The SAFREAN: May 2018

Bringing you the latest news in South African freelancing

KZN Creative Morning
A bunch of KZN members got together on the morning of 26 May to practise their creative muscles. These Safreans impressed with their ability to use only 10 minutes to create inspiring content from single-word prompts.


Gauteng South shares ideas
Safreans in Joburg got to meet their new regional committee members and exchange ideas on 16 May. It wasn't only an enjoyable social event; there was a great and interesting conversation on freelance life, ideas for future events and ways of making SAFREA work better for its members.


6 June, 11:40Robyn Thekiso, Gauteng South Chairperson, speaks at Madex on the future of freelancing
Sandton Convention Centre

12 June, 10:00Gauteng South and North host Arthur Goldstuck and Bradley Elliott for a presentation on the power of brand influencers 
Impact Hub Joburg (+27 (0)11 048 2542)
RSVP: or 

MADEX 2018
Robyn Thekiso represents SAFREA

If Wi-Fi is the new currency and mobility is the new black, then freelancing is the vanguard of a new business order. As technology continues to transform ahead of the economy, traditional business models struggle to adapt to the growth potential of an independent work base. Robyn Thekiso will unpack the drive behind freelancing and how this is impacting the future of the global economy.

Make sure you attend Robyn's talk and join us for a mass Coffee Club event afterwards - representing as many regions as possible!
Keep an eye on Events on the SAFREA website for more details. 


Eric Miller
Eric Miller is one of the most widely published and experienced photojournalists working in South Africa. He has a lifetime’s experience in covering news-related stories – from the struggle against apartheid in 1980 to the Rwandan genocide and famine in Sudan – human interest features and even essays on the highlights of several dance and opera productions. Our cover photo of a scene from Aida shows his awe-inspiring talent to capture amazing moments on stage.

Now let’s hear more from the man himself.

Where are you from, and have you always been interested in photography? Back in the day it was a completely different animal and not as "accessible" as now. 
I grew up in Joburg, worked in the corporate world for several years but got more and more involved in photography as a hobby. In the turbulent 1980s I became way more interested in what was happening politically, and in the media renditions of that turbulence – influenced as it was by state pressure and bias. I was working for a collar and tie 8-5 hard-core financial corporate, but was consumed by what I was seeing in the news and how it was being reported by different media (mainstream newspapers, progressive publications, and SABC TV and radio).

I took it on myself to “escape” my desk often at lunchtime, go down to the garage, change into jeans and a t-shirt and go on my motorcycle to protests, funerals, solidarity meetings at churches around the city, and photographing those events for an hour or so before rushing back to the office and my “nice” job. At night I would spend hours in the darkroom processing the day’s image to deliver the next day to The Weekly MailNew Nation and other publications. I would do the same over weekends, immersing myself in developing an understanding of what was happening in mid-1980s South Africa, and the realities for communities around Johannesburg. It meant learning a new “language” and life paradigm, and by mid 1985 I realised that my corporate job was not tenable anymore. I felt hugely compromised morally and politically in the corporate environment. I found a “home” with a group of progressive photographers in a photographer collective called Afrapix, and chucked the corporate job to become a full-time freelance news photographer. In 1988, I moved down to Cape Town to become a full-time stringer for Reuters wire photos, although still as a freelance. I have worked as freelance since the day I resigned from the corporate, and have worked through some of the most momentous periods of both South African history, and technological changes.

Yes, back then access to news was highly limited in various ways. State of Emergency Regulations made it extremely difficult to work. When we did manage to evade the police and actually capture a story/images, the means of distribution were very difficult to access. Through Afrapix we would courier monthly packages of image prints to a variety of overseas solidarity organisations, which would then distribute them widely. But locally distribution was limited by the State of Emergency Regulations, and the only possibility of moving images rapidly out of the country was by paying very expensive transmission rates to the wire agencies like Reuters, AP and AFP etc ($150–$200 and more).

In the post-94 period I began working very closely with several USA, UK and European journalists for their publications, and with a passport now welcome in Africa made as much use of that freedom as I could. I travelled to over half the countries in Africa over the next 20 years, often multiple times and sometimes at seminal moments in their history.

It was an extraordinary period in 1995/1996 when I started being able to digitise images myself and use email to send the images to those publications overseas that were able to use email. I was freed from the technology limitations I mentioned before. And of course the digital revolution swept through the media community in several waves after the initial introduction of email to where we are now with smartphones and the idea of “anyone can be a photographer” (both good and bad in that), the collapse over a decade ago of traditional news media and the fact that the bean counters have extracted a huge toll on traditional media models.

While we’re on the subject, everyone thinks they can be a photographer these days, but we know it’s a specialised field. If people are indeed serious about becoming photographers, what advice can you give them to develop themselves and break into the field? 
Over the years I have mentored quite a few young photographers, several of whom now work at various newspapers. There are several mantras I would repeat, very basic stuff: the core of it is that if you plan to become a news/media photographer, you’d better be utterly and totally committed, and know what it means to be committed – no part-time waiter jobs, no weekends as a gym instructor. The field is full of hungry, young and talented photographers, so if you don’t commit yourself full on, you’ll be looking at their photos in the media rather than taking your own.

There is a huge amount of “abuse” in the media. People will sell their souls to see their photo/story in print, and editors are avaricious and ruthless in exploiting that. Women photographers at some newspapers often get overlooked for “tough” assignments by chauvinist editors, newbies get overlooked by short-sighted editors, and so on. There is huge pressure on young photojournalists to sometimes take chances that can occasionally be life-threatening, especially in this country where self-serving political expedience often stirs up antipathy to the media and portrays them as lying scavengers peddling fake news.

The social commentary added to your images on Instagram (@erixzapix) is striking. Do you also write or do you stick to photography for assignments? 
Traditionally I have worked with various writers/journalists, local and foreign, but I am writing a little, and currently working on a big project alone that requires me to write more. But I prefer working with scribes. It’s a great process that can be mutually beneficial and much more productive than working alone.

Unfair question! What are the most interesting or profound topics or stories you've covered in your career?
I worked for many years with a Danish journalist for both his newspaper and many other publications. I learned very quickly from him that every single story he worked on, he would talk about and refer to as “the most awesome/interesting/fascinating/exciting (add your own superlatives)”. I’ve also been very privileged to have worked consistently on stories that are really close to my heart. So between those two points of reference, it’s hard to choose a favourite child, but of course there are some that stick.

Over a period of years I went back multiple times to Uganda/South Sudan and followed the story of the Lord’s Resistance Army and their leader Joseph Kony – their terrifying exploits of kidnapping and press-ganging children into their army, the brutality and violence visited on children, especially young girls. In the course of that story I met a young woman, Agnes, kidnapped at age 15, who endured unspeakable horrors in the first three months of her captivity, and managed to escape in South Sudan and make her way back home to Uganda. I met her soon after her escape and have kept contact with her over the years. I visited her several times in Kampala, and she came to Cape Town some years ago for a visit. Her life nearly got destroyed and by a self-engineered miracle she managed to escape and survive. Some of her story is in the first book I published with a Swedish and a Danish colleague.

More recently I worked on a project for about five years with a group of Khayelitsha grandmothers, documenting some of their life stories – producing an exhibition, book and series of videos that capture some of their experiences growing up, during apartheid and into the post-democracy period. And I am currently working on a project in the Karoo (which is kind of a microcosm story of the last 20 to 30 years in South Africa) which will (hopefully) end up in a short video documentary, book and exhibition in the course of 2019.

Where/how do you find inspiration?
I guess I could say the same as Pieter-Dirk Uys and countless other comedians in this country: you just have to look around and there it is! Read the papers, watch TV, walk through different communities and stories pop out. About a year ago I happened through sheer chance to stop in a tiny community in the Karoo and drive through it for ten minutes. I saw things there that literally lept at me and grabbed me by the throat, so I have been back there several times to work on the story, and will still have to go back a few more times before I can tie it all down.

Every single road trip I make out of my hometown “comfort zone” produces stories and story ideas for me.

How long have you been a Safrean, and why are you a member of SAFREA?
I was one of the founding members of Safrea back on Day 1.  ;-)

I have stayed because I believe that, despite the periodic flame wars, crap, hysterics, histrionics and arguments and fighting, it remains a worthwhile resource for people willing to give and needing to get information of value – at many levels. That’s the level at which I engage, mainly through the email group. The group has a cycle, and all those events will pop up at some time. People will either endure, or storm out in a huff, and new ones will join (and do the same). I tend to take a longer-term view of the life cycle of the organisation.

What is your work/life motto?
Everyone has a story; everyone wants their story to be heard. Respectfully.

You can see more of Eric's work on InstagramFacebook and his website.



At SAFREA, we're always on the lookout for time-saving tricks and business insights to help our members take their careers to the next level. 

In keeping with the visual nature of this month's newsletter, SAFREA member Jaco Wolmarans looks at video trends in 2018.

Please note: This article will remain open to non-members until 25 June.


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