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Grad Guide 2020: Sandra Nagel

For our annual graduate showcase, we had a chat with Cape Town-based art director and photographer Sandra Nagel about her creative journey. The Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography graduate specializes in analogue photography and through this, she aims to celebrate, represent and empower women, queer and non-binary people as much as she can.

Sandra Nagel

What and where did you study? What was your experience like?

I studied at the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography. I am so grateful to have studied there because they gave me the tools to take my work to the next level. I loved Visual Studies and Discourse and learning about how to create responsibly and how to create meaningful, impactful work that is still true to myself.

Why were you drawn to photography and what do you love about the medium?

My parents are both natural photographers and since I was small they taught me how to take photographs. It was never about the technical side, it was always about how to frame and conceptualise the photograph, which I have always thought is the most important part of photography because at the end of the day what you are taking a picture of matters most. I love photography because it’s such a unique expression, you can say so much without saying anything at all. You can make people feel so many different emotions by just freezing a moment in time. Photography is so beautiful because I can express certain parts of myself that I struggle putting into words, I can show people the way in which I see people and the world around me.

Tell us about the work you created during your final year. Any projects that stand out for you?

In my final year I started “What makes us strong”, which I am actually still working on currently. It aims at empowering and uplifting women, queer and non-binary people and showcasing their stories. With South Africa being the rape capital of the world and many women, queer and non-binary people constantly living in fear, I wanted to bring a sense of strength, allowing people to take back their power and feel a sense of safety. “What makes us strong” did exactly that and allowed for a community of people to uplift one another and share their voices, stories and experiences of living as a woman, queer or non-binary person. I have never experienced a project where I have felt so fulfilled as a photographer, feeling an extreme sense of joy throughout the whole process.

My process for “What makes us strong” is a very personal process for me and my models. Throughout the project I wanted to make the space as comfortable and safe as possible and allow the model to feel their complete selves. I held a space for people’s voices to be heard. A space full of dancing, love, laughter, conversation and energy. This felt different to my other photography projects as I had less control and more freedom, it was about representing the model for how they would like to be seen/heard/represented. I have learnt so much from the people who have helped me with this project. They truly inspire me everyday and I am so happy that I can grow with them. I created a photographic zine that is currently for sale now with all the profits going to Women’s Legal Centre and I am planning on making more in the future.

How would you describe your style to someone who’d never seen your work before?

I aim to make work that celebrates people, so I would say there is a feeling of happiness and joy that one feels when looking at the photographs. My photographs capture true beauty. Raw beauty. Authentic beauty. These photographs capture moments into the models’ lives. They transport you to that moment and give the viewer a sense of peace. One even feels empowered when looking at these photographs because these pictures communicate not just a sense of empowerment for the model, but also a form of empowerment for the viewer, because we can finally see ourselves in these images. We see human form. We see real life.

What are you currently interested in exploring through your work?

I am interested in carrying on this project for a while, I am wanting to see more of the human form in nature in my images. I am interested in working with the model in a way that we can both break down barriers and learn new things from our shoot. As people, we are constantly rediscovering parts of ourselves and I would like to do that through my work.

What are your plans for 2021?

This year I am freelancing and working on “What makes us strong”. I have a few exciting collaborations that are in the works. I am planning on using this year to carry on with personal projects that are close to my heart. I have so much growing and learning to do and I am so excited to see where this year takes me.

Follow @sandra_nagel on Instagram.


Grad Guide is an annual series from Between 10and5, profiling some of South Africa’s most exciting creative graduates across the fields of fashion, art, photography and design. Find the full 2020 Grad Guide here



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