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Featured: Jacques Smit | The Thrill of Telling a Story

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Onbesonge #1


Over the past decade Jacques Smit has had the opportunity to explore and work in countries such as Britain, Italy, Cuba, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, Philippines and Turkey. If his extensive travels have taught him anything, it’s this: you don’t have to go very far to find stories worth telling. In fact, the most recent story that he has told through his lens is one captured right here in South Africa; documenting the unsung lives of minority workers on Cape wine farms. We chatted to Jacques about his attraction to the photographic medium, the subjects he explores in his work and his hunger for discovery and growth.


What is your earliest photography-related memory?


Stumbling around a farm with my father’s old Ricoh analogue capturing exposed tree trunks. I was about 19 and had enrolled in a photography course after a last-minute decision against becoming an architect. I couldn’t draw anyway.


Were you always aware that you’d pursue photography as a career, or was there quite a journey to discovering this?


Though I’ve always been visually oriented, it certainly took time. Up until a few years ago I had mainly dreamt of life as a musician. There is still so much to learn.

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Onbesonge #1


What attracted you to the medium?


Being able to compose a picture without using a pencil or brush. The thrill of telling a story. Of contributing. Noticing the light in the darkest corners. The ease by which it combines with music and writing.


Your website is titled ‘Pursue the Wolf’. What does this reveal about you and your work?


Wolf is a nickname I picked up over the years mainly due to the tone of my voice and perhaps my solitary nature. I think it’s also indicative of a hunger for discovery and growth. Using a project name also places focus on the work instead of me as person or supposed artist.


Over the years you’ve travelled extensively. This clearly impacts the content of your work, but how has it affected your style or approach?


I’ve learnt you don’t have to go very far to find stories worth telling. It has taught me to respond to where I am and utilize what I have.


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Onbesonge #1


You’ve recently completed a photo documentary on the ‘unsung’ Afrikaans speaking workers on Cape wine farms. How did this project come about? 


The wine industry is extremely corporate and product focused. It was my purpose to honour the vibrant culture and sweat of generations of Afrikaans speaking farm workers of mixed heritage, most of whom continue to suffer marginalization, forced evictions, problems related to fetal alcohol syndrome and a lack of empowerment.


What are some of the recurring themes in your work?


I can’t seem to shake a certain sense of melancholy. However, I do try to explore subjects related to empowerment, social justice and education.


How do you know that you’ve taken a good picture? What are some of the things you look for?


Composition is very important to me. Light more so than colour (despite being influenced by Christopher Doyle’s cinematography). I try not to be noticed. To stick to the truth. You don’t have to fake real life.


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Onbesonge #1


In what ways has photography changed the way you look at and/or think about things?


It has forced me to notice the small elements of daily life. And to learn from, but not follow in the footsteps of another.


Is there an image or project of yours that stands out as a personal favourite, or has a particularly memorable story attached to it? 


To date, I am most proud of the Onbesonge #1 / Unsung #1 due to the opportunity if gave me to progress as a photographer over a relatively short period of time and for the story it tells of a resilient, though often terribly marginalized community. I especially relished the opportunity to work without the inhibition of language barriers.


What are you currently working on, or working towards?


Right now I am self-publishing a book on the Onbesonge #1 / Unsung #1 alongside an exhibit at Oude Libertas Gallery. I will also be travelling to Hanoi soon to document the local music scene, a custom motorbike project, and prisoners of conscious. In the words of Nebula Skate’s Rayne Moses, my goal remains to ‘Grind with purpose’.


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Strays Of Fatih


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Nocturne #3


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Ikamva Youth


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Grind With Purpose


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Sand Kasteel


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A Solitary Plight


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