My 15-Year Creative Affair with National Geographic

By Sakhile Vanqa

Photograph I took. Homage to Steve McCurry's 'Afghan Girl'

On the bottom shelf of the bookshelf in the living room, next to my mum’s batch of medical journals and texts, sat my dad’s stacks of National Geographic magazines. The other shelves were too high for me to reach, so I settled quite comfortably with something I could flip through, and understand; Gray’s Anatomy is not an easy read at nine years old.

My dad had been collecting National Geographic for years, and they were all mine for afternoons at a time. I didn’t know it yet, but a seed was planted and slowly grew into what I’m doing now.

People have different ways of adapting. Whenever I went home during break in boarding school, my dad’s magazines were revisited, and I took something new away each time, even if I had read it before. It has been said countless times by psychologists with narrow voices, and glasses that look like they’re about to slip off the bridge of their noses: ‘It is all about the upbringing.’ 

I was also fortunate to have grown up in a multi-lingual environment where jumping between languages in conversation was the norm. It shaped my interests and sense of humour in a way that it probably wouldn’t have had I been without it: the constant back and forth got made me want to take in everything all the time. Right now, I have eleven tabs open on Google Chrome, ranging from social issues to a discussion to find the funniest joke in the world.

My growing collection of NatGeo magazines.

My dad got my intellectual curiosity going, which I thank him for. What I could do without is the attention span of a gerbil that kicks in now and again.

Here’s something to give you an idea of how drastically things shifted for me. At the film school where I was initially enrolled, I was there for animation. By show of hands, who remembers Courage the Cowardly Dog? That cartoon was the center of all the cartoons I drew. I loved it and secretly I wanted to be Courage; how many things could he turn into! I felt that it was not like the other cartoons, and I liked that.

Four years and two colleges later, I’m getting ready to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Cinematic Arts, looking to work for National Geographic or the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

The cinematic arts program gives you the flexibility of doing a lot of your projects with photo references and I could still focus on my photography if I wanted to. My swap was drawn from working with a professor on the and Columbus Police Department video last summer where I was reminded how awesome video was.

I grew to like photographs of people and learning to photograph them in the same journalistic way I had grown up seeing. One of my images, I Just Wanted to Say Hello, was to pay homage to Steve McCurry’s famous Afghan Girl image.

I’m constantly picking up new things, but those magazines with the yellow borders will always be at the core of everything I focus on. Don't negate the small things that you loved starting out.

Sakhile Vanqa is a junior majoring in Cinematic Arts who enjoys humor, cycling, and aspires to shoot for National Geographic.