Maverick Life


Shadows and contrasts: Nandi King captures emotions with her camera

Shadows and contrasts: Nandi King captures emotions with her camera
Illustrative image by Leila Dougan and Malibongwe Tyilo (sources: Unsplash / Pxhere / pngwave / pinclipart / pngguru / pngwave / EPA/Kim Ludbrook / Nandipha King

In this series, we talk to artists, creatives, designers and musicians about their work, their inspiration and the challenges they face in today’s different reality.

Back in 2013, the Washington Post published a story titled “Only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major”. It explained how a study by Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz of the Federal Reserve Bank found out that the majority of college graduates in the US will find work that is, in fact, not “related to their degrees”.

Nandi King, née Nandipha Khemese, can relate to such a statement; although she is passionate about photography and film, she studied at North-West University and graduated with a BCom Economics and Risk Management degree. But in her final year, something changed her career trajectory.

“My grandfather was sick and I was the only grandchild who was able to spare time to care for him. One afternoon after breakfast, he handed me a Polaroid camera. Inside the box was a picture of him that was taken the day he bought the camera at the shop,” she recalls.

Image Nandi King

Image Nandi King

At the time, she wasn’t sure why he would hand her such a gift – she had never openly spoken about her love for photography and her studies were not in a creative field. Yet, she took a few photography courses for a couple of months and soon produced and directed her first short film, titled Men in Suits, about successful African men in suits, which was set in the 1960s.

Three years after working as a junior analyst at a private company, she dropped her corporate job for photography and art direction. Now, at 28, King is a freelance visual artist and art director, a photographer who captures emotions through shadows and contrasts.

One of the photographs available in the ‘Shadows in Sound’ exhibition by Nandi King

“Being a female photographer in a male-dominated industry has had its challenges. I often find myself in spaces where I am the only female photographer in the room or simply overlooked and undermined because of my gender. Prominent photographers on the continent are male, which can be quite detrimental to the growth and equality of the industry since most of the photographers I look up to happen to be male. We want to move in a direction where young girls can look at photographers and not have to question their capabilities because of their gender,” she says.

King started as one of the 2019 Cape Town Jazz International Festival’s official photojournalists – a position she got thanks to her mentor and fellow photojournalist, Johan Samuels. “I think it’s only now that women are becoming key players in the arts industry. The likes of Karabo Poppy and Lulama Wolf, among others, are proof of that,” she says.

Photograph series captured by Nandi King titled ‘femme d’Afrique’

Photograph series captured by Nandi King titled ‘femme d’Afrique’

More recently, King has been pondering the role of the photographer, especially following lockdown and how to express herself while not being able to go out.

“My father would tell me that being an artist is something you are despite what is happening in the world. That our art brings joy to many of the world’s problems,” she says.

So she set up to keep working, taking pictures, albeit inside her home. With no option to hire equipment – lighting, screens and more – King improvised. “I wanted to create depth in the photographs, something authentic and timeless. I used black to keep the intensity of the theme and stick to a colour scheme that made sense. Like usual, I enjoy having a shadowy look to my portraits so I made use of natural lighting coming from the window as well as a ring light to fill the subject and create the shadow I wanted,” she explains.

Legacy Portraits: Portraits of dad during lockdown by Nandi King

Legacy Portraits: Portraits of dad during lockdown by Nandi King

King photographed her father, who is a violinist, and her nephew. “Lockdown has given me a chance to slow down and figure what it is that I want to do and focus on artistically. What direction I see myself in within the next three years. It’s given me a chance to create conceptual work that I had put on the back burner and like a lot of photographers, digging up old work and seeing the gems that have come out of there. But most importantly it has forced me to think about what I can do as a creative during this time, how I can keep on creating diligently and hone my craft.”


Today, King feels that she needs to respond to the times by sharing her work more broadly, especially through her website and social media platforms. As for her hopes for the future, she adds: “Share the artists’ work. What we do for our livelihood is heavily reliant on the emotion that the client has toward your work. Emotion is contagious … Sharing is indeed caring.” DM/ML

You can watch Nandi King’s digital exhibition ‘Shadows in Sound’ on her website and contact her for collaborations and commissioned work.

If you would like to share your ideas or suggestions with us, please leave a comment below or email us at [email protected] and [email protected].

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