Most fans will know Jaco Venter as Snakehead, the drummer for alternative rock band Fokofpolisiekar. What you might not know is that he’s a Fuji Ambassador and when travelling, he always has his camera nearby to document impromptu moments of the “madness” he calls life. His images are raw and real though he’s never had any type of formal training, through his career as musician he’s made friends with some serious South African photographers who “don’t mind giving advice when asked”.
When did you really start getting into photography?
My first introduction to rad visuals was probably through skateboarding magazines and videos when I was still at school. But, it was only around 2004, when Fokofpolisiekar started touring with acclaimed photographer Liam Lynch that my eyes opened to the possibilities of photography. I was intrigued by the way he was able to take seemingly mundane scenarios and turn them into iconography by means of clever compositions and by waiting for the right moment. Besides being a major inspiration, he also introduced me to the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, David Goldblatt and William Eggleston.
I only really started taking photos some years later in 2009 when my dad threw out our old family Pentax for a digital point-and-shooter. I decided that I would take that old film camera on tours to help cure my party-induced amnesia. The first couple of rolls of film came out blurred and the exposure wasn’t great and so I started reading up a lot and became obsessed with getting 36/36 good exposures on each roll of film. I learned a lot from photographer friends like Liam, Adriaan Louw, Sean Metelerkamp and my brother, Wilhelm Venter. Around 2011, I bought my first digital camera and I’ve been shooting the world around me ever since.
How does life compare behind the drums vs. the camera?
Drums are loud and I tend to beat them a bit harder than most drummers because of the type of music I play, while my approach to photography is the complete opposite. I don’t like to announce myself before taking a picture of someone, but each situation is different I suppose. Playing the drums afforded me to tour a lot and subsequently I’ve become more relaxed around strangers, which helps with my photography.
How would you describe your style of photography?
The photographers whose work I admire most work in the documentary/photo-journalism/street realms so I guess that’s the approach I take to photography. Design (composition), information and emotion are important to me and if those boxes are ticked (hopefully all three), I’m happy.
Do you do any retouching, and if so, please take us through your process?
I wanted to know how it works (some years ago when I had an interest in that type of thing) and so I have become rather proficient with retouching: frequency separation, skin retouching, puppet warping, etc. For my personal work, I won’t do much post work besides the odd colour correction here and there. And shooting with the Fuji X-Pro 2 has been a total game changer – the colour profiles and film simulations are so good that I hardly spend any time behind my computer these days. I suppose it depends on what the photos are for. I might still do some of that if the job requires it, but I’m most happy when it isn’t needed and when it could be achieved in camera.
What are your thoughts on the Fujifilm X-Pro 2?
I mostly use the Fuji X-Pro 2 with the 23mm, 35mm or 56mm prime lenses. Fuji sponsors me and I am very happy with the equipment and its results. Sometimes I also shoot with a Yashica T4 or my Nikon FM2 if I feel like shooting film. Besides not having to slave away in post to make the pictures look satisfactory, I like the fact that the Fuji’s X-Pro 2 camera’s small and film-camera-like body make you less conspicuous. My previous camera (Canon 5D MKII) was much bulkier and people wouldn’t be as open to have their picture taken because they’d think you work for a publication. I also like the electronic viewfinder as this allows you to spend more time focused on (or conversing with) your subject matter – no more looking to the back of your camera to make sure your exposure is correct. The Fuji X-Pro 2 is simply everything I need in an everyday shooting camera.
Going through your Instagram feed I can see most of your work is black and white. Do you have a preference for the monochrome look?
I like shooting black and white because of the “other-worldly” effect it creates; it separates the viewer from the picture and allows you focus more on composition and form. It’s a bit of a cheat, I know.
Your work has been on exhibition before. Please tell us more about the process?
I had been thinking of doing an exhibition of the work I did when travelling South Africa with DHOR (Hardus Van Deventer & Jack Parow’s motorcycle travel program for KykNet), but the timeline didn’t work out right after the show started airing so I thought it wasn’t going to happen. About 6 months later, Aces & Spades (in Cape Town) approached me and they asked if I’d like to have an exhibition at their place for First Thursdays. I accepted the offer and decided that I would do an exhibition of about 20 photos. Picking out 20 photos from about 3000 photos was no easy task and I decided to get some help from friends. I managed to cut my selection down to about 100, then I had about 10 of my photographer friends choose their favourite photos. While polishing a bottle of whiskey the night before the photos had to go to print, my best friend, Merwe and myself chose the remaining photos. It was hard to let go of certain photos but, at the end of the day, it was about telling a story and creating a feeling of movement. The first exhibition was more fun than I could’ve ever imagined and I had the best time talking to both strangers and friends about the work that night. I was also very lucky that the body of work had a bit of a life after that night as it was on show at the Cape Town School of Photography (where I also did a talk) and it even went up to Jozi for two different exhibitions: one at The Keys Art Mile and another at The Shadow Boxer in Greenside. It’s definitely something I’d do again even if it’s just to party!