SA photographer’s work is Netflix’s perfect find
When Gabrielle Union’s character, Jenna, moves to New York City in the Netflix romcom The Perfect Find, her new apartment reflects the style of a woman hoping to make it in the world. Above her fireplace is a series of striking images – three photographs of a black woman adorned in pleated paper on a bold green background.
The images are a series of photos titled Luhlaza by Cape Town award-winning commercial and fine art photographer Gavin Goodman. His work came to be in the movie because “every now and then, bigger Instagram accounts share my work, and I think what happened was the production designer who was working on this Netflix film saw this particular series that was shared on some big accounts. She reached out to me directly to say that she thought that these images would really be a great fit for Gabrielle Union’s home interior that she was designing for this Netflix film,” says Goodman.
Netflix paid him to use the images, but the whole exchange happened two years ago, “so I kind of forgot that it happened to be honest! Then someone sent me a message a week or two ago saying that they saw my images in this film, in Gabrielle Union’s home. I went to check it out, and it’s always satisfying to see your work on that kind of level.”
He created the images about two years ago. “The title, Luhlaza, translates to ‘green’ in Xhosa. A while back, I saw some amazing origami art, which is a Japanese or Asian style of paper folding to create delicate sculptures. I thought it would be a really interesting way to create some props and incorporate them into a concept for a photoshoot.
“I approached one or two origami artists – there’s a really small community in South Africa. I connected with Maia Levan Lehr-Sacks, and commissioned her. We drew up some designs, shapes, sizes, and dimensions, and she created the origami pieces that we used in the shoot.” The model, Nkosazana Sibobosi, was styled by Kirsten Lipschitz.
“The concept was inspired by tribal African headwear,” says Goodman. “I wanted to take these interesting designs that you see in tribal headwear and garments, and create a modern minimalistic aesthetic based on that concept. This was the end result.”
Goodman entered this image and one or two others from previous shoots into the prestigious 2021 Hasselblad Masters competition in the fine art category and won, earning the title of Hasselblad Master. The Hasselblad Masters Award is a bi-annual award granted by camera company Hasselblad to selected photographers each year across various specialties in recognition of exceptional accomplishment in photography.
The award is among the most prestigious in the industry, honouring the best in established and rising photographic talent. The jury includes many of the most prominent names in photography, including photographers, editors, agents, and publishers.
The winners are provided with Hasselblad equipment for their projects as a part of the Masters Book for the year. Selected Hasselblad Masters each create a chapter of original images, which are reproduced in large-format, fine art prints for exhibition in cities around the world.
“I have a feeling that [the award] might have been how this production designer saw this piece,” says Goodman. “It was quite an exciting couple of months picking up that award and then getting a few other opportunities.”
When he’s not behind the camera, Goodman is an avid surfer, and he has a down-to-earth approach to life. Regarding Netflix’s use of his work, he says “It’s a nice feather in my cap, but I carry on doing my thing and don’t get too affected by it. It’s more of a good-feeling-in-the-moment kind of thing.”
Born and raised in Cape Town, Goodman attended United Herzlia Schools and Abbotts College, and studied advertising and film. His career began 18 years ago working as a cinematographer in the local film industry. After seven years, he decided to switch to still photography. He has worked on many prestigious advertising campaigns with respected agencies around the world. His photography has been shown in Paris, Milan, Geneva, and Cape Town.
Goodman is most excited about his agency, Semblance, which he formed when he saw a gap in the market during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency creates custom, limited edition, gallery-quality art for the hospitality and residential market. “We partner with architects, developers, interior designers, and artwork procurers to create art that’s personalised to brief, budget, and timelines. Every project is an opportunity to create something unique,” he says.
“I conceptualise the art and create digital mock-ups. I’ve got a small team of in-house artists who then take my art direction, or if it’s a photographic work, I create it myself. I use AI [artificial intelligence] to conceptualise an approach for some projects.” They also offer printing and framing.
“I love the process and craft in image-creation,” says Goodman. “It’s something I’ve dedicated my life to. I’ve been doing it professionally for almost 20 years, and it’s something I’ll never stop doing. As I evolve as a person, it affects the type of work I create. It’s this really beautiful, evolving, organic process.”
To others who want to follow in his footsteps, he says, “The most important thing is to find your point of view as a creative. For some, that can take many years, and you have to figure out which other artists’ work inspires you and why, what it is that resonates about their work.
“Get in touch with other creatives whose work you admire, and see if you can shadow them or jump on board on one of their jobs,” he says. “Get real-life tips on how that person works, how they interact with people, how they see light and composition, and so on.
“It’s important to experiment and try different types of genres,” he says. “But the most important thing is to figure out your own point of view. Have patience, and don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone’s journey is completely unique.”