International photographer and videographer Waldo Pretorius captured the beautiful chaos back stage during the Academy of Art University Fashion Show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (MBFW) in New York. His career includes international photo-shoots with Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar, Glamour, and GQ, as well as back stage coverage of MBFW in Cape Town, South Africa. We were able to get an exclusive interview with the South African nomad to learn about his creative journey and his photography career.
Ashley Castanos: We were delighted to have you backstage [at the Academy of Art University Fashion Show], what was a highlight of the experience?
Waldo Pretorius: I was delighted to be there. My highlight was seeing the young designers and their expressions. How they simultaneously experience the turmoil and bliss that accompanies creation, and the vulnerability of showing it to someone who will inevitably be judging. I can identify with that.
AC: Were there any particular pieces or collections that stood out to you?
WP: Student shows are so raw in nature – you really see each student’s talent in plain focus. Overall I enjoyed the entire show. It really worked as one cohesive story.
AC: As a child you grew up watching your father develop photographs in a dark room [the old-school way]. What fascinated you the most about this process? And do you ever experiment with this timeworn method? How did this impact your photography style?
WP: Well I think there isn’t enough focus on the ‘old school way’ these days. Digital has changed everything. A photograph only takes a split second of time to capture a specific moment in time. You may have only captured an accumulative few days or weeks of moments throughout your career. However that split second, as short as it may be, can represent much more than that. It can manifest as a period of time in your life, an experience, a time in your career or personal growth. It can symbolize months, years, decades even. Seeing film after it has developed, and seeing that image rise from a blank piece of paper out of nothing is equal to reflecting back on your life, and produces the same split second epiphany of how an experience has impacted my persona.
At the moment I haven’t been experimenting all that much with it, however I will be soon, especially with regards to my backstage work. I feel they would be only be done proper justice printed large… on old school silver gelatin paper.
The impact it has on me made me has allowed me to be a better photographer. It takes incessant focus and awareness to create something with film and paper. You don’t have the luxury of knowing what it looks like instantly, only later will you actually know. I believe you should be able to get at least five workable options within three to four rolls of film per shot or scene. It equates to roughly 50 shots (on medium format cameras) and that makes you a higher quality, more concise photographer.
AC: You have experience shooting in the United Kingdom, United States, and South Africa, what has been your greatest career moment so far?
WP: This is an easy one. NY Fashion Week! It is the absolute highlight of my career to date, and a professional goal since the very beginning. Receiving recognition of your work, and having it be deemed sufficient to gain access to one of the largest international fashion events is an honor and privilege.
AC: Can you explain your photography philosophy that “reality is perception, and perception is reality”?
WP: Actually it’s a life philosophy. It relates to how we interact with the world outside of us, and how it interacts with us. None of us have the same perception, and so none of us have the same reality. Change your beliefs, change your perception, change your reality. Essentially, we are what we believe, and our reality is what we perceive. Photography as a medium allows me to share my perception of the physical world around us with others.
AC: You have a beautiful way of showcasing the vibrancy and textures of garments. What types of fashion inspire your creativity?
WP: I think that is what a fashion photographer is supposed to do. It’s about the clothes after all. It’s the photographer’s job to convey the textures, cuts, shapes, and so on of the garments. But from another perspective, a fashion shoot isn’t all about the clothing. It’s about forming a fresh work of art encompassing the clothing design, model choice, posing and positions, lighting, location and the overall artistic concept of the shoot. All of which should compliment the clothing design. It is producing art with all the fundamentals in mind. For the most part… high fashion really does it for me as it allows me to express my own artistic input.
AC: Your films have incredible energy, and the music seems to flow perfectly with each scene. Do you create the song mixes for them as well? What role do you feel music plays in the overall final films?
WP: The music is key… pun intended. I always choose the music before fashion week even happens, much less before shooting anything. It allows me to shoot according to the song. It needs to have the perfect energy whilst having enough musical intervals and changes to cut the footage and bring forth the happenings truthfully. To me it should represent the absolute chaos behind a seamless and perfected runway show. All art is a process, a back and forth of creation. Self doubt being imperative to move forward and acquire what is intended. The music and the choice of it takes days to be decided upon. It is that process.
AC: Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
WP: Nobody will like everything you do and you should not measure yourself by the dislikes, or likes for that matter. Self-doubt is vital to personal and professional growth. Stay grounded, and remember you can only get better.