Jacques Skillie Botha is a wedding photographer from South Africa. He is coming to Way Up North in Rome all the way across a continent. We had his attention for a few minutes to share a bit more about himself and how he approaches his work.
WUN: So, for those who don’t know you, who is Jacques Skillie Botha?
Skillie: Well, my name is Skillie. It’s a nickname that I got already in high school. I couldn’t escape it even in university so I just went with it – my real name is Jacques. But, no one ever calls me that. Everyone knows me as Skillie. My wife and my kids also call me Skillie. So yeah, that’s me.
WUN: Does it mean anything in particular?
Skillie: It’s an Afrikaans way to say tortoise or turtle. When I started high school, they said I looked like a turtle that was on a South African TV show way back when we were kids. Now it has nothing to do with that. It’s just easy to remember and I think it has got a good ring to it. People remember the name with the photos as well. So that helps.
Anyway, I was born in the north of South Africa. Now we live outside of Cape Town. We worked there not only for work, but also for the lifestyle. My wife and I started photography together when we were still up north. We just started shooting, trying out things that we liked, whatever it was. We asked very little in terms of money, so we didn’t make any profit, but we just loved it.
Something just clicked as we started working together and before we knew it, it had grown to the point that I had to choose, either to go on with my masters degree or I skip that and we go for this thing. We asked ourselves, “OK, let’s just take the dive and do it.” So we did, and it just worked out amazingly. We got a lot of work and we’ve travelled quite a bit since then, all over the country. We’ve been on a few international trips as well, shooting and not shooting, which is great.
WUN: So do you feel your way of shooting has changed a lot since then? Skillie: Yeah, everything changed when our first daughter was born. The way we see and approach weddings, my whole perspective of life, what is important and not. All of a sudden, you put yourself in the shoes of the father that’s giving away his daughter and seeing what the little girl must have gone through, growing up. And now she’s here. All these intricate stories that have been building up towards this massive day. I think before we had our daughter, it was much more driven on beauty, getting the glamour shots. Not that we were ever fashion oriented photographers, but it was just that we were so much more focused on the couple shoot and saw that as the pinnacle of the day. Everything builds up to that moment and if that part of the day was blah, it was like “Uh, it has not been a good day at the office.” Now, it has shifted completely. Now, the portrait session is just one of the parts of the day. Every single part of the day is super important to me and I try to focus on the people and the dynamics around me, especially relationships. It has become an intricate part of my storytelling. To not just walk into a room and start shooting, but first connect with people and ask them questions. I try to find something to connect with, to see the story unfold in front of me, chatting and shooting at the same time. It’s actually not like a job. It feels easy. WUN: Yes, if you focus on family and the interactions between people, that matters more. They don’t care if the photo is technically perfect if it is a photo of their daughter for instance. Skillie: Exactly, definitely. That comes with time and experience. As you manage the dynamics of the relationships around you and the more you shoot, the technical stuff will just fall in place. Seeing the lines and the framing without really thinking about it. Seeing the small things, especially light, like an afternoon ray of light coming in through the window or as the light falls on my cup of coffee that’s brewing or whatever. It can be kids playing in the mud and you pause your normal life and just take it in, but without necessarily wanting to take a photo of it. By doing that, you learn to just see it. You just understand it and feel it because that is what you do all day. All that is with me when I step into a room, you just see it and don’t really think about it, because you are so focused and aware of what’s going on around you. These days, when our first daughter was born, the dynamics of our family team changed of course. My wife couldn’t shoot with me every weekend, and that created some problems because we were selling ourselves as a husband and wife team. But we both agreed that family would be the focus and that it was best for her to spend more time at home while they are small, to give them a proper education. I mean, it is proper bonding time, and just because we work from home, doesn’t mean that we are at home all the time or can focus on the kids. She has got to do the editing and other work. So I said to her, “You know, let’s try and figure it out”. So we found an awesome guy that joined the team. He was at one of our workshops and we just said like – immediately when we met him, this guy is a perfect fit. He just gets our vibe. He has been second shooting with me a lot now and has already been with us for two years. Starting this year, he’s starting to shoot his own weddings as a first photographer as well. So it changed for a while into a solo photographer with an assistant. But my wife still does all the editing. So she’s still part of the team in that sense.
WUN: So we heard that you’re coming to Way Up North in Rome!
Skillie: Yes. Exactly. So my wife won’t unfortunately be joining me on the trip to Rome since she’s at home looking after the kids, but I am bringing X with me. WUN: How did you hear about Way Up North?
Skillie: The connection was Nordica, of course. Having seen their work way back just really inspired me and I always felt like looking at their work helped me develop my own storytelling and the way I would like to approach a wedding day. Then, how it all came together was that I was shooting a wedding in South Africa, and I asked the couple how they found me, and they said it was through a Canadian friend. That friend turned out to be Cole. They had sent him a list of photographers to look at, and he recommended us. Later we met up at the wedding and it was just so rad, so natural and organic the way it happened. So we kept in contact and when we saw Way Up North coming up, we saw that Rome is one of the cheapest tickets you can get from South Africa. We said that we got to make use of this opportunity. We are super stoked to finally come to Way Up North!
WUN: I guess you’re kind of isolated down there. Like a lot of things happen in Europe or North America?
Skillie: Exactly. We have to travel quite far to get there. The industry down here is very interesting. I would say the kind of storytelling vibe we like, is only starting to develop now – we are some of the first guys that’s really pushing it out there. I’m trying to do that, especially with our workshops. We are not the only one doing this, of course, but I would say that we’re part of a growing movement. Up until now, it has more been your clean-cut type of whitewashed wedding photography that has been popular here in South Africa, but that is changing. That is another reason why I wanted to go to the Way Up North conference, to see how it’s structured and so on, because we have been talking to some of the other photographers down here with the same style as ours, to try to get one of our own conferences going in South Africa. There are some conferences here, but they always feel glamour-driven and not story-driven. We’re checking it out and seeing what we can learn.
WUN: So, thank you to Jacques Skillie Botha for this short interview and good luck with everything!
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