#BehindTheNoise: We shine a spotlight on Christelle Duvenage, event and festival photographer working the Gauteng music scene

One of my favourite things about playing gigs and attending festivals is being tagged in the stream of photos the following Monday. And, if I’m being honest, the camera loves me.

The next lady featured in our #BehindTheNoise campaign is event and festival photographer, Christelle Duvenage. I am tempted to change the title to #BehindTheLens.

“Before we start, can I ask who else is involved?” Christelle asks me, jumping right in.

For the sake of surprises, I won’t divulge the rest of our ladies, but Christelle recognises half of the other names, having worked the festival and live music scene before with some of them.

Christelle hails from a small town a good 60km outside of Johannesburg called Vereeniging, population +/-100 000 people. From the way that she rolls her r’s, I can tell that she’s Afrikaans. Her warm reception and her willingness to chat to me, a (friendly) stranger triggers the old saying – Afrikaners is plesierig.

Duvenage’s fascination with photography goes all the way back to primary school, “I think photography started during primary school. I was always the person with the mik en druk [point and shoot]camera, taking photos of friends.” She makes a point of highlighting the importance of self-expression, from visual art to poetry, to the bright blue neon hair glowing on her head. “At first I wanted to be a photojournalist. I had a very specific mind-set back then – this is the way it’s gonna be, it’s never gonna change.” Her next move was to apply to the University of Pretoria – shout out to my hometown. Tuks of niks! Asking questions and reading up more about the courses involved in photojournalism, Christelle realised that, “I wanted to do the photojournalism thing for the photo part, not so much the journalism.”Her decision to study photography over photojournalism saw her attending the Vaal University of Technology. “I just thought to myself okay, this is a really good school so let’s do it. But I wanna add that I don’t think you have to study photography to be a good photographer,” she establishes.

“I am what I like to call a full-time freelance photographer and re-toucher. I basically do any kind of photography, but mostly I enjoy band photography and being involved in the music scene.”

The thing Duvenage loves most about her job is the freedom – she isn’t one for the 9 to 5 grind. She’d rather throw herself into her work, barely sleeping for 10 days on end, and then spend the following week chilling hard, “I could very easily just chill and spend time with my dog.”

Through my extensive stalking of her work, I notice that most of it is in black and white. I question this and she goes on to tell me about one of her biggest influences, Ansel Adams, an American landscape photographer and forerunner in the printing world. She is in awe of his work, “He decided exactly where each tone would go, and he did that in an old-school printing room. That impressed me so much that I fell in love with black and white!”

Her voice grows more excited the more she talks about black and white photography, “What I like about black and white is that there’s no colour to lead you into how you should feel about what’s in front of you. You get to make up your own mind, you get to connect whichever way you feel you need to in that moment” I’d never thought about it like that. Guess that’s why they pay her the big bucks.

Duvenage attends as many festivals as her schedule allows, and she enjoys the energy and the power of stadium performances. But the gigs and performances she loves the most are the “Little obscure shows, the dark and dingy clubs that have a house-party-in-the-garage feel about them.”

The Pretoria and Joburg music scenes, according to Duvenage, are very supportive of each other. Being out of touch with any scene that isn’t Cape Town’s, I’m very happy to hear this. She continues, “I’ve noticed that there are a bunch of bands who will come out to each other’s shows and I enjoy that. I enjoy that we can support each other. We don’t need like 200 people in the club, we can just show up for each other. That’s what it feels like.”

Since she likes the dark and dingy clubs, I make her promise that she’ll hit me up when next she’s in Cape Town – a night-turned-morning at The Shack with my new friend is in order.

I ask about the less-than-glamorous side to live band photography. “The most annoying thing is when I show up to do my job, and there’s no light. Photography literally means painting or drawing with light. While I was studying, my lecturer said to us ‘you think you’re here to learn about taking photos but actually you’re here to learn about how to solve problems,” she says.

Jacqui van Staden is someone who instantly comes to mind when I ask her about fellow industry females who inspire her, “She’s a photographer and actually one of the only female photographers when I started doing live band photography. I went onto Facebook to see what she’s doing these days and she’s still doing photography. That says a lot about tenacity and sticking it out.”

Christelle has a message for the ladies out there doing what they love and believe in through the ups and downs: “I know so many ladies working behind the scenes, doing the things and getting no thanks, but pushing through regardless. I just really wanna say that I see you guys. Thank you for doing what you’re doing and keep pushing on. You are inspirational. I acknowledge you. Just keep showing up for and supporting each other.”

Check out Part 1 of #BehindTheNoise with Zethu Gqola.