We are more than our struggles. This artist develops positivity from the negatives


For years, Nicky Newman’s camera focused on disease, stigma, and discrimination. The photographer trained her eye on the darkness of the world, elucidating its complexities. Her social activism drove her beliefs. Until she realised she needed light in her view. “It’s human nature to be drawn to the negative,” Newman says. “I think that it’s a challenge to find beauty.” In the search for a new outlook, she adjusted her composition to counter the gloom-ridden stories she knew so well.

An anti-apartheid activist during her student days in the 1990s, Newman began her own production company soon after graduating from Rhodes University. One of her prominent films was Simon and I, an intimate look into the LGBT movement and HIV in South Africa. Newman had always seen herself as a journalist, working to expose problems and effect change. But as she got older, she began to crave different narratives and moved from documentaries to stills. “Photography has allowed me to tell stories in a much more open-ended way,” Newman says. Rather than focusing on challenges, she decided to centre on the people overcoming them. “It’s important for me to tell uplifting stories outside of that one-dimensional view,” Newman says.

Her latest series, Place of Water, focuses on visitors to a public pool in Cape Town. Accessible to white people only during apartheid, the pool is now open to all. In Newman’s highly-saturated images, the joy and freedom of the swimmers is palpable. Shortlisted for the ZEISS Photography Award in 2017, the series is a testament to her novel approach to capturing the nation. “South Africa and Africa are often broken down to a stereotype – it’s the problems, it’s the poverty,” Newman says. “We are so much more than that.”