15 Oct Featured: Ross Garrett
You will most likely know Ross Garrett – portrait and fashion photographer – for the work he’s created with Die Antwoord, or for his photographs which have graced the pages of local and international magazines including Numéro, Dazed & Confused, V Man and Elle. Barely in need of an introduction at all, it only takes one look at his work to see that Ross is undeniably one of the most talented South African photographers out there. And, to top it off, he loves riding Vespas.
To start, tell us more about your journey so far. How did you end up where you are now?
I studied design at Wits Technikon (now UJ) in Johannesburg. After I finished, I started a small collective with some friends and worked mainly as a designer for a number of years. Photography was something I always did and eventually I was able to give up design and start shooting full time. I guess it’s like anything, you hope for some breaks along the way. Nothing has changed, I’m still hoping for some breaks!
How would you describe yourself to someone you’d just met?
I probably wouldn’t end up describing myself. I’m a bit quiet around those I’ve just met!
Could you give us a rough idea of what you were doing 5, 10, and 15 years ago?
5 years ago, I had just spent a couple months in Cape Town after being involved in a model reality show called Model Millions. The show went under and I was stuck in a hotel room for a month with no work. Bored out of my mind, I decided to approach my Cape Town based agent One League, who I have been with ever since. I was shooting some portraits on 4×5 and shooting an Allan Gray campaign. The last campaign that I ever shot on film.
10 years ago, I was 9 months in to running my own company with my friend. It was/is called Injozi. I was probably doing some shitty brochure for a property development and shooting portraits of bands.
15 years ago, I was preparing to enrol in a graphic design course at Wits Technikon. I looked a little like a hippie.
No journey is without obstacles or struggles. What have these been for you?
I think the main obstacle or struggle over the years has been to find balance. Balance between life and work, balance between money and art, balance between expectations and delivery, balance between self-marketing and integrity. I also think the struggle for any creative person is writer’s block. There are good times and bad and you have to roll through the bad to find the good again.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned throughout your career so far? And the best advice you’ve ever received?
I think that one of the things I’ve learned so far is that you have to pick your battles; you can’t fall on your sword for every project. I think that you need perspective in order to have longevity as an artist.
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is to trust yourself. It’s literally all you have. The best pieces of advice for me are the following:
‘Do what feels right, and don’t be afraid to explain it as such. If it feels right, that’s as good an answer as any.’ – Carl Lamprecht, Tin Temple.
‘Every idea has a language unto itself. This fits into a bubble. If there are elements that fall outside that bubble, it doesn’t make sense to the language of that idea.’ (something like that!) – Dan Roberts, Terraplane.
‘A fashion picture is a portrait, just as a portrait is a fashion picture.’ – Irving Penn
So to backtrack a bit – I watched this video about you, Constructing Ross Garrett, that was produced in 2008. Towards the end you said, “I’m not interested in telling people what to do – it’s got to come from them, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If your vision isn’t what you got in the final product, then so be it.”
Years later, does this still ring true for you?
It does. In relation to portraiture particularly. Fashion too to a certain extent as well as performance. Once an idea is briefed, it has to come from your subject. I feel I need to relinquish control to a certain extent. Some times it’s easier than others.
To what extent has your style changed over the years?
I think it’s a constant evolution to me. Different things interest me now. There will be days when your instinct and judgement is acute and days when you miss things and as time passes I become interested or inspired by different things and this causes my style to evolve, perhaps not change completely.
What’s most rewarding for you: the experience of taking photographs, or the final image?
When taking pictures, I always have a vision for what I would like the final image to be. I love the process of shooting but I think the final image is the most rewarding. Most of the time however, by the time I get to the final image, I am bored and slightly disappointed. There are very few pictures that I’ve taken, that I’m proud of!
You’ve had the chance to work with some rather interesting people over the years. Are there any particular moments that stand out for you?
The process of working with Die Antwoord will always stand out for me because of a number of reasons. But, there are moments when shooting a specific person is really special and for me so far it has been my work with Elizaveta. Sometimes, there is something magical that happens when photographing a subject. JP and Tokkie would also be highlights for me.
Do you think your immediate, day-to-day surroundings have an influence in your work? What other things would you cite as influences?
I wouldn’t say that you can see the influence of my day to day surroundings in my work. It’s interesting, I think because of my surroundings, I choose to shoot mainly on neutral simple backdrops. My influences are definitely Dutch still lifes, the Irving Penn quote, Richard Avedon, Bob Dylan, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch.
What’s the most interesting, exciting, or bizarre thing that’s happened to you while on a shoot?
The most bizarre I can’t really mention! Sorry. Another is when I was shooting the Die Antwoord ‘Fok Julle Naaiers’ music video in Mitchells Plain. We were shooting portraits of 26 and 28 gang members. One group at a time obviously. But on the first shot, we were running slightly behind, so the next group were almost at the house while we were finishing the first group. Luckily, the rival gangs never crossed paths.
If you there were absolutely no constraints and you were free to do anything and go anywhere, what would it be?
I would probably move to New York for a while.
Not related to photography, what are some of the other things you spend your time doing?
Fly-fishing, riding Vespas, cooking.
And finally, what’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m not as chilled as I come across!