All art aside, I feel like we’ve inherited a giant mess of legacy, and the challenge is making something good out of it even while we’re struggling for our own survival. Granted that’s the sort of challenge faced by young people everywhere in the world, but we’re different in the sense of the degree of hurt, the anger and pain left over from a system that only fell twenty years ago.
What are your thoughts on the creative industry in South Africa? Do you find it to be competitive or supportive?
It’s as competitive as any other industry, but I think most artists are more concerned with putting good work out there than competition. I definitely think it’s important to associate yourself with supportive people. It’s a very social industry so finding like-minded people is essential.
Do you think it’s important for young creatives in SA to make work that is a reflection of our time? Is this something you consciously endeavour to do?
I believe that all art is in some way a reflection of the life and times of the artist creating it. That said I wouldn’t presume to tell any artist what kind of work he/she should be making and it’s not really something I consider when taking a photograph.
If you could pass on a single piece of advice to your generation, what would it be?
What are some of the struggles and opportunities as a photographer today?
Making a name for oneself is difficult, because the industry is so saturated right now. And of course there’s the age old struggle of the starving artist – I work a part time job to stay afloat. It’s important not to be under any delusions about that. As far as opportunities go I think the internet and social media platforms have made networking and showcasing your work so much easier. They are powerful tools and it’s very important to use them wisely.
What are you currently working on or working towards?
As I mentioned, I’m focusing on learning and growing more as a photographer. I’m also experimenting with other creative mediums like illustration. But I don’t want to give too much away about that.
What would you like to be known for?
When I was young I would imagine myself on my deathbed (morbid, I know) and hope that at the end of my life I could say I’d done it all, creatively. I don’t know if I care a lot about being known for that, but it’s something I’ve promised myself. That’s more important to me.
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