Finding my Artistic Expression

Welcome to my mind! A scary place…

Cogito, ergo sum (I think therefore I am!)

René Descartes

I am turning 60 on the 29th of June. For most of my lifetime I have followed a path. Sometimes it was a path less traveled but it was still a path. In my own way I am going off the path….

This morning I woke up with an idea. Up to now I said that I want to go into full-time photography… but this is wrong!!! I have always been in conflict with myself … a non- conformist. Let me explain…

The world wants to classify, divide, and decide on ones worth. Your worth is said to be based on the wealth you can provide others… Frankly make them money! Only the so called “wealthy” is capable to live their dream! This is bull….! It is merely the path many set out on. But millions never succeed. I too have failed in this…. It was never my purpose.

I am…. Photographed by Morne Nagel (my Son) and published with his permission.

So what is my purpose? Am I an artist? What does this mean to me? This is a complex question. For me art seeks to reflect on the world. Finding the deeper meaning in everything: work, people, the world we live in, religion, politics and family life! This has always been my quest. But I left it as a young man when I pursued the path that my dad wanted me to follow. It was a divergence. Although I found great pleasure on the path I had to entertain my real self on my way. I always felt the need express myself, to take photographs, paint, draw, write, teach, study …do more…. I know now that I have been missing my artistic expression. I have a desire to find a way for others to see that. In the last 10 years against the bitterness of being sidelined; due to my age and the color of my skin, my class, to be told that I am irrelevant, that I have nothing to say. BULL… Again my soul shouts :

“I am”… I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

“I am”… I cried “I am”… said I

And I am lost and I can’t

Even say why

Leavin’ me lonely still

Niel Diamond

It stops now. Following does not help me. Leading does not help me, even the path less traveled…. I must create my own path. I am unique. I am not white or black, man or woman, wealthy or poor, a South African…

I am!

There is an existential part of me that remains undefined, that is undefined… A spark that seek a way to shout out to the world. A spark that that gets defined by other people, philosophers, intellectuals. It’s an interpretation of me. Its not me… I am…drawing the line. I will find a way of freeing the essence of me. I will find the artistic expression that do this for me. And if anyway possible find a way assist to free the individuals around me or fail trying. This is it!

( A purge from my soul on the 3rd of June 2019 – when I thought that I would no longer be able to continue with my studies at Falmouth. 6 hours later my circumstances changed. I include this piece of honesty to hold me true. I believe my studies at Falmouth will enable me to find my path.)

What is a Hollow Portrait?

A hollow portrait, or “portrait en creux,” as it is called in french, is a still life taken that presents a person. During an on-line short course at the University of Mitchigan we were challenged to do such a self portrait. The outcome was fascinating and I am sharing my response with you.

Please take your time and take specifically how your eye moves in the photograph. See if I succeeded in my composition and please leave a comment after reading my explanation below.

Autoportrait en creux de André

My passage through life is a circular path between knowing and not knowing. I am developed through introspection, studying and creative self-development, to grow within those things that I am passionate about.

I chose symmetry for my composition to equally balance the light and the dark sides in a Yin and Yang pattern, alluding to the interaction between that what may be known, the left side, and that which is self-discovery, the unclear darker side. There is a reflection of that if you look at long enough may be recognizable. Its the reflection of my study chair . I moved the chair deliberately to reflect in the screen.

I used side lighting to create depth and fortunately for me, the light came via the darker side, highlighting that the uncertainty informs and enlightens what is known.

The use of the photograph by Alexander Rodchenko in black and white, which includes a woman and child, symbolizes my wife and family. It’s inherent imbalance seems to lead ones eye to the black PC screen and keyboard. The eye is then drawn to the white cup which is juxtaposed with the black screen and keyboard. The literal meme on the Cup reads ” Life is like photography… we use the negatives to develop”. i know it is a bit literal, but prove that the composition is what I intended it to be. Your eye is drawn upward from the cup to the lines and colour of the books. These books represent my passions in their selected titles, central theme in my life, religion, history, business, work, Art and creative thinking methods. The colour was a deliberate choice. I had to see to it that the focus is the sharpest in this area as this is the main elements of the Photograph. Your eye may ponder here for a while, or continue to the photograph above, directed by the lines in the book.

The movement is In a clockwise direction; symbolizing time. The eye circles back to the black and white photograph  with the family rising up on the stairs.,, and the cycle continues.

As a person trained the English world, it does not matter where you start. The path will be the same as it it is ensured by diagonal lines of the Rodchenko photograph which will direct the eye from left to right increasing the dynamic feel of the photograph… in spite of the symmetry . This movement of the eye is natural as this is how we look at things around us. it is called the sacadic movement of the eye.

It dawned on me after taking the photograph that my old wooden study table is my inheritance from my parents where I studied for school, thus presenting the foundation of those that came before me.

David Goldblatt – Documentary Photography in a South African Context.

While concluding the “Seeing through photography” class presented by MOMA we had to select our favorite week during the course and say why using their material or my own. I decided to use a portion of David Goldblatts work in The Afrikaner. I thought it wise to share with you.

David Goldblatt’s background, as a descendant of Lithuanian Jews who had to flee their country due to racist hate and marginalization, made him a perfect observer of the South Africa of his time. He always saw all people as they are and never wanted to choose sides in the political, economic and class agendas. He said he wasn’t a “Joiner”. He died in June this year, keeping true to his dream for his beloved South Africa.

I needed to set the scene, as the following photographs are from David Goldblatt’s series which he published called “Some Afrikaners photographed”. One may skew his intention by applying a political context on what you will see. He did similar wonderful published works on other communities within South Africa.

I have selected the photographs in that series that have a special meaning to me. In October 1978, while doing my officer training, we hiked into a secluded valley known to the inhabitants as Gamkaskloof. and

While passing through, we met one of the last original “Kloofers” and signed his guest book.

Half of the valley has no water and is split by a river that passes through the center of the valley. The eastern part of the valley has little water and is probably why outsiders called it “The Hell”. However, as you cross the river towards the west, the vegetation changes due to this freshwater stream running from west to east.

This part of the valley, Which I named “paradise”, is where most of the residents lived.. Walking through this botanical splendor has become the most beautiful and memorable experience I had in my life.

Note that the dress Katrina wears is not reminiscent of the 60s, More from the pre-first world war times. Most Afrikaner woman never wore pants in those years and they grew their hair long. These were simple people. They struggled on their own. No indoor plumbing. For me, David captured the essence of this.

In Afrikaner culture the dining room and kitchen is the center of family and religious life. Although isolated from the outside world they have a Photograph of Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd on their wall, one of the founders of the Republic of South Africa. He was also the first Prime minister, who is today infamously known as the father of “Grand Apartheid: Dr. Verwoerd was well loved by most Afrikaners and, surprising to some, a large group of Africans. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated on the 6th September 1966 for non-political reasons, more than a year before this photograph was taken by David. A loss to the Afrikaner, much in the same way the Americans losing President Kennedy or even Abraham Lincoln.

The tidiness and flowers within this simplicity is endearing and take me back to my grandparents. The Calendar is of a restaurant has a picture of a the quintessential 60’s woman and contrast with the previous picture and may be indicative of the aspirations of the wife, Katrina.

I love the way David could get the people so at ease. He was an outsider. However, It may be indicative of the hospitality for which the Afrikaners was well known for at that time.

I grew up bare foot too. Shoes, if you had any, was only worn on special occasions.

Even if David did not want to take sides in the political debate, the acceptance of his work was received differently by the various communities.

My essay clearly indicates how my context influenced my interpretation of the photographs.

Those promoting Afrikaner idealism, trying to escape their past, saw this as an attack on the dignity of the Afrikaner. Those Afrikaners, that came from rural backgrounds relate to these photographs. This essay does not take into consideration how English South Africans and Africans view these photographs. There is a universality here. We all have ancestors that share a similar struggle to tame a rugged land. Simple lives in simple houses. In this way, the issues of the photographer’s view, the ability of a photograph to tell the whole story, is tested in the same way as Robert Frank’s “The Americans”.

If the photographs are viewed out of context or from a different point of view, the above photos may be interpreted completely differently.

David had to publish his own books and add his own comments to ensure that the work had integrity, with limited influence of publishers. As a South African and Afrikaner, I appreciate his full body of work and wish that I can follow in his footsteps to photograph the unfolding future of the human side of all the Peoples of South Africa.


David Goldblatt’s Biography is available at All photographs used in this discussion was taken by David Goldblatt and have been obtained from for educational purposes and may not be re-used without the written permission of the gallery.