Ettienne van Rensburg - an alumnus with focus
Many well-known photographers have produced incredible images that have stood the test of time, but it is not only their photographs that are inspirational. Good photographers have acute insight into the creative process and guide others in the way in they think about subjects and scenes. One such a photographer is Ettienne van Rensburg, alumnus of the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU).
Ettienne has established himself as an award-winning photographer and journalist in community media (he is the Sport Editor of the Vaalweekblad community newspaper in the Vaal Triangle) and is highly regarded as one of the country’s top sports photographers. Ettienne (39) cut his teeth in newspaper journalism at Beeld and Sondag before settling at Vaalweekblad, where he has been honing his skills for the last couple of years. Here he is responsible for all sporting content in the Vaalweekblad's stable of publications. This entails action photography, layout, subediting and writing, and producing copy for the paper's webpage.
“I love sports, especially rugby. I have always wanted to sit next to the field and capture the action. It was divine intervention that pushed me on this path,” says Ettienne.
His initial plan was to study law on the Potchefstroom Campus of the NWU, but after his father suffered two heart attacks in short order, he decided to pursue his studies closer to home. After completing his BA degree in 1998, he received his honours degree in sociology in 2001 at the Vaal Campus of the former PU for CHE.
Ettienne remembers his student years with a smile and jokes that he would probably have been elected honorary president of the beer guild "if there had been one". He was an active member of the Nyala day residence (now called Oryx) and winks as he explains what a staunch supporter of student activities he used to be.
Keeping his camera close
He inherited his love of photography from his father. “My dad was an enthusiastic photographer in his younger days.” If Ettienne is not snapping sports photos, he photographs weddings and special occasions – which means he always keeps his camera close.
One day he wants to master the intricacies of nature photography, but for now he is quite content perfecting his sports photography next to the rugby field. Whether it be "bulletjie" rugby or the clash of the titans, Ettienne will be on site, lens pointed at the action.
“Rugby is probably most South African sports photographers' favourite sport to photograph. I love rugby and am attuned to it, and I think this helps me get good photos. One's passion shows through one's work,” he says.
Haka is a highlight
One of the highpoints of Ettienne's career was photographing the All Blacks’ famous haka. He also covered the first T20 world cup tournament in South Africa as a sports journalist, and has been a photographer at various rugby tests between South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia.
He enjoys seeing future talent unfold before his lens when he covers Craven Week tournaments, as he was a keen rugby player himself before an injury took him off the field. “I played rugby from a young age, but developed back problems. I had to hang up my boots early on in my club career.” He wanted to stay involved in the game and photography has helped him to do just that.
Honoured for excellence
Over the past six years Ettienne has won various national prizes for sports journalism and photography: Earlier this year he came first in the category for Best Sports Writer of 2015 and second in the category for Best Sports Photo at the Caxton Media Group's awards ceremony.
Last year he won the title of Photographer of the Year at the Caxton Awards and was one of the top three photographers in a national competition of the Forum for Community Journalists. Although Ettienne is grateful for the recognition of his peers, he feels that more can be done to place the spotlight on the hard work of the community media.
“Due to increased pressure on printed media and digital photography, as well as the emergence of social media and ’citizen journalists' (ordinary members of the public taking photos and writing news reports), there is a misconception that anyone can be a journalist. Although there are competitions for community media, like the Caxton, Legends and Sanlam (now FCJ) Awards, I think more can be done.”
Happily ever after
Ettienne, his wife Magdel and their two daughters are quite happy in the Vaal Triangle. He dreams of one day shooting American football and is unable to choose a favourite amongst the photos he has taken. “I think that I still have to take my favourite, most beautiful photo..."