For Cape Town-based photographer Jesse Navarre Vos, photography is medium which should be approached slowly, and deliberately. Having grown up in the city he still calls home, Jesse first fell in love with the creative endeavour at school where he spent hours in the darkroom, entranced by the watching images coming to life through the chemical process – and it’s a means of production he can’t quite let go of.
“I’m not against the use of digital photography by any means, and I think some people use the medium to great effect,” he tells us, “but I do find that process is such a driving factor in the work that I do, and even though it is sometimes frustrating and slow, I don’t think I could imagine doing it in any other way.” In turn, Jesse’s photographs – which tend to sit within the fashion portraiture world – are sensitive and intentional because “communication becomes a guiding factor, and cultivating and holding space become important.” In fact, the interactions behind a photograph are often more important to Jesse than the photographs themselves; “the photograph just being a sum of the process.”
No matter what the project, the important part for Jesse is always the lead up to actually pressing the shutter. He values people and context above aesthetics and it’s this approach that defines his portfolio. “I shoot many different types of work and collaborate with people from different disciplines, from art to fashion, documentary to editorial,” he adds. “At the end of the day it’s the people that I’m collaborating with that excite me and make me want to continue, rather than a particular style of photography.” Naturally, for most projects, Jesse therefore researches his subject or the people he is working with thoroughly before taking any images.
Adaptation is also important for Jesse and he describes how his “visual language is always changing, or at least growing, to encompass new ways of representation.” It’s only natural then, that when asked which projects he’s most proud of recently, he looks to the future. “I have a few projects that are still forthcoming, and I’m most excited about those, as they are more representative of the work that I’m doing now and moving into.”
One such project is for Oath Magazine which featured Jesse’s work in its first print edition and is releasing its second issue on the theme of “love”. “ I wanted to explore the idea of love in a way that wasn’t as on the nose as something like romantic love, and to capture and express from a different perspective,” Jesse tells us. A project which was entirely collaborative in nature, Jesse did four shoots, each serving to highlight a different facet of love. “These shoots all took place in the people’s homes that I photographed and I am hoping that a sense of intimacy comes through in them,” he says.
Daniel Obasi, a stylist from Lagos, was recently in Cape Town and so the pair took the opportunity to work together, having initially done so in Nigeria in 2018. “Daniel has such a wonderful imagination, and I’m in awe at the pace of his artistic growth. As well as being a stylist he is also a photographer, and has made the short films An Alien in Town and Udara,” Jesse adds. The duo shot on location in Cape Town: “It was quite an eventful day, and we were rushing around doing our best to bring it all together. We ended up having two more looks to finish off and very little light left before sunset. We ended up rushing to the a nearby beach to capture the last rays of light and just managed to finish the shoot with as the light faded,” Jesse recalls. He’s currently putting the shoot together and hopes to release is soon.
Interestingly, for someone whose images bear the hallmarks of years of experience, Jesse only really got into the medium four years ago. While he spent many an hour in the darkroom at the age of 16, he lost interest when the subject turned to digital photography and went on to study music and composition in hopes of doing film scoring. This route didn’t go well and he eventually graduated with majors in anthropology and history. “I ended up getting lost a bit in the academic side of things while I was studying, and at some point I found myself looking for some kind of creative outlet again, and about four years ago or so I found the inspiration to pick up a camera again,” he explains.
Today though, you would never guess that Jesse deviated from photography for a day. His images are natural and instinctive, full of intimacy and the personality of his sitters. “It’s strange how sometimes life goes in a bit of a loop and you end up finding out that the thing you were most passionate about was always there,” he concludes. “However, I do feel that my experience of university and studying music, anthropology and history all have informed my current working practice and outlook on life.”
GalleryJesse Navarre Vos
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.