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Evoking emotion through film

Celeste McKenzie combines her passion for photography and communications skills to produce a new breed of creative and vibrant photographers

Thabo Mohlala

Celeste McKenzie is a photography teacher at the Vega School of Brand Leadership. She has won 27 national and international professional photography awards since 2009 and is a multi-skilled communications specialist with vast industry experience in corporate communications, video productions, photography, public relations, social media and multimedia. She has been working in the corporate relations, marketing and education sectors since 1987.
Armed with an honours degree in communication and photography, McKenzie’s current projects include a social documentary on the Khomani San of the southern Kalahari, a book on the Bushmen and two exhibitions planned over the next two years.

She is a passionate teacher and trainer, and draws lessons from her frequent adventure road trips. She combines her travel photography with landscapes, food photography, infrared and urban portrait photography. “One is never too old to learn, and at 50 I bought myself a drone and a GoPro action camera to do aerial footage for my documentaries,” says McKenzie.

Who or what influenced you to become a photographer?
My mother was always taking photos of us on all our trips, and I bought my first film camera in 1983. I always wanted to be an airhostess so that I could travel, but she advised me to study so that I could have something to fall back on. All those years in communications and public relations, combined with television, gave me such a big head start to follow my passion in photography! Throughout my career I was taking photos and combining this with video production. I took a gap year when I was 45 and left the corporate world to pursue photography. I wanted to do just photography and move into fine art, landscape and travel photography. I eventually landed up teaching photography to other people and in 2010, was employed by Vega in Pretoria.

Where did you study photography?
I did my honours online course in photography from the UK-based Open College of the Arts, which partnered with the University of the Creative Arts, also in the UK.

Share with us attributes that one needs to have to become a successful photographer?
You need to have patience, perseverance, solid work ethics, people skills and be a hard worker. You also need to be multi-skilled and acquire other skills in web-based programmes, layout and design, as well as video production. You cannot just focus on taking photos only.

What kind of career opportunities are available to someone who studied photography?
One can begin by assisting other photographers, freelance photographers, studio photographers, magazine interns, corporate and events photographers, and sport photographers. There are many more opportunities, depending on what you wish to specialise in.

What do you like most about it?
I learn something new every week as I am trained in making films, and I try to communicate my passion about film back to the students. The students keep me grounded; they push me to become better at what I do. I love to interact and exchange techniques with them, and they are always eager to learn more.

Share some of the challenges associated with teaching?
As a lecturer you have a heavy workload. This includes marking and preparing new and relevant content to keep students abreast of new technologies. I also need to be relevant in the industry and still be active in my genres. This makes it difficult to find time to do all I wish to accomplish. My social documentary projects take me to the Kalahari and I cannot do that in just two days. The battle to find a balance between work, personal projects and time at home requires careful planning.

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