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hl next level 2018: photographer jesse navarre vos

Trevor Stuurman


Although he has always been interested in film, photography and art, Jesse Navarre Vos originally wanted to be a musician. After studying classical and jazz guitar at university, he began assisting South African photographer Ricardo Simal two years ago, and has since become passionate about shooting on film himself. Jesse plans to direct more fashion films focusing on African fashion designers, while concurrently working on two long-term documentaries.

how did you get started as a photographer?

When I was 16 we had black and white film photography as a subject at school. I took the course for a year and fell in love with the dark room processes where we got to develop and print our own images. There was something about the process of making images in a dark room – a very tactile and physical representation of a photograph – that resonated with me. That’s why I don’t shoot digital, at least not for now, because I enjoy the different factors that influence the image. I ended up giving up photography for quite a few years to pursue other endeavours, but came back to it about three years ago.

did you always want to be doing what you’re doing now?

No, it was actually never my intention to be a photographer/filmmaker. I was always very interested in film and photography, and art in general, but for many years I wanted to be a musician. I ended up studying classical and jazz guitar at the University of Cape Town for two years after finishing school. And I actually finished my undergraduate degree with majors in anthropology and history, with a few film electives. It was only in the last two or three years that all these diverse and seemingly disparate mediums came together in a form that I was able to channel in a way that appealed to me. I am a big believer in the power of storytelling, and I also love representing things visually, so photography and filmmaking seemed the right mediums in order to express my ideas.

do you have particular favourites among the works you’ve created?

I don’t essentially have any ‘favourites’. I have a lot of different stories that intrigue me and I think my curiosities and interests are always evolving. I think the way I’m approaching making work at the moment is to be invested in it in the moment and then to let it go and move on. The things we make are temporary and transitory in nature, and therefore only speak to a particular time and place. At the moment the work that is stimulating me the most are the more long-term projects that I’m working on at the moment that I haven’t released yet. Originally my work was very single image-focused but I’ve now become much more drawn to narrative-based work, and telling stories through a body of work rather than single images.

what’s been your defining career moment to date?

I’m not sure if I have had one yet. It’s all been a mixture of small triumphs along the way; these seemingly insignificant events that in the end make up the whole.

who are the creatives on your radar at the moment?

There are so many, way too many to mention by name. Getting to work with Ricardo Simal and seeing a lot of the personal work that he is working on has been an amazing insight to see. Getting to understand people’s processes and how they make images can be really inspirational.

I’m also essentially just influenced by people who are creating art that impacts me, and this is a very subjective experience, and is always changing and evolving.

I think Africa is home to so many amazing artists and creatives and I’m so glad to see that so many of them are now getting recognition for their work. I’m finding a lot of inspiration from what I’ve been seeing around me.

where do you find your inspiration?

I always find this a difficult question to answer because I feel like inspiration comes from so many places, and sometimes things affect us subconsciously. But to give a very simple answer to it I would say films, photography books/magazines, books, music, and then just being open to experiences, stories, and always remaining curious.

what is your earliest visual memory?

I have this blurry memory of being around age three. My grandmother, who raised me, was dropping me at pre-school and I was clutching onto her leg.

which single place in the world would you recommend people visit, and why?

I feel as if I haven’t seen some of the more prominent galleries in the world. But the Sammlung Boros  in the Mitte district of Berlin, Germany, had a profound impact on me when I was there last year, and I would highly recommend it to anyone that has the opportunity to go there. All the work is contemporary in nature and one has to book a tour to go through it, which takes about an hour and a half. The history of the building itself is fascinating and the space influences the art that is a part of/exhibited in it. Berlin, in general, has such a rich creative and cultural scene that I really enjoyed exploring.

what’s are the most memorable photographs you’ve ever seen?

I suppose the most memorable photographs for me are ones of my grandmother when she was a young woman that I came across a few years ago.

what is the next project that you are working on?

I’m working on two documentary projects at the moment that are more long-term in nature and that won’t be seeing the light of day for the next few months. I plan to direct some more fashion films focussing on African fashion designers. I would like to also start moving toward more narrative-based film work in the near future, but that is something that I want to happen organically and I don’t intend to rush it. I also love portraiture work and plan to work on a lot more of that. Other than that one never knows what might come or happen, and I am leaving a lot of space for the unfamiliar to surprise me.

Learn all about the game changers who are taking things to the Next Level in our #HLNEXTLEVEL2018  issue.