In 1985, I finalized my studies to be a social worker with children. Then, life happened—I ended up working in the theatre industry for almost 25 years. As my theatre career wound down, it was time for another switch: I started at the Foto Academie in Amsterdam.

Since then, my photographic focus has been on these two worlds: “back stage” (in many forms) and children. In both cases, by being around the same people for a long time, I eventually become invisible. With children, I am particularly fascinated by their daily lives and growing up in different circumstances—a small, white rural family compared with a big, black urban one. A country doctor’s son across the world, a poor young girl in my own backyard.

As a theatre producer, I loved to travel the world—not as a tourist, but working with global festivals and companies. Then, I was selling other people’s stories. Similarly, as a documentary photographer, my camera gives access to different worlds. Today, I have the chance to create my own narratives.


The Eastern Cape is a part of South Africa where most of the Xhosa tribe lived and are still living. It is a largely rural area which includes some very, very remote villages.

While I was there, I was interested in discovering daily life stories of the Xhosa children. I visited a lot of villages, as well several schools, in order to find my subjects in their own environments. I wanted to discover how the young Xhosa people actually live, especially those born after Apartheid.

Going to a (governmental) public school in South Africa is free. Having a daily meal at school is also free. But what does cost money is transport—a problem in the far-flung pockets of the Eastern Cape.

My series, “I AM SOUTH AFRICA” reflects my stay in Eastern Cape. In this project, and others, my goal is to develop a visual language that leaves room for fantasy and interpretation. I want to show a world that is open-ended, a story with hope and creativity.

—Carla Kogelman