Interview: Mareli Esterhuizen – Photographer

Tell us about yourself, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
I am a fine-art photographer living and working in Cape Town, running a small photographic school called School of Light, while working on various photographic projects, collaborations and exhibitions. I pursued a career in photography straight after my studies at the NMMU in Port Elizabeth. Life took me on a couple of interesting detours, but with perseverance and some serious soul-searching I am thankfully still following my passion. Since my studies, I’ve been part of numerous group-exhibitions in Cape Town and abroad, and my debut show was held at Dirt Contemporary, CT as part of a residency program.

How did you get started doing what you do?
I grew up in a very supportive family where we were encouraged to follow our dreams. I was in high school when my dad’s cousin showed me his photographic portfolio while we were on holiday at our beach house. Something inside me just came alive and from that moment I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have never doubted it or looked back.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

How would you describe your creative style?
I think my style is quite fluid and it changes all the time. I work intuitively, always trying to be truthful and sensitive to the subject matter. I enjoy juxtaposing elements, which are out of their context together and the tension that this creates. I also love the awkwardness that springs out of the imposed relationship between these objects. My style changes often and I’m a firm believer in spontaneity and following your intuition.

What’s your inspiration?
I find great inspiration in spontaneity and discovering the new and unexpected. I like to give context to arbitrary objects and see how a narrative can evolve through unsystematic connections.

What is art to you?
It’s like a self-portrait, giving a voice to your experience.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

What does your typical day look like?
Being a freelancer and needing routine to stay productive, I try to create a ‘typical day’ in the form of a structured schedule that is mounted in front of my computer. This usually starts at 9am with emails, social media marketing, research and various other categories filled into hourly slots. I try to stick to it best I can, but the nature of my work is very unpredictable.

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
This is a very difficult question and can take anything from 1 day to 1 year. It depends on how clear the concept is and how well it is formulated in my mind. When the idea is fully developed and I have prepared everything needed for the shoot, it can take as quick as a couple of hours to completion.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

How do you keep motivated?
In the words of Li Hui, ‘Always experiment’. Experimentation and changing things up keep my work fresh and exciting.

How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
I am passionate about precision in composition and the way various elements within the frame influence each other. Every single arrangement of line, structure, shape or color will tell a unique story.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I want people to see and take hold of another reality. I want to slow down the viewer’s gaze.

What do you want others to take away from your work?
I want to create uplifting images, aimed to invoke the viewers’ curiosity, allowing their imagination to reign free and create their own narrative.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Experience is everything.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
‘What is essential is invisible to the eye’ – Antoine Saint Exupery

Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Two words: Passion and Perseverance. There’s a lot of competition out there and you will need both of these in equal proportions to stand out and find your niche.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

What are your thoughts on photography school?
I think this is valuable in terms of learning the necessary theory and gaining confidence, but industry experience is everything.

Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
I’m busy working on a project for exhibition in the near future and in all good faith this will be succeeded by a publication.

What’s your dream project?
To have funding available for a year to enable me (and a team) to focus all our time and attention on one project and create a body of work for exhibition as well as publication.

Interview with photographer, Mareli Esterhuizen

What photography equipment do you use?
Nikon D700 camera (hoping to upgrade soon!) 50mm F1.8 lens, 28 – 80mm F2.8 lens, 2 x speedlights and a couple of gimmicky filters.

What’s your process like?
The process is never set in stone and differs quite a lot from concept to concept, depending on who is involved.

How could the photographic industry become better in your opinion?
Photographers need to adapt quite rapidly to new technology, styles and trends and, therefore, I feel could benefit so much from each other. Everyone has such different voices, strengths and weaknesses. There should be more of a sharing culture and community and less of an ‘elitist’ mindset.

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