You may not have heard of Simon Deiner but you have definitely seen his work here on Ladybrille and definitely across the web. Deiner is Africa’s leading fashion photographer whose specialty is seen in advertising, catalogue, ramp and beauty work. Just a little over three years ago, when the web space was still very silent on Africa’s fashion industry and image, Deiner was busy creating an online presence and sharing his vision for Africa through his images. Today, he is nothing short of a prolific and highly sought after photographer. Simon Deiner leads his team at SDR Photo, a photo agency best compared to the likes of Getty and Wire Images here in the USA. He is Ladybrille Magazine’s MAN OF THE MONTH and we are delighted to honor him for his amazing accomplishments and contributions to Africa’s fashion industry in helping change of who Africans are to the world. Enjoy his interview with Ladybrille’s Editor-in-Chief Uduak Oduok.
LADYBRLILLEMAG.com: SIMON!!! I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW. Wow! Only three + years ago I was knocking at your door and here we are?
Simon: It’s been crazy. I remember receiving your phone call from (California), and you outlining what you had in mind. It was exciting to see the world starting to wake up to the African fashion scene, and also people genuinely wanting to promote and show the world that Africa had the talent and design to compete on the world stage. Things have come a long way, but I think we’re really just getting started.
LADYBRILLEMAG.com: Indeed! (We have only just started!)Tell us about you. How did it all start? Where did your love for photography come from?
Simon: Not much to really tell! My background in photography came from my publishing background, getting involved in magazines when I was still in university. I eventually dropped out, but got my degree eventually, as the real world was a lot more exciting than that in text books. From commissioning photographers to buying images, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Combined with my brand strategy knowledge, it was easy to create shots which spoke to the clients as well as their consumers.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: At what point did you decide it would be a professional career?
Simon: When I got sick and tired of dealing with all the hassle that publishing and advertising brought with it. Little did I know I’d trade it for other hassles, but I don’t think any career is without its problems!
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Yes indeed. Let me take you back to what the reality looked like for African fashion. Paint the picture for us. What did the fashion scene look like in terms of photography in SA?
Simon: It’s strange. I never set out to shoot fashion. Extreme sports was my passion, and I shot that. (Many) of the athletes were sponsored by clothing companies so I ended up shooting their promotional pics, and then asked to do the lifestyle shots, and eventually the campaigns. Ramp photography eventually caught my attention and that is an area I really have focused on alongside shooting fashion shoots that interest me. It’s small in SA, and while a lot of the industry work seems to look the same, it’s definitely up there with the best in the world, which is pretty good considering the budgets we work within.
LADYBRILLEAMAG.COM: Well you made yet another transition; that is really creating an online presence for your business. When I reached out to you back then, I reached out to others but you were the only one with a viable and consistent presence online. How did you know to embrace the online world and social media when most in fashion, including the USA, tend to be late adopters of new technology?
Simon: I think the online approach comes from my background in publishing. I’ve been the guy trying to get images / content and it was not easy, especially in the days before digital! The internet offered the perfect platform along with digital. Taking images and making them available immediately, with meaningful information and easily sorted meant they would be used. The online delivery we’ve implemented for the AFI fashion weeks proved to be a huge success, their library we manage is now considered the premiere go-to for fashion imagery from Africa. It’s only just the start though.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: It’s only just the start but it seems you have turned SDR photo into photo agencies like the ones in the USA, Getty, Wire Image et al. How did you get from solo photographer to what SDR is right now?
Simon: Wow, I’d not say we’re quite there yet. We do however have some very cool projects that we are working on. It’s about consistently pushing what is possible, and thinking of innovative ways to improve your delivery. A lot of people think shooting images is what it’s all about. I often joke that, this is the easy part, the real work only starts after you’ve put down the camera. I’m fortunate that my team is probably the best out there, without them it would be impossible to do what we do.
LADYBRILLEMAG.com: It is going to seem a bit elementary but for those getting acquainted with fashion photography, what is the distinction with shooting a fashion editorial versus a fashion campaign like the one you have been shooting for JFW?
Simon: I must be honest, I’ve stayed away from editorial bar shooting the odd one over the years as a favor to fashion editor friends. An editorial allows quite a bit of freedom with the fashion editor, but is primarily to convey clothing with a “themed mood”; some of the shots are campaign worthy, others artistically amazing. Campaigns are generally quite focused beasts, I’ve been fortunate to be allowed quite a bit of creative freedom with the ones we work on, but generally you’re selling the mood of the brand, which sometimes requires quite a bit of thinking and convincing to the clients. The JFW one was easy; an awesome team in an awesome city using the structures that fashion week would be in.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: I’ll get to your team that makes everything look so easy you mentioned. But let me ask, fashion films are becoming a big deal in the USA and Africa is catching on. Have you shot any fashion films yet and what are your predictions for Africa in terms of fashion films?
Simon: I’m a frustrated film director! Throughout school all I wanted to do was study film making. Thankfully I did business, as if you consider what people were learning on then, and how the technology has moved on with dSLR HD video etc, it’s brought down the barriers of entry and I think we’re starting to see amazing fashion films come out. I’ve been fortunate enough to do some stuff for ghd Hair, MontBlanc and various other projects from a directing and filming perspective, but we’re definitely going to play with some motion content for designers soon. And with multimedia / online / social media becoming more widespread, brands are picking up on this, and it’s a great way for smaller brands to compete with the bigger ones who would usually only have budget for these kinds of projects.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: I agree on putting small brands on the equal footing with larger brands. Inter-personally, what drives you Simon?
Simon: Passion for what I do. Perhaps being a bit of a tech-geek and all the lovely gadgets?
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: What are your most important value systems you live by?
Simon: Not sure. . . doing the best I can, being realistic in expectations and honest with those around me?
LADYBRILLEMAG.com: Share with us your business philosophy?
Simon:Give clients and the media service that I would want to receive. Sometimes I curse this, but promising to do something, and delivering, sets me apart from the hundreds of people who seem to promise the world and never deliver. I never want to be lumped with them! Also being thankful and humble that clients choose me from the multitude of talented people out there is a reminder we’re all lucky to earn a living from this!
LADYBRILLEMAG.com: Okay. Let’s talk about your team. I notice the new names now shooting for SDR. CONGRATS! Introduce us to some of your staff photographers so we know them when we see their names next to the SDR company during fashion weeks.
Simon:Probably the most important person is Gary Stemmett, my second in charge photographer and assistant. Gary has worked with us for almost 4 years now, and is really my right hand man. Even on one international catalogue I ended up in hospital and Gary seamlessly took over, reassured the client and finished the job exactly as I would have. He’s done a number of fashion weeks, campaigns and shoots with us, and is probably best known for his behind-the-scenes at the fashion weeks. I have two other main photographers for Johannesburg, namely Teekay Masongo and Chris Bennett, both have worked with us on projects as diverse as Miss World through to corporate shoots. My technical team is headed up by Philip Foglar, the most irritating person to fly with, but probably the world’s best digital asset manager and workflow operator. I’ve known Philip almost 10 years and he’s genuinely irreplaceable.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: I know you got married what 2yrs now? How has married life been?
Simon: Only one year, but I’ve known Jen for 8. (It has) been fantastic. We’re best friends, both travel a lot for work, and definitely the best decision I made.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Simon really thank you so much. A big part of the success of blogs/sites like Ladybrille Magazine in redefining the African image in Africa and the West has been your agency sharing photos with us so the West can see what we already know. You might think it no big deal but your work has a very powerful and historic place in Africa’s fashion history books. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do.
Simon: Thank you. If you guys never used the images, I would be worried we were doing something wrong! Lots of exciting changes are coming, nothing different, just more of the good stuff, and more Africa coverage as we expand with partners across the continent. We really want the world to sit up and notice Africa, and you’re part of this! Thanks!
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Sheesh enough of the sentimental talk! (Laughs) (Pretends to dry eyes like Oprah) (Laughs). Let’s get to know the playful and chill side of Simon!
Simon: (Laughs) Haha. Lets do it!
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Favorite color?
Simon: Must be blue.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Favorite meal?
Simon: Good steak.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Favorite vacation spot?
Simon: I enjoy Paris. I can shut down from work, but still see enough to keep my mind ticking over!
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Best fashion editorial you ever shot?
Simon: Don’t really do editorial, but lately am happy with Francois Rall (ex head designer of Carducci Women) campaign. Clean and simple, and was great fun to shoot.
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Favorite model African?
Simon: Phew, I’ll have a lot of models calling me up if I answer this. . .
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Fine. What about your favorite Model in the West.
Simon: Carolyn Murphy right now seems to be the flavor of my staff’s taste. . .
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: What are your favorite attributes in a woman, we know you are taken but still want to know. (Laughs)
Simon: Sense of humor, nice eyes and good smile. Really!
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: (Laughs) What are your favorite pair of shoes you own?
Simon: I live in Converse and Vans sneakers. Or it could be my silver shoes from London. . .hmmm.
LADYBILLEMAG.COM: What next for SDR and Simon?
Simon: We’re expanding our coverage of fashion weeks / events in Africa, and adding international fashion weeks slowly that have African designers participating. Also to get my staff to be more independent so I can cut down on my 100+ flights a year!
LADYBRILLEMAG.COM: Jetsetting all the time can be brutal, that I know. Many thanks for the interview.
Simon: Thanks to you! And hoping people have read to the end! (Laughs)
LADYBRILLEMAG.com: (Laughs) They will. You are worth it!