By Sean O'Toole
Sunday Times Lifestyle, Sunday 13 March 2020, p. 5
THE PHOTOGRAPH: Benjamin, 2004
THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Sarah Nankin
A student of Ruth Prowse School of Art, Nankin assisted photographers such as Dave Southwood before pursuing her own career. A capable fashion portraitist, her client list includes the Young Designers Emporium (YDE) and Malcolm Kluk.
I am sympathetic to the presumed ineloquence of photographers. What they refuse in words they generously compensate for in their photographs. Which is not to say that interviewing a photographer tremulously looking for the right words to speak her images isn't awkward.
This, more or less, was the case when I met with 24-year-old Sarah Nankin.
Seated opposite one another at a coffee shop in her native Cape Town, she prefaces discussing this photograph with an apology.
"I am not good at talking because I do not have lots of words."
This ‘inability' is perfectly understandable when you consider that Nankin's thoughts are weighted down by more pressing concerns.
"I've been working commercially as an independent for one year," she explains.
"Financially it's been up and down. One month I will be very busy, and then the next month not busy at all. Just when you start questioning what you're doing and think about waitressing suddenly it picks up again."
Despite the hardships of breaking into the commercial realm Nankin does make time to photograph her own subjects.
"I took this photograph about a year ago at the docks in Cape Town," she explains. After spotting a group of young mechanics on the docks Nankin asked if she could take their portraits.
"This was the strongest photograph."
I ask what prompted her to choose an ordinary dockworker as her subject.
"I love uniforms," she responds. "It is not just how people present themselves [in uniforms], as a photographer it is also about looking for something different coming through that uniformity." Having recently been commissioned to photograph the musician and television personality Zola for a well-known English lifestyle magazine, I ask Nankin how the two experiences differed. "I loved photographing Zola. I had only been to Jo'burg once before and he took me right into Soweto where he grew up. In comparison to someone like Benjamin Zola was a lot cheekier and had a big presence."
This celebrity encounter has not, however, distorted the photographer's interest in picturing the individual behind the uniform.
As part of Cape Town's Month of Photography celebrations, Nankin is currently exhibiting a charming series of portraits that sensitively describe ice-skaters in costume.
Commenting on the fashion gesture implicit in her uniform series, Nankin remarks: "I love fashion photography, especially where it becomes a play on things."
- Reprinted with kind permission of the author