The K-factor

By bert stephani

I was a KAGE fan from the start and I couldn't believe my luck when I became a member. I still feel like a student amongst these masters of photography. I look up to every KAGE photographer past and present. For this anniversary issue I've decided to not look at what we achieved but rather look at how much impact this collective has on my work. I took a look at all the pictures that I made this year and discovered how the KAGE-factor plays in everything that I do.


At first it was the documentary aspect of KAGE that influenced my work. I've always been a big fan of the classic documentary photo essay. Studying the work of the others and getting feedback from them on my own work, simply made me a better photographer. Having an outlet for this kind of work and a bit of pressure to regularly produce new content also gives me the experience to grow.


Through the work of my fellow photographers I also discovered the power of what I would call first-person-documentary. Objectivity is an illusion but by being personal, at least you can bring honesty to a story. This also applies to the small personal stories. I never thought personal pictures had any value outside my own circle of family and close friends. But KAGE told me that these tiny stories often resonate with total strangers and have a documentary value on their own.

I've always seen myself as someone who likes stories to be clear and simple. But being a member of the KAGE collective has definitely pushed me to try a more artistic approach. It's sometimes frightening for a craftsman to move on to art, but isn't art about telling stories too.

Seeing all this great work from all over the world has definitely pushed me to go and explore. This can be in exotic places. But taking a different look at the familiar is often even more interesting. Exploration can be about discovering the world, but it's also about what's on the inside. The support and the open minded discussions within our group have given me the safe haven that I need to be vulnerable and express the things that I usually rather hide.


As a photographer I need freedom and limitations at the same time. Our monthly schedule hasn't been easy to maintain but I still see that pressure as a good thing. On the other hand there's never been any discussion on what a story should be. The freedom to experiment with different forms of storytelling gives my work oxygen. This year I've decided to concentrate mainly on portraiture and the guys have been nothing but supportive to pursue this as a form of storytelling.


The last thing I would like to talk about is the value of photography. Realising that the medium still is incredibly powerful has made me appreciate my own profession and passion even more. It also has given me the responsibility to tell the stories I really care about, stories that need to be told even if nobody is going to write you a check for them.


There have been times when I wanted to step out of the KAGE Collective because it does require time and energy that I often don't have. But the others never let me, and I'm grateful for that. I guess we'll never be a big media outlet, we may never go viral with a story and it's probably the worst business model ever. But it's a lab where interesting ideas and people grow. It's also a meeting point where an open mind can overcome different opinions. It's a place to communicate with some of my best friends and just as important … with you. Your input, encouragements and ideas are what feed us. Thanks!