21 Icons - Exploring South African Leaders

There's nothing more satisfying (and gratifying) than an exceptional body of work. Especially when it comes from your home country, produced by local talent.

South Africa's imminent medium distance runner and  Olympic medalist hopeful - Caster Semenya

 - All images © Gingko Agency -

Gingko Agency
- the brains, body, soul and mind behind the project summarizes:

21 Icons is a visual celebration of the lives of men and women who have shaped the world around them for the better. Inspired by the life of Nelson Mandela, it tells the stories of people who have continued his legacy – whose lives have made the world a better place. The project seeks to celebrate those who have achieved success and widespread recognition, as well as individuals whose work has been conducted without prior acclaim.

A unique concept, the project combines fine-art portraits, short films, behind the scenes photography, written narrative and a feature length documentary. The hope was to capture in an immersive manner the lives of the people it features. This meant striving for intimacy during the portrait shoots and interviews, to ensure that the charm, humility and sincerity of South Africa’s most remarkable people came through.

TGS spoke to the lead photographer, Gary Van Wyk, about his personal connection with the project and the process behind his creative direction of the striking portraits.

Meet Gary Van Wyk - Photographer and all round stand up guy.

theGREENERsurfer: So, Gary, how do you define an "icon"?

Gary Van Wyk: An icon is someone who has realized their passion, pursuing it in an extraordinary way while also changing people's lives for the better.

TGS: So anyone can actually be an icon, awesome. Tell us about the selection process? 

GVW: All icons chosen for Season III were under the age of 35. We chose icons who represented a message of hope and provided inspiration to the youth of our country. Other things that we considered in the selection process were the impact, influence and integrity that the specific person had. Deloitte authenticated the list of icons. Their role was to verify the credibility of the icons that we selected.

TGS: That sounds like a very cool process. In light of that, can you divulge to us your top 3 favorite portraits?

GVW: It's very hard for me to choose the favourites, but if I must:

My first has to be Athi Patra Ruga. This was the first portrait that I made in the series and it made me realise that if you have a clear idea about what you want to achieve, doors will open for you to make it happen.

Jes Foord is my other favourite. She was a fun person to be around, and we really connected. Because of that connection I was able to truly capture her strength in the portrait.

Laduma Ngxokolo's portrait is definitely my favourite photograph. The making of this portrait was the most challenging. I had sleepless nights and dreamed about the whole shoot (going horribly wrong) the night before. It was Laduma's first time on a horse; it was the horse's first time in the city - at sunrise, on Long Street. And everything fell into place.

TGS: Simply incredible concepts and awe-inspiring pictures. What is your personal view on South Africa, it's people, it's leadership, and the way forward?

GVW: We are such a diverse country, and our strength lies in that diversity. I feel that once we learn to stand together, we'll truly move forward.

TGS: Couldn't agree more. In closing, whats the next step for 21 Icons and Gary Van Wyk?

GVW: 21 Icons has come to an end after 3 seasons. Our next project is called Beautiful News, which aims to share beautiful stories about South African people. I also have a few ideas in the pipeline that I'm busy manifesting.
To find and admire the whole seasons worth plus short films go to

See some of the striking and genius portraits from season 3 below.


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