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Swimming Upstream- profiling young South African creatives

 Swimming Upstream-  profiling young South African creatives

Swimming Upstream is a project by Dutch photographer Kathalijne van Zutphen profiling young South African creatives. We got the opportunity to chat with her and find out more about this project.

Who is Kathalijne and what brings you to South Africa?

I am a portrait photographer from the Netherlands. I shoot the occasional landscape or wedding but I am really a portrait photographer. Within that, I have a slight preference for photographing creative people – bands, designers and the like. I get inspired by music, books, movies and the people who make them. To me, it’s a challenge to come up with new things and to somehow connect to someone within a short period of time. The quickest shoot I ever did was when I had five minutes to shoot CocoRosie. That was crazy but I managed (laughs). It’s much nicer when you have some time to get to know someone a little, to hang out a bit.  It is also a great way of meeting different kinds of people and getting into places I wouldn’t otherwise.

What brought me to South Africa? I had visited in both 2007 and 2008 and really loved it, but always went back home. At some point in 2009, I felt that my life wasn’t going anywhere and that it was time for a change. I wanted, needed, a new perspective. And so, after nine years of working at a graphic design studio, I quit my job, cleaned out my apartment, packed my bags and came to South Africa – the place I loved so much a few years earlier. There is a spirit here that I couldn’t find at home and I wanted more. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do except “be a photographer”.


Tshepo Moche

Please tell us about the project ‘Swimming Upstream’?
The project came about after struggling for a few months – I struggled to make friends, to get work and I ran into copyright issues when I had one of my photos “stolen”.  I figured there had to be more young creatives who are in the same predicament. I thought the best way to deal with my own situation was by connecting with other artists, to pick their brains a little. I set up a list of questions asking about the challenges they faced, how they feel about copyright and how to make a living when everything online is ‘free’. Pretty much things that were on my mind. I then started approaching people, asking if I could interview them and photograph them. I photographed all of the artists in specifically chosen locations, places that I felt somehow connected to their personalities or work. Everyone has simply been amazing. I feel very grateful for their openness towards me and their willingness to share their thoughts and give me their time. It’s been very cool so far and I am learning a lot.

The artists taking part so far are Toby Atwell, Lauren Beukes, Donovan Copley, Guy Buttery, Lauren Fowler, Twanji Kalula, Akio Kawahito, Miss Texas 1977, Tshepo Moche, Maloti Mothobi, SA Partridge, Verity Price, Monishia Schoeman, Neil John Smith, Hendrik Vermeulen, Tristan Waterkeyn and Sam Wilson. And I have my eye on quite a few other artists already.

Guy Buttery

What are the requirements for a creative to be profiled by you?
I look for people who inspire me; it can be based on their work, ethics or personality wise. That’s a definite first. And I have set up some loose guidelines: freelancers, no older than 40 years old, people from different cultural and artistic backgrounds, and a mix of men and women who are at different stages in their careers.

Any plans to profile artists in other parts of Africa?

I would love nothing better than to expand this project to other regions, and not just in Africa but also Asia and the Americas. That would be a dream come true. It would be so interesting to see how other artists deal with challenges in life, art and the digital world. It would be great to see how, if at all, culture affects their points of view.


Donovan Copley


What can we expect from you in the future?
I have been back to the Netherlands for a bit but I am heading back to South Africa next month. I plan on continuing this project by not only getting more artists involved but also the other side of the spectrum: the magazine editors, advertising agencies and gallery owners. I would love to hear what it is that they are looking for in an artist. It is one thing to do a project, but then what? What are the next steps, how do you push through? How does one continue and make being an artist sustainable?

On a more personal level, there is a lot I hope to achieve and there is a long list of people I would love to photograph. I am hoping to continue working as a freelancer, but would also like to get back into doing editorial shoots for magazines. Working for Rolling Stone f.e. would be very cool (laughs). I would love to learn about filmmaking and to exhibit more. I am also super excited about Cape Town being the World Design Capital in 2014 and am keen to get involved. Basically, if I could make a life as a photographer while travelling, meeting people and creating visual stories I would be very happy. Very happy indeed.

Where can the readers view more of your work?

My website is and I blog at
I am also on Twitter @photokathalijne
and Facebook of course


Hendrik Vermeulen


Lauren Fowler


Maloti Mothobi


Miss Texas 1977


Monishia Schoeman



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