Not too long ago - or was it many years ago? - I was offered the position as official "photographer" at South Africa's largest national parastatal. During the interview, I was informed that part of my function would be to regularly take portraits of the Big Whos, namely the CEO and his Senior Management, as well the heads of various subsidiaries and the wider management cadre. That's a mouth full, I know.
Identifying a challenge when I see one, I confidently said "Ja, no problem..." and the response from the interviewer followed: "Won't you be scared?" "No," I quickly answered.
Weeks went by and, just when I've given up hope, I was informed that I got the job.
Portrait Photography at SAA and Transnet
From the outset, I was kept busy - every day of the week. First, all the department heads were lined up to pose for different sittings, ranging from serious shots, to informal poses and "smileys". Considering the fact that in those days professional photography comprised rolls of 3 x 120 film, colour negatives and rolls of black & white film, eagerly consumed by my faithful Mamiya RB 67 camera, getting the job done while dealing with strong personalities was no mean feat.
One of my first memorable photo shoots was to photograph SAA's CEO, Mr Gert van der Veer, a staunch executive who commanded respect, yet a charming character in his own right. Our first meeting was quite an occasion, to say the least - the forming of a working relationship that would go a long way. Arriving in the studio somewhat grumpy, he made no secret that he had better things to do than pose for photographs. "I am not photogenic and I don't have time. I only have five minutes for you," he routinely snubbed me.
Rookie that I was, and not counting my words, I bravely uttered: "I told your secretary that I needed a maximum of 20 minutes, but 40 would be better. And, as you just said, you only have five minutes for me. Maybe we should reschedule this sitting for another time. You are messing me around."
Mr Van der Veer turned around, grumped and walked past the chief photographer who, by the way, had interviewed me for the job. The latter gazed at Mr van der Veer with a surprise on his face and saying: "Finished already?"
To my surprise, five minutes later, as I switched the modelling lamps off, a cool and calculated Mr Van der Veer returned and said: "Sonja I am back. You are right about the times, but I hate this…. okay, lets get started…."
My response: I asked my honourable model to take off his jacket and tie, loosen the buttons of his collar and sit on the floor. The floor!? Yes, we took happy snappies and we talked and talked and, guess what, after two hours we finished a job well done. Halfway through the shoot, his concerned secretary phoned to find out where the boss was.
Mr Van der Veer was one of a small galaxy of executives in the Transnet group - an impressive array of dignitaries that all posed for my camera, including Dr Anton Moolman, the Head of Transnet, and Mr Mike Myburgh, SAA's CEO in the 90s, to name a few. I photographed them all in the same informal way - from dropping their pose to floor level, to sitting in a chair with closed shirt, tie and jacket. And, might I add, through digital-photo-manipulation techniques, I went as far as placing Mr Myburgh in his executive chair on the airport's main runway with a Boeing 747 approaching on landing. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! And they had just as much fun as I did - all in a day's work.
©1990 image manipulation by Citylab, Pretoria