Grant Pitcher is no ordinary photographer. With a thing for exceptional coffee and a love for breath taking architecture, we were lucky to catch Grant when he wasn’t up in the air, shooting from a Robinson 22 Helicopter, you know, the usual.
With the goal of becoming one of South Africa’s most respected photographers, we had to pick his brain, particularly on the architecture of our city, and find out all about the Image Consultant.
MMS: Hi Grant, we know you love to “capture the world as our eyes see it” in your work, tell us how this all began for you?
GP: Well it goes back to a long while before I started earning a living from photography. I travelled Europe, spending two summer seasons teaching sailing in Greece, finishing it off with a month trip to the west coast of Canada and I then returned to Durban late in the year 2000.
I loved to pull out my panoramic film camera to capture scenes and scenery. Some of the results I got received high praise from friends and family. This really sparked my interest in photography but it wasn’t until a number of years later, when a client saw a few of my scenic shots of Durban harbour and requested to purchase some for their office decor. This gave me direction in the thinking that maybe I could make a life in photography.
The rest as they say is history but it wasn’t until early 2007 when I earned my first magazine cover that I had the confidence to call myself a pro photographer. It was from then on that it has been my mission to make the built environment and sculptural art known as architecture come alive. Capture it in beautiful light and attempt to add a new dimension to scene or building. Sometimes it’s more than just as the eye sees it but also as the heart feels it.
MMS: We’re in love with your aerial shots of Durban, photographing such unique views! What’s it like being up there, taking photographs from inside a helicopter, you must face some difficulties?
GP: You see the city and the landscape from a completely different point of view. Every time I fly I get a nervous sense of excitement as I know I’m going to see something new. Because of cost, I normally use a Robinson 22, which is a 2-seater helicopter made in America. It’s the cheapest option and we fly with the doors off. You have a lot of control in a helicopter and I can direct the pilot into different vista perspectives.
”with the doors off it didn’t feel comfortable – the feeling of falling straight to the ground was very real!
Generally, though I’m the passenger, you end up calling the shots and specify the direction as to where the pilot needs to place the helicopter for best view of the building being captured.
My recent expedition was by far the most thrilling as we needed two different but difficult shots. One being a view of the seaward side of Moses Mabhida Stadium area but from directly above at 1200ft as if it were a satellite photograph – it’s unnatural for the helicopter to be in that position (at 90 degrees to the ground) and with the doors off, it didn’t feel comfortable – the feeling of falling straight to the ground was very real!
Then for the other shot we needed to be about 2km out to sea to attempt to get a view from Durban harbour to King Shaka International Airport. The wind had really picked up by this time and this small aircraft was being blown all over the place with the wide open Indian Ocean below. The seamen on the ships out there must have thought we were crazy! We got the shot though!
“this small aircraft was being blown all over the place with the wide open Indian Ocean below.”
MMS: As someone who loves Architecture as much as yourself, you must be super excited that Durban has been chosen to host the UIA (Union of International Architecture) Congress next year. Do you think this will help highlight the architecture industry in Durban and create awareness around the industry?
GP: Yes this is massive for Durban. I had felt that Durban was falling behind in regards to modern architecture but with structures like Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban’s ICC, The Pearls of Umhlanga and some of the amazing new office blocks going up in the Umhlanga new town district (including Ridgeside), is all bringing about a wonderful change to the Durban skyline.
But with modern, sensational design that pushes architectural and structural boundaries comes the requirement for huge budgets. Let’s hope the Congress would greatly highlight Durban as a playmaker in the industry and bring this much needed investment.
MMS: Buildings in Durban are renowned for reflecting our population and colourful history. What’s your take on structure in our city? Do you have any particular favourites?
“depending on what elevation you’re viewing the building from, it looks as though it’s falling over!”
GP: It you take time to look at the diversity at the architecture in our city from the commercial right through to variation of residential homes from Glenwood to Umhlanga, it is quite astounding. There is great architectural history in some of the older buildings along the beachfront and up on the Berea that have been around since the mid-1900’s.
To be honest though, I much prefer the modern era and love the newer buildings like The Pearls of Umhlanga, The Embassy and new ABSA building in the Durban CBD. Residential apartment blocks where it’s not just about a structure emerging from the ground but multi-facet design has been wonderfully applied and incorporated to the inhabited space. Places like The Spinnaker on Durban Point Waterfront Development, One on Herwood and The Coastlands Hotel in Umhlanga as well as the new Strauss Daly building in Ridgeside, which depending on what elevation you’re viewing the building from, it looks as though it’s falling over!
MMS: We love how you get behind your art and give in depth explanations about photography. Would you say this has helped your audience curiosity?
GP: Yes possibly. This goes hand in hand with my passion and determination to capture the perfect shot in perfect light. A great number of the top images I have wouldn’t be able to be reshot as the conditions were so perfect.
I love to detail my experience when attempting to report back to people what I encountered in the process of bringing the structure to life. It’s more than just pressing a shutter button. Sometimes the weather or location is not perfect so often the story is about how I worked with those conditions to achieve the best results – things like shooting the stars on a clear night at low tide in a resort in Mozambique to provide the resort with a unique perspective in their image portfolio.
”things like shooting the stars on a clear night at low tide in a resort in Mozambique”
Or waiting until it’s quite dark to the naked eye, using a longer exposure and then converting the resulting image to black and white with high contrast, or get a beautiful sunrise to frame a building and provide dreamy colours.
“The image below was captured in Vancouver on a recent trip to the west Coast of Canada. This is the cruise ship terminal designed to look like massive ship with the sails on the foredeck.”
I am filled with such excitement with the prospective of being able to respect architectural lines and properly represent a building as the eye sees it and add in there plenty of passion so that the viewer will know it was ‘as the heart feels it’!
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