Intimate and lush portraiture by Cape Town-based photographer Jesse Navarre Vos

Born and based in Cape Town, analogue photographer Jesse Navarre Vos first picked up a film camera in high school. “We had a darkroom where we got to develop and print our film,” he shares.

“It was all a tactile process. My fondest memories are of being 16 and patiently watching my images first reveal themselves as negatives and then again through the projector onto the photographic paper.” The artist took a break from making images to focus on studying classical and jazz guitar at the University of Cape Town and returned to his perennial passion for photography two years ago.

Whether shooting documentary portraits or fashion stories his compositions are strikingly organic, capturing unguarded moments with an honest eye. Jesse’s lens is drawn to softly lit, quiet moments, which appear as fragmented scenes to a bigger story. “Photographs will always be an impression, a representation of something fleeting but I think the beauty lies in that — the pursuit of collecting small moments and chasing and constructing fragments,” he says.

What is it you are trying to do with your art?
I think stories are an important currency and I would like my photographs to be more narrative-based but I’m also deeply intrigued by aesthetics and looking for beautiful things: people, clothes, objects, landscapes. I’m not sure if there’s an overlap between the two — the act of storytelling and looking for beauty. There are also things that are not beautiful that I believe need to be photographed. It’s the separation between these worlds, which I find difficult to merge.

Do you feel any duty or responsibility as a photographer?
It’s something I think about often. It’s important to be aware of your position in relation to the space surrounding you and your camera in a physical senseWe need to be aware of the social realm we are engaging in and our responsibilities within that context. When one is venturing into the realms of documentary photography and portraiture, specifically representations of real people, there’s a responsibility to know your own moral, social and political position.

Who or what inspires you? 
I’m completely obsessed with films and would like to get involved in filmmaking in the future. Books have been fundamental in shaping my ideas and presenting me with new perspectives. Art in a general and broad sense. Personal experiences. Music has always been an important part of my life and continues to influence and inspire me in a deep way. Collecting stories.

Your images always feel very personal and intimate, how do you connect with your subject?
I love connecting with people and the act of portraiture is an intimate experience. It gives you a chance to bond with someone in a way that allows for closer proximity than is normally permitted in everyday life. I find it quite frightening to connect with people I don’t know well, which is why I started out taking photographs of my friends but I am feeling more confident now and moving away from that.

What’s next?
I am planning a longterm body of work in the realm of documentary and portraiture. I would also like to shoot fashion because there are some amazing fashion creatives in Cape Town who I want to make things with. I am fortunate to assist great photographers in Cape Town who have taught me a lot and I am planning to continue to assist while keeping up my own work in my spare time.

Between 10 and 5