7 Questions for Photographer Andrea Rees

Andrea Rees talks about her passion for travel, photography, and using photography as a way of empowering women

In October 2019, you can join us on a photography volunteer program in Cape Town, South Africa; a wonderful way of combining travel photography with a do-good project. If you join us, you’ll be guided by Andrea Rees, a travel photographer and founder of the Heart of a Woman Project. Through this project, Andrea equips women in South African townships with the photography and social media skills they need to effectively tell the story of their community development programs. We asked Andrea about what drives her in her work – and she shared some of her favourite images. 

What sparked your interest in photography? 

I’d have to say it was probably my grandmother that helped spark my interest in photography. She had a Kodak 110 camera and travelled quite a bit. She had albums of photos from her travels and of family. When I was 12 years old I was given the opportunity to learn photography one afternoon a week at primary school instead of going to class. We would spend our afternoons walking around my home town of Toronto, Canada photographing things that interested us. I remember taking photos of buildings and people. We then returned to school to develop our own film. Pretty sure that’s what cemented my love for it.

What was your first camera, and what equipment do you use now? 

The first camera I ever bought myself was was a Nikon d100 in early 2003. I had many point and shoot cameras through the years and a Nikon film camera, but I don’t remember what models. The Nikon d100 could only take a 1gb compact flash card. I still remember (and maybe a little bitter about it haha) that a 1gb CF card cost $500 CAD then. I now use the Olympus OM-D em-1 mark II camera and a variety of the M. Zuiko pro lenses. It makes travelling easier and my back thanks me.

Why travel photography?  

Quite simply, I LOVE to travel. It is in my DNA. I love to learn about and experience other cultures, see different landscapes than what I am used to and I absolutely love to experience nature and wildlife.

What are your main goals with your photography?

To be able to tell a story and for people to feel something when they look at my photos – maybe about wildlife, maybe about a place, maybe about a people. Professionally speaking, my goal is to be able to inspire people to get out and travel and to take photos. I try and visit some places that are overlooked or might intimidate people but they are curious about it, like South Africa. Secondly, to be able to share and pass on my photography knowledge to those that may not otherwise have the opportunity to try their hand at photography and share their stories. I am passionate about teaching photography to people running grassroots development projects/non–profits so they can share their own stories.

What made you start The Heart of a Woman Project (THOAW):

I visited a non-profit art & education centre in Cape Town (Khayelitsha) run by women living there on my first trip to South Africa in December 2012. I learned of their programs like the women’s skills development program that teaches crafts and entrepreneurship to unemployed women, mostly mothers. As a photographer, woman and mother, I was drawn to and inspired by their model of education and empowerment through the arts. After an one-on-one conversation with the managing director about their goals and challenges, she expressed that she wished to attract more business for their crafters and bring more tourists to the centre. I mentioned that I wanted to help, but didn’t know how at the time. After returning to my home in Canada, I came up with an idea to teach women photography and social media so they could photograph their products, events and share stories about the centre and life in Khayelitsha.

On a trip to Europe in 2011, I captured images with an iPhone 4 and created a coffee table book. After seeing the printed book, I realized the capabilities of an iPhone as a viable camera for smaller prints and the web. So much could be accomplished with one mobile device from taking the photo to post-processing, to sharing on social media to printing photographic products through apps. I felt that the learning curve was much shorter compared to DSLR cameras as it allows the mobile photographer to focus on capturing images and storytelling rather than thinking of apertures and f-stops. It is a camera that can always be with you and is an affordable option especially as I sought to acquire donated used iPhones as iPhone users tended to upgrade regularly.

While economically developed communities have been progressing along with the technology advances, much of the less economically developed communities have not had the same access and therefore have not had the same opportunities. As I began to earn income from my mobile photography, I asked myself  “what if I could teach mobile photography to women impacted by poverty, could they earn some income from mobile photography too?”

I added the idea of creating postcards from their images of life in Khayelitsha as a way to generate income for the participants and the centre as they already welcomed tourists and had an on-site art boutique. Five years later, the iPhones are still be used to share their products and events, and the postcards are still being sold.

My long-term goals are to, firstly, run more THOAW projects in South Africa and other countries to non-profit organizations that focus on women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation and/or tourism. Secondly, I want to bring people to South Africa to travel the way I do – to volunteer, immerse, learn, enjoy Cape Town’s tourism (and Kruger’s safari life) and have the opportunity for authentic cross-cultural exchange. I used social media to crowdfund and raise awareness for the South Africa project which began in November 2013. I felt it vital to connect the participants, the centre and those that supported us through social media with hopes of in-person meetings one day.

Who are some of your favourite photographers (past or present)?  

My favourites are Ami Vitale, Steve McCurry and Freeman Patterson.

Any secret techniques you can reveal? 

Not sure it’s a secret, but to me, photography is less about the gear, f stops and apertures and more about being able to “see” the world around us. It’s about knowing what to include in your frame and why.

Sangoma photograph

Sangomas

photography by Andrea Rees

First Nations Woman

Photographer Andrea Rees

Hummingbird

Photographer Andrea Rees

Japan Theatre

Leopard image by Andrea Rees

Leopard

Landscape photography Andrea Rees

Mountain Light

Photography by Andrea Rees

First Nations Boy

Night photography

Night Fog

Myanmar photography

Myanmar Tree

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