Through his compelling artistry, 26-year-old South African photographer and creative director Trevor Stuurman is captivating global audiences with his refreshing representation of authentic African stories.
Stuurman, who has an honours degree in Motion Picture at AFDA, The School for the Creative Economy based in his home country, got his breakthrough in 2012 when he became ELLE South Africa’s Style Reporter. While working for the magazine, documenting Johannesburg’s vibrant street style, he was able to nurture his unique fashion voice, which soon caught the attention of the industry.
Seven years later, and Stuurman counts a commission to photograph former-President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya as one of his biggest professional and personal accomplishments. Most recently, Stuurman’s intimate and arresting images of Beyoncé at the Global Citizen Festival in SA spread across social media platforms, drawing more attention to the artist’s distinctive Afrocentric aesthetic.
You’re from Kimberley, South Africa, which is located in the country’s most sparsely populated province. Today, at 26, you’ve seen most of the world. How has your upbringing influenced the work we see you create today?
My upbringing was everything. It has shaped me into the person I am today. Growing up, I was blessed to have a supportive structure and was equally surrounded by creative people. My childhood best friends were my first muses and collaborators. They ignited my passion for photography.
You’re known for challenging stereotypes about Africa through your work. How much do you think is still left to do to change the often-distorted narrative of a continent that’s been told through a Western lens for centuries? And how do you continue to keep up the pace?
I strongly believe that we are in a new wave of reflecting and reimagining the African narrative. We are challenging and undermining the stereotypes with every piece of work we undertake. We are able to tackle misrepresentation of our people, home and being, by just being our authentic selves. This intentional process fosters inclusion and is a breeding ground for collaboration within the continent and the diaspora. We are bringing to light the stories and faces of those that were reduced to the shadows.
This is a laborious journey, so it’s difficult to say how much we still have to do, when you consider that our history was underwritten, underrepresented and appropriated for hundreds of years. African people, despite this, have always kept their own ways of protecting their history and culture. They are resilient, beautiful and proud. That is the work of proactively reclaiming our past for our future. So it is important for Africans to continue to tell the African story – for Africans by Africans first. More of that and everything else will follow, I firmly believe it. I see this process as therapy.
You’ve recently become a contributor for British Vogue, with projects including capturing street style at Afropunk Festival. How does someone like Edward Enninful, the first black editor-in-chief of the iconic title, change the game?
Representation matters, especially in the mainstream media. This completely changes the narrative and positively disrupts the entire industry. We need more decision makers of colour at the table. It’s no longer enough just to have people of colour as models and assistants. We need the whole value chain to reflect the demographics of the industry. The whole industry benefits when it is more inclusive because we cannot continue representing the rest of the world as the “other”.
We all deserve to open a magazine, switch on the TV and know that people who look like us have a place in the world. So people like Edward open the door to more diversity, create opportunities and ensure that the world as we know it exists where we consume it. More especially, it validates the dreams and identities the world over, because we cannot become that which we do not see.
Your career has seen you turn a passion into profit, but that can sometimes come at a cost. As an artist, how do you draw the line when it comes to commercial work without compromising on your creative vision?
For me, art is a very spiritual discipline, so personally, it is all about creative chemistry and alignment. When it comes to a job, it’s just essential that both I and the collaborator – or brand – share some common values. And, of course, at the heart of it all, there really has to be love and a mutual respect between us. This as a compass has always led me to remain true to my vision. It is the work of true co-piloting.
You photographed Naomi Campbell in Nigeria. The supermodel has developed a close relationship with South Africa – including with Nelson Mandela – for years. And you’ve developed a personal bond with Campbell, too. What makes photographing her so unique?
Naomi is generous and loving. Shooting her always feels like capturing moments with a big sister and knowing that you always get a “thumbs up”. She is like an older sister to me, cheering passionately on my team. Always guiding and inspiring me to use my talent to empower and better the lives of others. I truly and genuinely love her.