Lizane Louw is a South African photojournalist who uses her camera and publishes on Paper.li to advocate for the causes she cares about. Right now, that is the underprivileged of Tin Town, or Blikkiesdorp, a temporary settlement outside Cape Town. Here, daily lives are lived out in inhumane conditions, as shown by Lizane’s photos over the past three years.
What are you trying to achieve with your camera?
Like all young people I always wanted to make the world a better place. I want to use my camera to make the changes in the world that I want to see. Even if I only touch one person with one photograph in my life, then I have made a difference.
That’s why I am focusing on photojournalism for advocacy. And I have to say that I am overwhelmed by the reaction I’ve had to the feature I’ve been doing in Blikkiesdorp.
I’ve learned over the last few years that we don’t have to be vocal to advocate; a powerful picture has the ability to stir emotions and to tell a story, sometimes better than words ever would.
Capturing the mood, the emotions and the expressions of the subject is the best way. All photographs should have verbs. They should communicate with the person looking at them.
Tell us more about Blikkiesdorp…
I started my career working as a photojournalist for newspapers and news agencies, and that gave me opportunities to travel around and meet people. For a long time I was doing crime, investigative journalism and the stories you find in your daily and weekly press.
It was on one of these journeys that I landed in a place called Blikkiesdorp. Blikkies is the Tin Town, a temporary settlement outside Cape Town on the Cape Flats, and I have been shooting a social documentary project there for three years.
I hope the photographs will create an awareness of the inhumane living conditions some people face every day and show the residents that there are people who care. Since I started a Facebook group more and more people have been getting involved. I have done several interviews and the story of Blikkiesdorp has been widely published. Now I am looking for sponsors for a Blikkiesdorp exhibition early in 2012.
What else are you working on at the moment?
My heart is in photojournalism and visual storytelling, but to keep the pots cooking in 2011 I started a commercial photography company, KIKIS, with my business partner Simone Millward. KIKIS has a mobile studio and we do documentary photography, weddings and events, and portraiture. It is rather challenging starting a business from scratch but with hard work and dedication I hope that we can establish KIKIS as a strong photo brand in South Africa.
What role do you think Paper.li can play in advocacy?
I can use Paper.li as a platform to spread word about the projects I am involved in and and create awareness and support for things that I believe in. My Paper.li PHOTO is a platform to engage with content and imagery that I am interested in, and I find a lot to share with my followers on Twitter, and on my Facebook pages. Advocacy, everything I read about photography, news, documentary photography and photojournalism, all in one paper.
I find inspiration in the work of others in my field, and this is a way of regularly seeing that work.
Who are some of those inspirations?
There are so many out there. I am inspired by the masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Annie Leibovitz, Zoriah, Paulo Pellegrin. Then there are some really good South African photographers: Jodi Bieber, Gary van Wyk and Yunus Mohamed.
What drew you to photojournalism? Tell us about your journey so far…
I am a qualified theatre practitioner and arts teacher and this background laid the foundation for my interest in visual storytelling. I traveled most of my twenties and only came back to South Africa more permanently when I turned 30. By chance I met Garth Stead, (the late Picture Editor of South African newspaper, Die Burger, later Foto24) and he was my mentor and teacher until he committed suicide in 2009.
I was lucky to work with Sharief Jaffer, the current Picture Editor of Foto 24, one of the best all-round photographers in South Africa. He taught me portraiture. He gave me the freedom to experiment and to express myself.
I did a distance diploma through the International School of Photography and a Masters course in digital photography through Africanpictures. Still, I sometimes feel like I cannot even switch on a camera. I shoot mostly with my heart. I never go anywhere without my camera — I feel naked if it isn’t with me. Although these courses helped me learn more about photography, I am self-taught.
What camera do you use and why?
I’m a Nikonian. At the moment I shoot with a Nikon D7000 and my backup a D80. I have a variety of lenses. I hope this year will be a good year so I can invest in a better camera and more and faster lenses. It is a very expensive hobby and career path.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start out in photojournalism?
Follow your passion. Find your dream. Live with purpose.
This is a very challenging and competitive industry. Here in South Africa, especially, I would say it is very hard to break in. Also, photojournalism does not easily pay! I do a lot of commercial work with KIKIS and use the income from this to support my photojournalism. It is hard to do projects without funding. I hope this year things will change and that I will get funding to carry on in Blikkiesdorp.
Before you decide to follow a career in photojournalism, I would say it’s a good idea to job-shadow a journalist or photojournalist. Spend time on the streets and in news rooms and shoot as much as you can. You might be lucky like I was and be in the right place at the right time.
Will you be packing up your camera and travelling again?
This year I want to shoot as many photographs as I can. The short term plan is to finally have a Blikkiesdorp exhibition and to start putting a photobook together.
I have to confess that I have itchy feet again. I hope to spend some time In South East Asia and India again this year. I love travel photography and I would like to pursue a career in that field in the future.
And one day I hope to teach and lecture young photographers and photojournalists.
Photo credits: Stephen James Williams (Lizane and girl in Blikkiesdorp); Lizane Louw (Other photos).