Contact lens

Making contact, even if only momentarily, with the subject in front of her lens gives upcoming portrait snapper Sarah Nankin her focus.
Posted 1 Feb 06 By Design Indaba Point of View / Opinion Comments

First Published in

At high school, when most kids her age were either occupied with playing sport or smoking cigarettes behind the cricket scoreboard, Sarah Nankin would spend hours in the darkroom, experimenting. "At school, I loved art but was bad at it. I could never capture exactly what I wanted. But with a camera I could portray something in an instant, precisely the way I wanted it to look."

All that fumbling around in the dark has paid off. Now, at just 25, Sarah is ranked as one of the country's most promising new talents, thanks to a candid style of portraiture that has depth enough to please the culture vultures and edge enough to excite the advertising buzzards.

"I like to capture the moment that happens," Sarah explains, "when the person posing for you reveals something which goes below the surface. It's that instant when they look into the camera and their true self shows in their eyes. It is a very special moment. Even though people take photographs all the time and are used to having their pictures taken, when you compose a formal portrait there is something quite grand about it. I love the feeling."

Her portrait style evolved when, in the absence of clients or art world cachet, Sarah simply went out and took the portraits that inspired her. The ploy - which is in fact far more, a pure desire for integrity - worked. She was quickly snapped up by clothing chain YDE to shoot one their advertising campaigns. At the same time, established fashion and sports photographer Lance Slabbert was so impressed by her portfolio that he raved to Cape Town-based agency Infidels - which promptly signed Sarah to their books.

This timely combination of events "set me up commercially and then I started getting more advertising work," she explains humbly. What has followed since are more seasonal and in-store campaigns for YDE, as well as for Levi's, Edgars, the fashion designer Klûk, Smirnoff and a host of others.

Sarah counts herself "lucky" that she has been hired to do commercial work based on the strength of her personal interests. "Instead of me having to fit in with what they want, they hire me because of my portrait style," she says.

But it's a win-win situation, by all accounts. Both she and her clients get to make a living from her art. "Most of my work is for the advertising industry. I take quirky, conceptual pictures that have a fashion edge to them, and they are mostly for clothing retailers or for other commercial projects and companies like the Cape Times/V&A Waterfront Wine Festival and Sanlam," she says.

Shooting portraits for magazines - including one of kwaito star Zola for the British youth-oriented publication Dazed & Confused - is another pursuit. During 2006, Sarah plans to photograph teenagers in uniforms in preparation for an art exhibition