Jodi Bieber is an internationally recognized, South African photographer, whose career spans over two decades. I have admired her work since the beginning of my foray into photography. Against the backdrop of the 1994 Democratic Elections in South Africa, Jodi began taking images of the country’s happenings. Her work gained her international recognition when she was selected to participate in the 1996 World Press Masterclass in Holland. She is also Part of the The Market Photo and winner of numerous accolades such as the World Press Photo of the year in 2010 and the most outstanding photograph at the SAJA awards in 2011 amongst others. I got the opportunity to visit her home and find out more about her work, her inspiration and what she wish she knew at the beginning of her career.
Shots011: Do enjoy being in front of the Camera?
Jodi Bieber: I don’t mind, I had to get used to it.
Shots011: Has it happened with time?
JB: Yeah, the thing is, as a photographer you do not only take photographs but should also be able to speak about your work and, with time over the years you learn to speak about it. Also, when I won the World Press award in 2010 I was suddenly invited to twenty countries. That year, I was in front of the camera, and I had to speak on live radio and TV, give talks at universities and different institutions. So I learned to communicate and be in front of the camera.
Shots011: Can you describe the relationship you have with your camera?
JB: The relationship with my camera is that it’s a vehicle for my vision, so it’s only a vehicle that I have to master the technical side of.
Shots011: What is it that you strive for with your photographs and how do you get the camera to articulate that vision?
JB: It’s not the camera that articulates it, it is me who articulates the photograph. Obviously the better camera you have then it gets easier on the technical side, but on the content side, it’s definitely up to the individual and what they are conceptualizing and thinking about.
Shots011: So who has been your greatest influence?
JB: People, I think I get a hell lot inspired by society and the people around me, I suppose what I decide to photograph very much comes from what is happening in our world today, so that’s my main inspiration.
Shots011: Your work never feels stagnant and think it’s because of your subject matter varies, or is it something that inspires you?
JB: Well it’s all of that. I choose projects that have something for me, something I need to learn or something I feel I need to speak about in each project. I don’t always use the same concept in relation to how I treat it: I might use triptychs, I might use sound, I might use single images. It all depends on what the best way to communicate what I am trying to say.
Shots011: Your work blurs the line between deliberate composition and serendipity, how do you get the people you photograph to let you in?
JB: It’s about speaking to people, approaching people I want to photograph, explaining to them what and why I am doing it and what it’s for. Once people hear what your project is about and see you in the community quite a lot, it’s up to them, if they have a good sense about the person and what their energy is and about. And I am also clear and honest.
Shots011: How long do your projects usually take?
JB: It depends, anything from ten years, one year or three months.
Shots011: Looking at your work, it embodies a feminist feel. What would you like people to say about your work a hundred years from now?
JB: Well, I’m hoping at least, that it will be remembered a hundred years from now, and that it still has relevance. Then I have created something. But I think the projects I choose are very universal and therefore, hopefully in a hundred years people will relate to it or find it weird because it no longer exists in that way which would be even better. For me it would be great, I’ll be dead and my work will still be alive. That’s why I feel books are important because they last longer than you.
Shots011: With projects, how do you choose which to pursue and which to let go?
JB: I suppose it relates to; is it a worthwhile project? Will it resonate with me and is it interesting enough? Will it resonate with the viewer? I also have to be aware that everything has been done before. I wouldn’t do a project that someone has worked extensively on and I am aware of it, obviously I am not aware of everything. I think I choose projects that I identify with at that moment and feel strongly about. Obviously the practicalities and finances can impact on certain ideas.
Shots011: What do you think is new about your work?
JB: I think every person is unique a way, you can put two people together to photograph an event and they will come out with different photographs. So I think everyone comes with a unique vision or point of view to the same subject, so I think that’s what I bring.
Shoots011: Looking at your career, what’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started?
JB: Nothing! You know what, when you’re fresh, it’s a good thing. But there is one thing, it’s not only in photography, you always think you will always have the same kind of energy and drive, and the same kind of passion. I think after 20years, it was great to be a more naïve and more open. I think I was, to my benefit, being more naïve and less scared and therefore could walk into any situation and not fear, but I think I am wiser and fear more.
Shots011: Do you find that our generation of photographers and the digital age is different from your generation and film?
JB: Yes, and I try for it not to be. I think for a lot of young people are so good at Photoshop that they are not concerned if the light is bad or they need to crop (in camera). They are Photoshop experts. We grew with slide film, B&W film and colour neg film and therefore my theory is that you should shoot that your .TIF is as perfect to what you envisioned for it. So (our generation) used to go and shoot in good light, if there wasn’t we would shoot indoors. We were very conference about the lighting and then we would frame it as we wanted the final result to be with little cropping. How ever, I see that the young generations are less concerned about it and more willing to fix things in post.
Shots011: Do you think that takes away from the work?
JB: I don’t think it does, but there are a lot of unsharp photographs, and a good discipline to have is to; try and master taking the photograph and do as little in Photoshop because that will give you a whole lot of time to take photos!
The last 10 questions are originally from a French series, “Bouillon des Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot. They’re better known as the questions that James Lipton asks every guest at the end of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. Their addition to this questionnaire is to get to know a bit more about Jodi the person more about Jodi outside photography.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively?
A brilliant movie.
What turns you off?
People with huge egos.
What is your favorite curse word?
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
A monotonous irritating scratch.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Serial Killer Profiler.
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Welcome, to paradise!