A camera, miles traveled, hours of creating, a life as a creative, Stories inspire us. Your story matters. A camera and I met many years ago and we became best friends and together we always look for new stories to tell.

I live and work in South Africa and where my Camera takes me.

My journey as a photographer started at the age of 17. I think maybe even younger. I remember going on a school trip to what it was called in those days, The Eastern Transvaal. I was 13 years young and took a very basic camera along. I remember standing by a waterfall and taking some pictures of classmates, it was getting darker so the flash popped up and flashed us. A great memory, my first lesson on how to use flashlight in low light situations. The camera did it all but it looked great. I still have those photographs, memories. That was not my first encounter with photographs. There are family photographs of me as a young boy with a blond bob, today I shave my head, the blond locks disappeared. I was born in the 70’s, so that was the trend. There are a few 70’s looking photographs in an album and in my parent’s house. To achieve that look today there are loads of grading tools, presets and photoshop tutorials to create a retro look, the film had something very special and nostalgic.

My first real experience feeling like a photographer happened in 1993. I was fortunate enough to go on a school trip with some rands my grandfather left to me and my brother. The money was only available at age 21 but we could access the funds if it was used for education and what better way to see a bit of the world at 17 years young. Three years later my brother did the same trip. It was a European school trip which lasted 3 weeks but felt like a lifetime. To be able to experience the streets of Italy, Germany, France and the Uk with a camera in hand is everyone’s dream trip.

I took pictures of everything, as a young boy who arrived in Europe for the first time from South Africa, everything was beautiful and different in West Europe to South Africa. The architecture, the streets, the people, to landscape, the weather, it all made an impression. Little did I know that a three years later while studying a BA degree at The University of Pretoria and simultaneously completing an art diploma at The Open Window School of Art I would choose to focus on becoming a photographer.

In my early twenties I took pictures on a roll of film of every person I found interesting and every color and shape and landscape which moved me. During my studies we watched a documentary about Peter Lindbergh, I realized after this film on that day that this was exactly what I wanted to do and dedicate my life to.

My interest was to become a fashion photographer. I realized Pretoria was not the place to be in the late 90’s and I moved to Cape Town which had a thriving production industry producing for clients from all over the world. As a young aspiring photographer, I started assisting and carrying bags and doing the work of a runner. This meant driving around getting to know the City, carrying all the heavy lighting equipment and camera’s, this was before the digital era kicked in.

I was quickly noticed as a hard-working shy Afrikaans boy eager to learn everything I could about the industry. In between all the production work there was little time and opportunity to photograph my own work but that all changed when I started producing full time for a production company and became the manager of all the camera equipment and the studio. It took a lot of planning when I started shooting because of the cost of film and polaroid, your idea had to be precise. It worked out well and I managed to produce a few beautiful images for a model agency who then used the images for the model’s book and so I started getting more and more opportunities to create more personal work and commissioned work.

I met a danish photographer in Cape Town who produced a lot of campaigns for his Danish, Swedish, British and French clients in South Africa. We became very good friends and I still consider Peter as a mentor in my journey as a photographer.
I then received the opportunity to become Peter’s assistant and studio manager in Paris after many years working really hard on building my work and relationships in Cape Town. So off I went to go live in Paris. What an incredible opportunity and City to be based in, all the glamour of fashion, food, and wine right on your doorstep. We produced work from Paris in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Italy, France, Spain, United Kingdom, USA and back to Cape Town for the summer season. There was little time between all the production work to create my own work but a few opportunities presented itself to create some personal work.
This was a very influential time as I had membership cards to the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre. All the art and shows I could ever desire to view was happening every week a few minute’s walk from where I lived in the 2nd arrondissement. I took it all in but after a year I decided to return to South Africa only to find a new opportunity to go live in London.

My years in London were very dedicated to learn and read about lighting, I worked with a studio called Sola who specialized in renting a German designed Briese lighting to the film and photo industry and photographers in London. I met various famous people, photographers, and filmmakers while working as a lighting expert or so we called ourselves to set up lighting and lighting sets all over London. During this time I also had the opportunity to live in Sweden and work with a Swedish studio. I had met some of the best Swedish photographers in Cape Town who also produced campaigns for clients in Cape Town.

It was during my time focusing on fashion and traveling where I realized photography has so many aspects and areas to focus on. I had photographed food and still life’s for my personal work but only started focusing on more food work when I returned to South Africa in 2010 to live in Cape Town and it’s beautiful Winelands and the colorful culinary scene. I grew up in a house where my father is the cook and still is today, he loves cooking and he is very very good at it. I think this made me focus on food without me realizing it which eventually would lead me to point my camera lens to a beautiful plate or ingredient.

My food photography evolved from personal projects to working with winemaker friends and small coffee shop owners so meeting Isabella Niehaus who also became a life long friend and mentor. After years in the fashion world Isabella started doing long table lunches at her home on the West Coast and various food events. Fashion and food are interlinked. To be a photographer you see moments of everything in front of you every day and food and fashion became part of the same circle in my photography work.

During all the growing and shooting of new work I met Louis Jansen van Vuuren and Hardy Olivier and together with Isabella and Hein van Tonder I photographed the cookbook ” Story of a House “. Hein and I flew to France to work together on the book for La Creuzette in Boussac. During this year I also photographed some of my best Lingerie work for International brands in Cape town. My focus as a photographer has always been to create the best work possible whether it be fashion, food, design or art. Lighting is what moves me and by using and seeing light a story starts. Everything I photograph is about lighting first and then working towards telling a story. I think a very important part of my food journey has been to photograph people as everything is made and prepared or produced by people so while creating a story about food or fashion it is also the story of the person who creates all the magic.

Fashion to me is also about people and storytelling. Every designer has a story and each designer has a face who will be part of that story or theme in a collection or campaign.

The focus is on storytelling through film, photography, and writing. The world is changing quickly and the buzz word is disruption. A photographer today should be able to tell a story using many tools, not just a camera which brings me to marketing. I am very Inspired by marketing, advertising, and the digital space. I work to help clients use the content I create to tell a brand story. Digital integration is essential for all brands. A part of my focus is to assist clients to create a digital marketing presence with the tools available and the stories we create.

I am currently based in Pretoria after being based in Cape Town for 18 years. I feel like a creative it is very important to keep finding new collaborations and directions for your work and Inspiration comes when you challenge yourself to leave a comfort zone.

I strive to create images inspired by simplicity. I am not a big fan of gear. All of my production years was equipment heavy. I like to keep it light and use natural light in the majority of the work produced. My goal as a photographer is to create timeless images with a progressive edge. I believe in creating simplistic, natural images with less retouching and to focus on the beauty and uniqueness of each person or setup I photograph. I love real and raw showing character and emotion which to me portrays the power of each woman, person or setup photographed.

E-Mail francoisbbay@me.com