“What my camera remembers, I can’t forget”: Carl Van Der Linde details his travel photography

The Cape Town-based photographer talks us through his recent trip to Zanzibar where he documented youth culture and immersed himself in the culturally fluid landscape.

12 May 2021

When Carl Van Der Linde first started taking photography seriously, he was immediately “blown away” by his creations, he tells us. He describes what he saw as “a snapshot of place and time converted into a tangible piece of visual art”, all created by the tips of his fingers. Drawn to the emotion captured in the still image, Carl “could not help but pursue” photography. Focusing on portraiture and documentary, he taught himself the fundamentals of the medium and spurred his practice on with a catalytic love for image-making. He tells us: “When I understand that creating a photo is a harmonious culmination of random events, that you either hand a hand in or not, every photo seemed like a miracle. What my camera remembers, I can’t forget.”

Born in Cape Town, Carl went to school in Johannesburg, then went back to the capital to study economics at university level. During his degree, he bought a film camera which played a key role in his artistic practice later that year. On a trip to London, he shot a few rolls. Many of them were blurry, he recalls, under-exposed and often taken while having a few drinks in the pub. Nevertheless, “I was hooked,” and, even though his enthusiasm outweighed his skill at the time, “I was determined to become a travel photographer,” he says.

In time, his confidence in photography grew. On a trip around Europe in 2019, “I realised I was drawn to photographing people and exploring my relationship with them on a personal and engaged basis, rather than stealing snapshots candidly of unknowing targets or landscapes.” As someone still relatively new to the medium, Carl is still in the process of developing a style, describing it as “ever-evolving”. For now, he is learning to follow his instinct when it comes to who to portray and how to represent them. The photographer adds: “I’m in an exploratory phase, so I try not to set limitations by labelling or boxing it.”


Carl Van Der Linde: A day is short in Africa (Copyright © Carl Van Der Linde, 2021)

One thing Carl does try to evoke is emotion. A cinephile, he enjoys directing a scene as much as capturing it. He also likens photos to movies in that “the ones that make you feel the most stay with you the longest,” he says. “I try to create visual poetry from scenes captured in peoples’ day to day lives.” Recently, he travelled to Zanzibar in East Africa where he stayed for a few months. Initially venturing there for a commission for a travel magazine, over time, he made friends with the locals, “a mix of young men ranging from Maasai tribesman interested in contemporary fashion and music, to very masculine ‘bod body’ motorcycle drivers – their style and energy were infectious.”

Carl started to research Zanzibar and its history vigorously. “I was amazed to learn about how cultures from all over the world have congregated in Zanzibar for centuries. While parts of Europe and the West were still struggling in the dark ages, the bright light of the Orient had already started shining on Zanzibar,” says the photographer. He learnt about the Swahili Coast and their mercantile civilisation – Zanzibar played a large part in its trade – and in turn, how settlers and traders from the Middle East, Africa, India, East and South East Asia all made the island its home.

Immersing himself in the island’s communities, Carl spent his days in Zanzibar with his camera and tripod in toe, hanging out on street corners and markets and documenting the people he met and the youth culture. Exploring the notion of cultural fluidity, he crafted a series titled A day is short in Africa from his time there. “It’s far from done,” he adds on the work, “and I’ve yet to find out what I’m looking to communicate with this project.” This marks Carl’s overall attitude when it comes to his photography work. Still at the beginning of his career, he’s looking forward to unfolding the unplanned, spontaneous and intuitive nature of creativity. Aiming to travel more in the future (Covid-19 depending) to unearth new subjects, he also hopes to have an exhibition at the end of the year and release his first book too.

GalleryCarl Van Der Linde: A day is short in Africa (Copyright © Carl Van Der Linde, 2021)

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Carl Van Der Linde: A day is short in Africa (Copyright © Carl Van Der Linde, 2021)

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About the Author

Jynann Ong

Jynann joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. She went freelance in 2022.

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