The name Natasja Maria Fourie is one that has become one synonymous with captivating images of the female form, being the go-to commercial photographer for a number of high-profile clients in the beauty industry. However, the South African-born image-maker is also recognised in style culture environs as a rising film director with a unique voice, having shot two unsettling short films that contain dark echoes of her celluloid heroes Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold. Being born to the former director of the National Theatre in South Africa, it might seem as though a career in the creative industries was assured, but the journey into the realm of professional photography came as much by accident as design, with Fourie’s raw portraiture of family and friends being championed by the likes of Dazed & Confused, before her work dovetailed into the fashion sphere. Here, the image-maker tells Collective Culture why all great art should be disruptive, and explains why beauty industry tropes are finally changing for the better.
How did your artistic journey begin?
As a child I loved to draw and paint, and my painting style was quite realistic. In high school I would take photos of objects and friends on our family camera and repurpose them for my drawings and paintings. My art teacher would always encourage me to be a bit more expressive and experimental, saying that my paintings and drawings looked too much like the photographs! When I was older, I went to a Graphic Design and Advertising school with the dream to become an art director at some fancy agency in New York or London. Photography was one of my main subjects, and I very quickly fell in love with it. There is something magical that happens in between looking through the viewfinder, taking the picture and developing the photograph–I love dealing with the unexpected and leaving something to chance.
Who were your biggest influences at that time, and why were you drawn to the female form?
At College my lecturer showed me the work of Larry Clark, Sally Mann and Nan Goldin. Their work really influenced my early photographs and journey into the photographic world. I also loved the work of Corinne Day. I started documenting my friends and family in intimate relaxed environments, so I guess my work started more as art photography, but some of these images were seen by some art buyers and fashion editors, and slowly I made my way to shooting more and more fashion and beauty work. It’s a cliché but I really love the work of Helmut Newton. He sits in a sweet spot for me between being a very successful fashion photographer and also being a true visionary artist. Although objectified and highly sexualized, his women always come across as strong and very much in control of their situations. That is a fine line to balance. I tend to see my own work as a celebration of the female form rather than an objectification of it.
What are the key characteristics to your beauty photography?
I love looking at people, at their faces, their expressions. My strong point is always to try and capture some sort of emotion or expression rather than a pretty face full of glam make-up. Thankfully, there has been a real steer away from glamorous, unattainable and almost intimidating beauty looks in the last few years to a beauty trend that is more natural–more inclusive of imperfections and real skin textures. Representation of women in fashion and advertising is shifting with more attitude and awareness about how women want to be depicted. The female consumer wants to be able to relate to the women in the images selling them the clothes. Women don’t just want to be portrayed and valued for their beauty and sex appeal–they want to be portrayed with all their character, sensitivities, vivaciousness, or idiosyncrasies. As image-makers we have a responsibility to challenge our culture’s puritanical fear of anything that fits outside traditional notions of beauty. We need to move, question, and disrupt assumptions without being judgmental.
Tell us about your work as a filmmaker…
The creation of my short film 13 is a project that I am proud of. It is a short film that focuses on a London-based security worker, played by James Harkness, who becomes increasingly isolated and falls into a psychological tailspin as he struggles to make any sense of the world at large. In film, I like to work on projects that are creative and thought provoking but that also challenge our perceptions of the world we live in. I am definitely intrigued by the so-called underdog, fallen or rogue hero. I am interested in work that evolves around character studies of complex and often damaged people. I have always been attracted to and inspired by people with strong voices such as Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold. I believe art should be a safe space to play and explore controversial ideas, to challenge the absurdity of status quo.
You are the mother of two children and a career woman–how difficult is that to juggle and what have you learned from motherhood?
As a single parent that balance becomes even more challenging, but where there is a will there is a way. I think it is very important to strike that balance right whilst your children are very young and in their formative years. Luckily, with freelance work I have many free days between jobs and projects to dedicate to my children. Motherhood has taught me how precious our time on this earth really is–how years can fly by like a dream. On a practical level, it has taught me how to really prioritise my days. Our children will only be small once. Our bodies, our hearts and minds are only given to us once. We have this one chance to live, to learn, to love and to create.
Credits (Top To Bottom): India Tuersley for Chanel Beauty, Make-Up by Ninni Nummela; Sophie Adams for Porter Beauty; Karina Kozionova for Cable Magazine, Make-Up by James Molloy; Carlotta Runze at Wilhelmina Models.