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By James Cameron Heron: Journalist

“As the first feather finds its permanence near his right shoulder, Wesley Lewis, now a Cape-Town based creative director and film photographer, says that the creative gene has been there as long as he can remember, “I've always aspired to do art in some sort of form or way [...] I knew since I was like eight.”

35mm: a film format and an expiration date

By James Cameron Heron


As the culture of film photography continues to develop, Wesley Lewis, a Cape-Town based creative director and film photographer, has been there since the start. What started as a friendly interest has since grown into a busy profession with international recognition. As Lewis moves further into his career, his future appears without the camera in his hand, but instead entire campaigns. 


The right-wing

As the first feather finds its permanence near his right shoulder, Wesley Lewis, now a Cape-Town based creative director and film photographer, says that the creative gene has been there as long as he can remember, “I've always aspired to do art in some sort of form or way [...] I knew since I was like eight.”


Lewis got his first taste of film photography at 17 when his friend, Reece Allison, gave him his first film camera. Whilst shooting as an amateur, Lewis qualified himself as a creative director and designer at VEGA, an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), in Durban. However, his move to Cape Town in 2018 was when Lewis realised that a career as a film photographer could turn out positive.


“I always wanted to submit a piece to a magazine just for fun. It was called Lost day magazine but it's called Lost Sunday's now [...] that was a huge magazine and I was like; ‘let me try to shoot for this thing and hope for the best’,” says Lewis. 


[Caption 1]


About a week later, Lewis received an email from the magazine asking for more information about him. When they released the magazine not too long after, Lewis got the front cover.


“I got the cover of the first shoot I ever did and then I was like ‘cool, well, I might be kind of good at this. Let me just keep trying and keep learning’,” reflects Lewis as the right-wing concludes.


The Sternum

Since his first capture at 17, Lewis, known as Weslew on Instagram, has been a professional photographer for six years now, he says. There was never one particular day when he realised that he was going to be a professional, but since working on big brand campaigns, mostly international, and shooting for models five times a week, his profession has become something that he loves doing, both physically and mentally.


“I'll try to do five shoots a week [...] Because I love keeping busy. I actually enjoy shooting so much that I'd rather shoot than chill. [Photography] is actually something for me to keep my brain busy and keep creative,” explains Lewis on a rare day off in the tattoo chair. 


One of Lewis’ best friends, Michael Veltman, who “actually taught Wes how to use a camera”, says that since the first roll [of film], his technique and capability has grown significantly.


“I’ve definitely seen a difference [...] His style and practical skills have grown immensely over time. He’s put so much passion into it and advanced so much,” says Veltman.


The positives and negatives

As the buzzing pen abides by the purple stencil, Lewis expresses his frustration at being cast into a one-dimensional photographer as a result of his 37 200 strong Instagram account.

For the most part, his Instagram account features surf and bikini model content. His reason for this is based on the response from his audience, rather than the content he would also like to share, says Lewis.

“[The content] is not really a choice. I'd say my audience chose, to be honest. Obviously, I love the female body – it's a beautiful thing, you can't deny that. [That content] is easy to shoot. I guess for me it's like breathing [...] I wanted to grow myself and I found that this was the fastest way and a lot of people enjoy it,” explains Lewis.


Although he is slowly filtering in content that is more his and not just catered to his audience, some brands still choose not to work with Weslew because of his chosen content. Some even without looking at his wide-ranged portfolio that includes campaigns with H&M Swimwear, Billabong, Suncamino, and a Jeep/Jordy Smith collaboration, he says.


“A lot of brands will say; ‘Oh no, we don't want to shoot with him because he only shoots that’, but then you're wondering; ‘have you even looked at my portfolio?’, questions Lewis. “A lot of people don't really dig into my work and just say that ‘this guy only shoots nude girls’, and have the stigma of me like sleeping with them too,” he explains. 


Both of Lewis’ friends, Veltman and Reece Graves, from the Gold Coast in Australia, admire his work and believe that there is so much more to the film photographer than what he gets credit for. 


“To be able to switch between creative content with surfing and working with Jordy Smith to be able to go back to working with models, to me is harder than what people seem to perceive,” says Graves. 


For Veltman, the Weslew Instagram page is just one aspect of Lewis’ creative portfolio. “I get ticked off when people come to me and say that Wes is the guy that ‘shoots naked girls’. His art and creative process towards it is so much more than that and stretches to so many other facets of creativity – whether it be design, photography of landscapes, surfing, web design, interior design and even craftsmanship,” echos Veltman.


[Caption 3]


The Left Wing

With the stencil nearly covered and the buzzing few and far between, Lewis projects his plans going forward, moving away from the role of a photographer and replicating the role of his most recent piece of art – the eagle, the overseer, the director.


From the vantage point of the eagle, Lewis, with a trait to overanalyse, can oversee an entire project. “Seeing everything from above, that's like the directors view, you know? I just like seeing the bigger picture of everything,” says Lewis. “Funnily enough, I hate drone shots,” he adds ironically.


As a director and photographer, there can be more creative control, with the vision clear and uninterrupted, says Lewis. Considering himself a “designer with a photographic eye”, Lewis says that he can always see the bigger picture, the director in him, and anticipates putting the camera down in eight years.


“By the age of 35 I want to stop shooting completely, and just go back into design [...] I want to move to the wilderness, get a studio there and then fly to Cape Town for huge photo gigs...I won't shoot, I'll direct it,” says Lewis.

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