About Me

Ivan Muller

I don’t consider myself very creative but rather  as someone that has a certain and perhaps unique way of seeing things. In the words of Garry Winogrand, ‘I photograph things to see what they look like photographed’.

My approach to my personal work is mainly direct, with a documentary style using only available or natural light. I want the subject to be aware of the camera and often use the biggest camera available and a tripod. With film I worked mostly in a black and white documentary style but with the advent of digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop I started to experiment more with colour.

In 1997 I attended a workshop hosted by Jock Sturges, in Monticiano, Italy. I greatly admire him and his approach to photography. He works with a large format camera, tripod, one lens, no light meter and only natural light. At my first solo exhibition in 1987, all the work showed was taken with an old Calumet camera with a 127mm Ektar lens and natural light. I prefer to portray people in a dignified, but natural way and I usually ask their permission first.

Growing up near Barberton in the small mining community of Agnes, I spent hours playing ‘kleilat gooi’ (a game where pieces of clay are shot through the air with a reed) in the rivers running through the Lebombo mountains. Whilst my father worked on the goldmines I surrounded myself with friendship and the nonchalance of adolescence. High school years sent me to a boarding school at Afrikaans Seuns Hoerskool in Pretoria (a boys only school with the education medium being Afrikaans). Aspirations of a career as a lawyer saw me studying and dismally failing Latin. The ancient roman language had conquered my parent’s ambitions for me but undeterred by this setback, they decided that accountancy was to become my new expected purpose in life. Boarding school was fun and stretched from surviving the junior years with its initiation rituals - warming toilet seats for seniors – to, and far more importantly, making many lasting friendships.

After school followed a compulsory year of national service in the South Africa Army. This “forced” bringing together of men, all from diverse social backgrounds, was a great leveling experience. After the year in the army I enrolled at University of Pretoria studying, yes wait for it, accountancy. On campus I met my soul mate, Cheryl. Soul mates have a way of making the simplicity of living come to life.

My mother sadly passes away when I was only 21 and the small inheritance she left me paid for my first camera, a Ricoh KR10. I finally saw the world as an opportunity to realise my own dreams. A fellow accountancy student, Francois Swanepoel, accompanied me on my first photography trips. His influence developed a hope and determination of a life in photography. Along the way, many people inspired and impacted my journey and besides making me recognize my desires, they shaped my views and perceptions.

My year as an article clerk at an international accountancy firm was an emotionally definitive year. Berenice Abbott boldly states that ‘photography helps people to see’. It is within my own photography that I saw my own unhappiness in my “chosen” career. After attending a week’s lecture and workshop on photography, my view of my future became blindingly clear. I resigned as an accountant and enrolled as a photographic student in 1983 at Pretoria Technikon. My lecturers included Harold Carlson and Bertie Loubser, two distinctive guides in my photography development. During my first year I won the Photo Varsity competition hosted by Rhodes University where Obie Oberholzer was the head of the department and also a judge. Furthermore, I won the Ilford prize for best student.

My first job as a photographer was at the South African Bureau of Standards. Unchallenging and unexciting work that neither displayed my talent nor advanced my skill. I moved on to work for AECI, the largest explosive manufacturer in South Africa. In the course of my employment at AECI, I held my first solo exhibition entitled - Modderfontein, a photographic essay - at the Market Gallery, Johannesburg. In 1990, and after spending 4 years with them, I left AECI to freelance with friend and business partner Peter Rimell. Our studio was in a beautiful old house, from the turn of the century, with corrugated iron walls, pressed ceilings and wooden floors.

12 years later, together with my wife Cheryl and our three exceptional children, we built and subsequently moved into our new home in Centurion near Pretoria. The house has a separate double volume studio with a digital darkroom. Since 2004 I have been fully digital  and at the moment I use mainly Canon and Mamiya cameras. I also have a large format HP Z2100 inkjet printer that can print up to size A0 on canvas and fine art archival papers.