Nic Bothma

Born in 1969. Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.

View Bothma’s extended portfolio on The Photographers Gallery ZA

I’m thinking about what is the clearest, cleanest possible way I can present the truth of what’s happening here? The way I position my body, the tools and tricks one has a photographer, what I incorporate in the background; I use all of that to capture the moment. Nic Bothma

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Nic Bothma was a student reading Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He was also an enthusiastic photographer and found himself a part-time job as an assistant to a BBC news crew. It was an important period in South Africa’s history, the country was a global news story and the news of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after more than two decades brought the world’s greatest photojournalists to the country. That is how a young and aspirant Nic Bothma found himself bashing cables and taking photographs alongside the likes of James Nachtwey and the Turnley brothers. Local lens men Ken Oosterbroek, Joao Silva, Gary Bernard, Kevin Carter, Mike Hutchings and Steve Hilton-Barber were all active at that time. Bothma’s image-making found an audience and from 1991 to 1994 he was able to make a living by selling his photographs to the local and international press. In 1994 he became a full-time freelance photojournalist and in 1995 he joined the Cape Times a daily Cape Town newspaper as full-time staff photographer.

Bothma left South Africa in 1997 on board his 30 foot Miura sloop called Shakti. It took him five years to sail Shakti from South Africa to the Caribbean and then onto Fiji in the South Pacific. Sailing in the tropical belt meant that for six months of the year, during the hurricane season, Bothma was idle. Each year he would return to South Africa to sell the collection of photographs of rarely documented and unknown cultures taken in remote outposts. The photographs were sold to stock agencies and his illustrated articles were sold to local and international magazines as photo-stories.

That journey took him across the Atlantic Ocean, from South Africa to the Caribbean, to Venezuela, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. From there he crossed to Panama and spent time with the unique San Blas people in the archipelago of San Blas, outside of Panama. After crossing the Panama Canal, he entered the Pacific and crossed to the Galapagos Islands. There he bid farewell to his crew, which only consisted of two friends, and sailed alone for the rest of the journey to Fiji. This was a twenty nine day non-stop solo passage from Galapagos to French Polynesia. In French Polynesia he visited the Marquise Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and then on to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. From there he sailed to Nuie, Tonga before reaching his final destination in Fiji.

Bothma returned to South Africa and in 2003 he joined the European Press Agency (EPA). He is currently the agency’s Bureau Chief and chief photographer for West Africa. During the past two decades he has experienced the death of nine photography colleagues who have died either on the front-line while taking images or indirectly as a result of their passion for photography. These were the individuals who helped and inspired not only Bothma, but many other young photographers - they are Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek, Gary Bernard, Steve Hilton-Barber, Jon Hrusa, Garth Stead, Tim Hetherington, Chris Hondros and Martin Adler.

These deaths are a testimony to the dangers inherent in this career whether immediate and physical, or latent and psychological. Photographers are the ones who journey to the back of a cave with a torch and return to tell the tribe what they have seen. These journeys take their toll in one way or another on every photographer who is willing to go to that far-off and often dangerous place. It’s unavoidable. Some deal with it better than others. Some never recover. Some die from it. Bothma lives by the mantra of balance - as soon as he returns home from an assignment - he makes time to photograph big wave surfing. Not only because it is challenging, but for the release it offers, A good surf after-all he says, always clears the mind.

From the limits we learn and as a photographer I play the role of communicator of these lessons. I will be a photographer until the day I die and would never want to do anything else. I love it.

Bothma took his first photographs of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990. As a photojournalist he documented South Africa’s transition into a democracy and photographed Mandela throughout his entire term in office. When Mandela entered a room the mood instantly changed and a warm energetic feeling pervaded among everyone there. He treated all with equal respect, from the cleaner to the dignitaries and always made a point of coming over to the media greeting us warmly. Bothma took his last photograph of Nelson Mandela in 2013, just before he died.

Bothma’s wire images and especially his photographs taken on the Africa continent are well-known, lesser-known is a series of portraits titled Children of Haiyan. These photographs of smiling children posing on heaps of rubble where taken on Samar Island in the Philippines in November 2013. Bothma took these portraits days after the Philippines had been hit by one of the most powerful and devastating storms ever recorded to strike land. I seem to gravitate towards children when I am in a country covering something. I find children are pure, honest and unencumbered with ego and baggage that adults carry. They bring hope and reflect light in dark places.

Nic Bothma has worked in more than 60 countries over the past two decades and has won numerous international awards for his photographs.

Exhibitions

2018 Nic Bothma Twenty Seven Years of Photojournalism Chavonnes Battery Museum, Waterfront, Cape Town
2016 Nic Bothma Whole Earth Cafe, Scarborough, Cape Town
2015 Breaking the Surface group exhibition, Galerie NOKO, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
2014 The Trouble With Memory group exhibition, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town
2014 Off the Wire & A Statesman at Work solo exhibition, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town
2013 Liberia: a Decade of Peace solo exhibition, Photoville, New York
2010 Liberia: The Bridge group exhibition, The Photographers Gallery ZA, Cape Town
2005 Fuji Africa Press Awards group exhibition, Johannesburg
2005 Ischia International Awards group exhibition, Ischia, Italy
2003 Fuji Africa Press Awards group exhibition, Johannesburg

Collections

University of South Africa Art Gallery, Permanent Collection, Pretoria, South Africa

Publications

Nic Bothma Selected Works 2015 E-Book
Off the Wire & A Statesman at Work Press Release, 2014
GQ Magazine Feature on Nic Bothma, 2014
Review Off the Wire & A Statesman at Work, 2014
EPA Stories: Super Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines Nic Bothma’s report from the eastern Philippines, November 2013.
Quill Magazine Feature on Bothma 2007

Awards

First Prize Olympic Action, Pictures of the Year International, USA 2017
Award of Excellence, Pictures Of The Year International, USA 2013
Award of Excellence, Pictures Of The Year International, USA 2012
First place, United Nations Changing Lives Contest, United Nations 2008
Sports Action Award, National Press Photographers Association, USA 2007
National Headliner Award, USA 2007
Sigma Delta Chi Award, Society of professional journalists 2007
Photographer of the Year, Fujifilm African Press, South Africa 2007
USA International Press Photographers Award, USA 2006
Ischia International Award, Italy 2005
Photographer of the Year, Fujifilm African Press, South Africa 2004
Photographer of the Year, South Africa Fujifilm Photographic Awards, South Africa 2003

Auction

JAG Foundation Sports Auction, Stellenbosch, 2011, Amputees, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2006 sold for R 54 000.00