In Praise Of The Camera You Have

In Praise Of The Camera You Have

It took me a while to figure out why I was often really nervous before a portrait shoot, especially if it was for a new client, in a new location, or with lighting gear I hadn’t used before – until I realised the nerves I was feeling were entirely familiar, and something I’d felt before: years ago, as an actor waiting to go on.  Stage fright.  I was worried about my performance in the role of ‘photographer’ on this set...

Charlene Winfred Joins KAGE COLLECTIVE

 Photograph by Flemming Bo Jensen

Photograph by Flemming Bo Jensen

Text by Patrick La Roque

Situations can sometimes be too obvious, people too close for us to notice. Scratch that… Not so much notice as consider, for different reasons—usually the wrong kind.

For over a year now we had been witnesses, glancing over Flemming’s shoulder as he traveled the world with Charlene at his side, two gypsy warriors stumbling through dives and deserts, raves and rodeos. We had been watching from front row seats as both of them pushed and pulled one another, listening to Flemming’s voice but also hearing Charlene murmur in the background, moving closer and closer every single day… A whisper to a scream.

Today we are very proud and excited to welcome Charlene Winfred as the newest member of KAGE COLLECTIVE. She is an official X-Photographer, a speaker, writer and born storyteller whose voice we are thrilled to be adding to our own.

We believe her work speaks for itself but we do wish to make one thing abundantly clear: this is not a membership by association. We take our group and its dynamic very seriously and if anything the nature of that relationship held us back for quite awhile. But when the topic of Charlene’s membership was finally discussed, the reaction was immediate and unanimous: we look forward to her ideas, her vision and the stories she will tell. We’re pretty sure you will too. 

Plus, we finally get to dissolve our boys club—and not a minute too soon… ;)

You can find Charlene’s portfolio here.
More to come.


Note: We never made a formal announcement but our colleague Craig Litten decided to leave the group as we were preparing a video presentation for the Photon festival last April, which took us by surprise. Craig is pursuing other projects and we totally respect his decision. He remains a good friend whose voice is sorely missed.

Solstice | A Group Project

BY PATRICK LA ROQUE

For me it was an arctic cold morning and the sun had yet to rise. I fired up my iPhone and said hello to the guys who were online... I remember Bert saying he was sitting at the edge of a damp forest, a new hunter on his first big game outing. Derek was wandering through a dark, overcast afternoon and Robert had already enjoyed the warm onset of summer. Realities.

On December 21st 2014, all seven of us left our homes—wherever we were—and headed out with our cameras in tow. We were in different time zones, different seasons at various times of day or night and we'll be doing it all over again come June—the project is SOLSTICE.

The concept of a common project has been on the table ever since we first began imagining this collective. It only made sense. But geographical constraints, individual schedules and commitments, it all ended up constantly pushing any ideas to the sidelines. Over time, we also realized we didn't necessarily want to be bound by a single topic or anything that would force an agenda down the road. We wanted this first group project to reflect the work we had done so far; a tapestry more than a manifesto.

The symbolic nature of the solstice is extremely rich in meaning: it is at once the apex and the lowest point, both hemispheres plunging into either darkness or light. Historically and culturally it is the rise and the fall, the beginning or the end of a new cycle. Its very nature is governed by shadows, incoming or outgoing—something we've chosen to define ourselves by through our name. It felt like the perfect unifying theme.

We imposed no guidelines beyond the calendar date itself, no goal or motive beyond synchronicity. These are to be snapshots of where and who we were on the longest and shortest days of the year: the last solstice of 2014 and the first of 2015. Seven photographers searching their individual landscapes, aware of others on the exact same journey.

Obviously the project isn't over and until it is we won't really know what form it'll ultimately take; but we wanted to let you in on the secret and share some of the images with you. 
More to come.

Behind The Scenes: On The Trail of Sub Bass

Setting up on the road, the production crew is very busy. A very cool unfinished bridge in the city of Odense is the venue.

BY FLEMMING BO JENSEN

I recently published the On The Trail of Sub Bass story here on KAGE. Join me as we go behind the scenes on the 25 image essay.

The "Bas under Buen" event itself is a classic in Copenhagen, and celebrated it's 5th year in 2014. It draws tens of thousands of people. I have photographed the event in Copenhagen several years in a row. This year was different though, this year for the first time, the whole show and concept was to hit the road and shake the foundation of the 4 biggest cities in Denmark with sub bass. I and my partner Charlene Winfred were hired to shoot all 4 events. What follows, are scattered thoughts from the road.  

Just before the first event is about to begin, packing my Fuji X-T1, Fuji X-Pro1 and perfect hair - image by Charlene Winfred.

Saturday 12th of July 2014

We show up about an hour before the event starts to say hi to everyone, friends and familiar faces and reunions, many people I have not seen for almost a year. The production crew is working furiously to finish the setup, for us photographers there is not much to do. Yet. Shooting the event for the third time means I have to think more creatively to avoid repeating myself too much. But, I also need to cover every artist. The location lends itself well to some fantastic images, the highway overpass has a grungy look that makes for a perfect roof of leading lines in the images. 

The Copenhagen event goes as planned and is epic as always. The last hour or so featuring 10,000+ people raving under a highway overpass is always a very impressive sight from behind the DJ booth. Towards the end the event is so overwhelming, the crowd so intense, the music and bass so loud - that it is easy to get carried away, forget everything about content and composition and create crap images. I have to listen carefully and get in groove with the crowd and music, but at the same time I also have to block it out whenever I shoot.

There is one big change from the previous couple of years - it rains! It lends a different more gritty atmosphere to the event and creates some nice situations of people raving in the rain. It also means the photographers get absolutely soaked when they ride their bicycles home after the event. 

Normally, this would be it for Bas Under Buen - not this time, because one week later we do this:

A bus full of artists and crew, on our way to the first gig on the road.

Saturday 19th of July 2014

"The future, always so clear to me, had become like a dark highway at night. We are in uncharted territory, making up history as we go along."
- Sarah Connor.

Well sort of. We're not hunted by a Terminator but taking this show on the road is indeed uncharted territory, and the world may very well experience Judgment Day when the sub-bass kicks in around the country! 

It's 10am and all artists, photographers and some crew are piled in a bus heading towards the town of Odense. 10am is an early roll call for musicians, and some of the guys nearly miss the bus. The rest of us get to sit and laugh as they struggle to catch up on bicycles.

We are all tired but excited. And slightly anxious. Will anyone show up at all? Does this event have a life outside of Copenhagen? We have no idea. 

Summer has kicked in, finally. It's a warm sunny day and as we arrive at the Odense site an hour before the event starts, our fears are silenced. There are already people here hanging out. Slowly, people arrive during the afternoon and bask in the sun, soaking up the rays and the sub bass.  Turnout is good and the crowd is into it. I have a proper diva my-ego-stroked moment when people in the crowd recognize me and say nice things about my pictures.

Later in the day, the sun dips below the bridge and shines through sand kicked up in the air by the dancing crowd, lending everyone a golden halo. The night creeps in and brings darkness, the proper light and setting for this event. The music intensifies and the crowd responds. Submit to the sub bass, there is no place to hide. This works, taking this show on the road actually works!

A completely normal view inside the bus. Image by Charlene Winfred.

Friday 25th of July 2014

We are driving further, to Aarhus the 2nd largest city in Denmark, so we are leaving earlier today. Amazingly enough, everyone shows up on time. The bus ride is a blur. Everyone is tired. The fun happens when we arrive in Aarhus and discover the 2nd largest city in Denmark is doing road construction on half the inner city roads. Our bus driver swears and breaks a lot of traffic laws getting us to our hotel. He's a proper bass pirate too, living entirely on coffee and pipe tobacco.  

Eventually we manage to get checked-in and our driver swears some more and gets us to the event site at the harbour. It's quite a setting but it is wide open, on gravel, with nowhere to sit and chill. What little crowd has arrived is getting toasted by the sun and walking further away to find something non-gravel to sit on. I shoot a few images here and there to cover all the artist but it's clear the good shots will be coming around sunset at 9pm and later. 

One of the transport vans is parked behind the stage. It will be a great platform to stand on and capture an overview of the scene. I figure my non-existent parkour skills will be plenty to get me on top of the van. As gravity betrays me, I just manage to think 'alcohol may have played a part in my judgment', I come crashing down with my arm under me, bending two ribs and causing a fair bit of pain. As I dust myself off, master electrician Johan (clearly knowing more about gravity than me) comes running over with a ladder. I need a new ribcage too, and my ego repaired.

Apart from not being able to breathe well, the ending is especially epic here in Aarhus. A ship in the background has a huge search light turned on, making for some dramatic scenes. I have my ladder and climb carefully onto the van. Mission accomplished, with bruised ribs and ego. 

Saturday 26th of july 2014

After we got back to the hotel last night we had to backup all our cards and charge all batteries. That and the fact that our hotel is right smack on the biggest party street in Aarhus, it's hot and there's no aircon - meant sleep was a luxury not included in the room price. Oh yeah, my ribs hurt too. Life on the road is hard for a grumpy old man! 

We wake up early—well, we were hardly sleeping in the first place. Today the sub bass bus show will take us to Aalborg. I'm tired but quite excited about this. It is close to where I was born and part of my family have agreed to drop by and be exposed to the bass. 

We arrive in Aalborg with time to spare, so we walk around the city a bit. I used to go to school here when I was a young 17-year-old IT-geek. I have not seen the town in decades. It looks a lot nicer now, they really re-did the city center and harbour area well. We have lunch at Jensen's Bøfhus (steakhouse), you cannot get anymore authentic Aalborg than that.

Aalborg is notorius for being rock-oriented but there is a surprising number of people at our event. The stage is under the famous brige 'Limfjordsbroen', the crowd is baking in the sun and really getting into the beats and the bass. The mannequin doll leg turned beer bong is proving especially popular here in Aalborg. The best moment is when most of my family drop by to say hi to us. 

The evening is a blur. Time seems to have stalled. Tired. I am so tired by now. Ribs hurt. I also have a feeling of deja-vu, like I have shot every image I shoot already. Need. Sleep. Now. That subwoofer suddenly looks very comfortable. Just a little nap. The sub bass will rock me to sleep.

POST TOUR 

At the hotel the next morning, most of the crew meet up over breakfast. The tour was a success and people are happy but tired. Dead tired. We all agree that we need to sleep for a week and not hear any bass at all for a while.

My cameras performed a lot better than I did. I always use a setup of two cameras, wide angle such as the 14mmF2.8 or 23mmF1.4 on one of them, the 35mmF1.4 or 56mmF1.2 on the other. I love working with this setup, light weight, fast, low light awesomeness. The cameras did not miss one beat on the entire tour.  

It is the first tour I have worked for. The shooting does become repetitive on day 3 and 4, and the pile of images to develop stressed me out - my old laptop is as grumpy as the owner when I feed it this many images. Overall, it was a great gig and lots of fun with awesome people and music. I am happy and proud to have been part of the very first Bas Under Buen tour in Denmark, bringing the bass to the people. The crew and artists do an amazing job: this is not a U2 style armada of people - this a small crew and hard working volunteers that made this a success. And thanks most of all to all the people who showed up and raved!

Mikael is the audio wizard and the reason the Funktion One system sounds so awesome. He also gets to sit down, lucky bastard!

Armed with a 56mm Charlene Winfred stalks us all from above.

Beer is served in the background while DJ E.D.D.E.H. drops bass-bombs on the crowd, in Aalborg.

Tim Driver, DJ and member of the Ohoi! crew behind the events leads a bunch in crew members and volunteers, clearly all of them working quite hard at this point at the Odense event!

Speaking of working hard, here is yours truly working on some new moves and award winning documentary images at the same time! 
I'm here to shoot, but when the bass grabs you, you gotta dance! Don't ask me what my wrist is doing.  Image by Charlene Winfred.

The dancing backstage is as epic as it is in front of the stage.

DJ Tim Driver drops the last tune of the night, the crew celebrates a successful event by doing the One Finger Pointing Bass Dance.

A massive thank you to all the ravers. See you next year.

Everything Powerful

By Patrick La Roque

LAROQUE-wheel-01.jpg

There’s little doubt that 2015 will be considered a dark year in the long history of the venerable World Press Photo association. This week’s Charleroi incident—culminating in the withdrawal of the prize for violation of the rules—was nothing less than a series of blunders and incomprehensible decisions that have severely tainted the organization’s credibility. 

I published the text below on my own blog earlier this week amidst a landscape that kept changing every single day: a press release was first issued confirming the prize in spite of the town’s allegations of staging; then a clarification was added to explain why staging had been accepted in this particular case, to many photographers’ dismay; the case was then reopened following even more damning accusations of falsification of events; the decision was overturned and the prize revoked after it was found that one of the images in the essay hadn’t been shot in the city of Charleroi, despite indications to the contrary.

Given our group’s vocation, the importance of these events and the fact that the text was also a follow-up to an article which can be found on this very blog, it felt logical to publish it here as well now that the final verdict has been rendered. The text below is reprinted in full including the updates that were added as the case evolved.

We feel very strongly about the importance of non-intervention in a documentary context and the distinction between journalistic work and visual storytelling. There must be a clear delineation between what is real and what is fiction. Both have their place in our visual world but their identity must be clear at all times. As the saying goes: we’re allowed our own opinions but we’re not allowed our own facts.

If you’re interested in what I consider the definitive response to this entire story, former WPP chair Jim Colton has published his thoughts on the matter in an open letter. It should be required reading for anyone pursuing this line of work.


NOTE: This post was written before World Press Photo rendered its verdict on March 1. Their decision stands and they accept that this work is indeed a fiction and that the staging of the images was part of the photographer’s process. In many ways I find it liberating to see an acceptance of new, less factual forms of storytelling and Troilo explains the work as being a metaphor, which is exactly what I speak about in the following text. That being said, I see no mention of this symbolic approach anywhere the story appears officially; On the WPP website I still see it being presented as a straight up photo-journalistic reportage. And the statement issued by the WPP on the matter is in my opinion beyond strange and confusing given their rules and usual stance. If change is indeed coming it needs to be transparent. If a photographer is waxing poetic for the sake of argument and art it needs to portrayed as such.

Tragedy sells. Tragedy yields awards.

A few months ago I wrote a post entitled On Visual Truth, for Kage Collective’s Chronicle blog. Today I’d like to revisit the subject in light of something I read over the weekend: the latest potential scandal surrounding yet another winner of the World Press Photo awards. At issue this time isn’t manipulation or doctoring of the images after the fact, but the much more insidious staging of events, something quite similar to the Pellegrin/The Crescent confusion in 2012. I’m not taking sides here or accusing anyone of anything. I do however see an ongoing pattern in the mere existence of these very similar situations.

Here’s the gist of it: The Dark Heart of Europe—the winning essay in the contemporary category by photographer Giovanni Troilo—is being challenged by the mayor of the town of Charleroi, the Belgian city at the centre of the photo series. Basically, he’s calling bull%# on the entire gloomy portrayal and asking for the prize to be revoked.

Regardless of intentions or where this eventually ends up, I think there’s a reason we’re seeing this sort of problem year after year: we’ve built an environment that essentially rewards nothing but drama at varying levels of intensity. So we can’t be surprised by the temptation to twist reality in order to fit the competitive mold, to assign some deeper meaning when the truth isn’t “interesting” enough to warrant a judging panel’s scrutiny. To compete, the photographer’s world has to be a hard and cruel place or envelop hope in utter darkness, that it may shine a little brighter when the curtain is lifted; to be considered, photography needs to elevate the everyday into the heroic. Blockbuster material, always.

It’s a conceit. I can make anything heroic and I can spin drama from the most innocuous scene should I wish to do so. I can turn snapshots into a Homeric tragedy with a few simple words scribbled in just the right order, the right rhythm; it’s not hard—all you need is the proper intent, capture and camera exposure to set the tone; selecting this moment instead of that one. What we see and what we choose to see… In every case these are points of origin that can drive us in any direction. The question is: do we embrace it or not? Do we base it on honesty or not?

Playing the caption game: "On his afternoon walk, Giovanni escapes what has become the most troubled neighbourhood in Venice. Crime rates which were once non-existent have risen sharply in recent years making life increasingly difficult for long time residents." This is of course completely made up. I shot this on a late afternoon stroll in the beautiful Giardini district. The natural contrast provides the tone. Honesty and clarity is up to me.

We’ve come to expect cinematic grandeur in a world of mundanities, we reward the extraordinary at all costs in a reality that is in fact made up of millions of beautifully insignificant moments we usually fail to notice. We want facts that entertain, to pull at our heartstrings and make us shiver. We want to be privy to secret dealings and rituals, to dark motives and Herculean feats. It’s either triumph or the deepest of despairs. There is rarely any middle ground, there is rarely room for a quiet flowing river making its slow, tedious way to the ocean. We want hurricanes.

Even the beautiful and haunting winning image by Mads Nissen is framed within a story of persecution—the trials of the homosexual and transgender communities in Russia. Which is an ABSOLUTELY LEGITIMATE AND IMPORTANT ISSUE but… I have to wonder if the image would’ve won the judges’ admiration without that context to surround it, without that aura of tribulations. If it had simply been about the everyday lives of homosexual couples in a part of the world where issues are non-existent. Perhaps so; I certainly hope so. But how much of the recognition in these contests depends on the sensational nature of an essay is something we should probably question if we want to get at the root of the problem. I’m not arguing against the portrayal of the extraordinary; it’s the pressure to make everything powerful that can become its own trap.

There is no sense in expecting a photograph to be a mirror image of reality,” says Cozien. “Reality is not the same for the frog who perceives only movement, or for a dog who sees in black and white. A photograph will only ever be the vector for a story, for a reality described by the photographer.
— Roger Cozien, eXo maKina

The line between truth and fabrication is incredibly thin and always at risk of being erased; the lie is often but a single flourish away, because none of what we show is ever truly objective. None of it. But to reiterate what I said in that original article: if we turn inwards as photographers, if we speak of our own perceptions and our own thoughts at that precise moment of capture and we make that fact clear, then there is no lie. Our truth, this one truth as witnesses and interpreters of events, if it’s isn’t putting words in the mouths of others, if it isn’t assigning any intentions other than our own—what we see, how we feel, what it means to us—this truth is incontrovertible. Because in such a context, we’re expected to be subjective and nothing else. Yes, the process will be self-centred and ego-driven but this doesn’t equate egotistical—there’s a difference. We can still reveal the other through this approach. It doesn’t exclude being an observer or understanding the world beyond our camera, quite the contrary: if we respect who we are, there’s a much better chance we’ll respect our subjects as well. Photography simply becomes more of a philosophical journey than the pursuit of some fabled overlying truth.

When it’s steeped in research and respect of reality, fact-based documentary work is essential: social issues need to be exposed, the plight of the oppressed denounced, the struggles of the human condition celebrated when it gives rise to betterment. But the dark side is that it can all become a form of theatre, of spectacle: These are the tortured souls of our world. Please confirm your presence—beer and wine will be served.

When I look at the images in this disputed essay, I can easily hear an internal monologue that would’ve suited the subject just as well without allegedly stretching the realities on the ground. I can imagine a personal reflection on the changes facing a small tight-knit community, an editorial voice using these images as an illustration of future possibilities, of trends and transformations; something based in the same present situation but used as a metaphoric pretext instead of a sensationalistic exposé.

It wouldn’t have been seen in the same light though; it probably wouldn’t have won this award. (UPDATE: as mentioned in the opening note, it has, in spite of the context)

If the Charleroi story turns out to be more fiction than facts, it won’t just be sad because of the treachery involved but more importantly because it’ll hightlight a perceived need for embellishment on the part of the photographer that we should all consider symptomatic.

Of course in the end it all comes down to honesty and professionalism—none of the above is meant as an excuse for deceit in any form. But perhaps if we start accepting the value of photography as a momentary and subjective passage through events, without need for high and mighty conclusions or backstory; if we allow for honest, personal impressions to stand alongside hard facts and extraordinary circumstances, perhaps we’ll diminish the need for falsification. If we accept the photographer’s truth, not as empirical but flawed and coloured by everything he knows and everything he is and was at the instant the image was taken… Maybe we can ease the pressure a bit. Maybe we can start seeing life as it is and drop this pretence of somehow always being on the cusp of some new earth-shattering-larger-than-life revelation.

Maybe we can stop fooling ourselves and change the world, one ordinary moment at a time.

Behind The Scenes : Fashion Consciousness

BY DEREK CLARK

If you take a look in the Stories section of Kage, you will find an essay by me called Fashion Consciousness. That project came about in a rather unusual way, so I thought I would use Chronicle to give a little behind the scenes look into how I ended up shooting backstage at a fashion show.

Every couple of weeks I meet with two photographer friends (both called John) to put the world right and talk about photography—mainly because our other halves don't listen to us (!). John 1 asked if we'd be interested to shoot some pictures for the fashion department of one of the big colleges in Glasgow. There was no budget, but the deal was that we could shoot it any way we wanted with no outside interference. John 2 and I both saw it as an interesting opportunity, so we jumped in with both feet. Gaining access is the key to all documentary projects, so for me this was a way in to who knew what.

The first visit involved shooting models wearing clothes the fashion students had designed. These students are on their way to a career in the fashion industry, so the standard is pretty high. I would point out here that I'm no fashion guru, but we each chose a model and wandered off to wherever location we found interesting in the building, with the idea that we would come back together at some point and switch models (I think we were working with five girls that day). 

The college building was fairly new and the architecture was modern with lots of glass and wood. I used the frosted glass of the front entrance revolving doors to frame the shot above, moving higher or lower to get more or less of the model in shot. I had brought lights, softboxes and umbrellas, but was lucky enough to actually get decent natural light. There were a few areas that had floor to ceiling windows that were a couple of floors high: combine this with white walls and you get the type of soft beautiful light that you see in the photo below; no need for a softbox or reflectors.

We shot for two days at the college, not only covering the models, but also the details too. On the second day we were asked if we would like to shoot the upcoming fashion show that the college puts on every year, to which they invite members of the fashion world looking for new talent. This was exactly what I was hoping for. Unfortunately the Two Johns had other jobs booked and wouldn't be available on the date of the show, so it was down to me... And I got full access.

I showed up on the night of the show with my small Fuji kit of two cameras and three lenses and went straight to work. Backstage was hectic and no one could care less that I was there with a camera, which is perfect for a documentary photographer. The two dressing rooms were quite a distance apart. One should have been for the guys and one for the girls, but there seemed to always be girls in both. I moved between each dressing room, not speaking too much, just observing and getting what I felt would be useful. Every now and then there would be a flurry of excitement as one group of girls came off stage and had to do a quick change to be ready for the next catwalk. I cursed the backstage lighting which was mostly fluorescent tubes, but hey, you just have to get on with it and get the job done with whatever you're given. 

I also moved out to the front of house to shoot some of the catwalk, but to be honest, my heart was backstage amongst all the hustle and bustle, the panic and safetypins and anticipation. The atmosphere in the corridor where the models stood in line, waiting for their cue to pull back the curtain and strut out into the lights was electric. It was fairly dark, but there was a shaft of light coming from another room and each girl had to walk through it to get to the catwalk, almost as though they were having the final touch applied as they moved through the beam. A bit of glow. A bit of power. 

A few words about the picture above because it always manages to raise a smile. The girl was helping put the finishing touches to the guys' clothes and one of them asked her what was on her finger: she said that she had got a tattoo while on holiday. When they asked her what it was, she just raised a finger under her nose to reveal a moustache tattoo. I grabbed two shots in quick succession. This is the second one, and although both were ok, it was this that seemed to show the humour best. The moment was over in a flash—they always are—but I was happy to have captured it.

I love how documentary photography takes us on a journey, not just for the viewer, but also the photographer. We need to have our eyes and ears open at all times, ready to pluck the slightest thing out of the air that could possibly be a story. I'm constantly scanning everything to see if it could result in a documentary shoot. I could have looked at this with my business head on and dismissed it because there wasn't a budget for photography, but I looked at it in the longer term and it paid off.

My aim with this story was to show the hectic backstage pressure cooker of a fashion show. There is no room for modesty and there is no time to be self conscious. Everybody needs to pull together or the event won't work. I hope this won't be the last time I shoot behind the scenes at a fashion event, as I feel I have just scratched the surface. I have an idea how I can move this into another phase, but I need to do some research first. Stay tuned.

On Visual Truth

By Patrick La Roque

Ok, first things first: I doubt the following article is going to be a game changer for anyone. I’m well aware of this. Most of us already know how thin the line between objective and subjective can be — we perform a balancing act every time we pick up the camera. And I certainly don’t intend this as a diatribe or a call to arms. Take it as a stream of consciousness on a subject that’s haunted me for years; more so since we began the Kage project.

You see, I don’t believe in truth. At least, not in the quasi-mythical sense that photojournalism claims to uphold. And please believe me when I say this is absolutely not a diss against what I consider one of the most courageous and important professions there is… I simply don’t believe in one, empirically objective reality that negates all others. I believe in point of view and opinion, in tens of decisions tainted by culture and experience. I believe that no matter how hard we try, we can only exist within an entirely subjective set of values that always, always impacts our images. It can be a small thing or it can sway an entire story; but it’s present at every turn. Because no matter how well intentioned we are , we’re always acting on an ulterior motive: we’re hunting for the shot. It’s the fire that fuels our lives and the very impulse that has yielded some of the most important images in history. None of us are pure — at our core we’re all self-motivated and reaching for that brass ring. 

In my mind, this can be embraced — as long as honesty and respect remain at the core of our work.

Ground Truth

The advent of digital photography has brought an increased focus on the perceived threat of image manipulation — post-processing manipulation. But I think the more insidious act of doctoring is the one that occurs before clicking the shutter.

About two years ago I saw a show on TV about documentary photographers on assignment and it stuck with me. I won’t name the publication behind it but needless to say… Big. Huge. In this one episode a photographer was shooting a job on a native tribe’s customs (I forget where or whom exactly… Sorry, it’s been awhile) and he apparently had a problem with the time of day at which they were planning to perform a specific ritual: the light wouldn’t be right. Hey… we all love the golden hour. So he asked the chief and spiritual leaders to move the ceremony. They were angry, they didn’t want to do it… But in the end they agreed, against their will, grudgingly. The fact that most of the show was devoted to resolving this “problem” attested to this being perfectly normal, acceptable behaviour — the stuff-you-need-to-deal-with in the field.

Really? For me this was an alteration of physical reality to trump all the cloning and desaturation in the world. A negation of facts in total disregard of the subject. Events must drive images... Not the other way around.

One truth 

We’re tamperers. The very act of focusing our gaze towards a single point in space, discarding elements outside our field of view in favour of specifics, is a profoundly subjective decision. We’re constantly playing with context in any scene we shoot. Within fractions of a second we can capture the same face either sullen or gleeful — and yet the one we keep, the one we present to the world, will define that moment’s entire emotion and become its own micro reality.

So in my mind, what remains as the one truth possible, the only baseline we all share… Is non-interference. Being a witness at all costs. It sounds simple and obvious but historically, it’s probably been the invisible hand shaping our perceptions. We can’t help being who we are and interpreting a scene within our own cultural boundaries, but we can force ourselves into never directing events as they unfold. Events must be immutable. 

If we stay true to this, I believe we can own our point of view and stop pretending to be these distant, perfectly objective creatures. And if photojournalism as we know it is dead, killed by a million citizen-journalists tapping away at their smartphone screens, maybe it’s time to enter an era of photo-editorialists, without shame. When news organizations are turning to crowd sourcing for most of their content, when cameras are everywhere at all times, recording events as they happen, maybe the photographer’s job has to shift to remain relevant. 

Perhaps what we need now are poets, able to express the greater reality of our world outside the confines of traditional rules, towards a new visual truth aware of both its failings and power. 

Same as the old truth but unencumbered — and always, profoundly respectful.

In Praise of Variety

In Praise of Variety

Okay, look: I get bored easily. I like to find new challenges, new ways of seeing the world.

I’ve talked before on my own blog about the Fuji TX / Hasselblad X-Pan film cameras, that put a super-wide double-35mm panoramic frame into a rangefinder body, which was a pretty amazing thing to behold.  What was great about discovering it for me was simply that I had to figure out how to make that frame WORK...

The Value of a Personal Project

By Derek Clark

Personal projects are nothing new, they've been around since the dawn of photography. But a lot of photographers don't do them and are missing out on the chance to do their best work and advance their craft in ways that might not be possible in a commercial context. There are many great photographers that didn't achieve recognition with their paid work, but suddenly shone through because they shot something from the heart, the way they wanted to and not what they thought a client might want.

I started Project Jazz because of my love of the music and the classic black and white photographs of the BlueNote era from great photographers like Herman Leonard, William Claxton, Lee Tanner and many more. All it took to get my project started was an email to Tommy Smith, the leader of The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. I explained to Tommy what I wanted to do and what my reasons were and he agreed to me going along on a gig. Tommy liked my work and I didn't get in the way. I'm a musician, so I know how I need to conduct myself in situations such as recording sessions, rehearsals and gigs. This has not only developed into a long term project, but has also provided paid work, something that personal projects often do. I’ve provided answers to some common questions about personal projects below which I hope are useful to anyone that wants to get started. The main thing is to start now. You can always change directions later if you need to.

What should my personal project be about?

The subject you choose is very important as it will need to be something that interests you enough to hold your attention over a long period of time. It has to be a a subject that draws you back again and again, but is different enough each time — not just repeating shots you have already captured. If you have a passion for something (other than photography), it might be that you have the perfect subject for a long term project. Project Jazz was an easy one for me because I play saxophone, love jazz and love all the black and white photographs of the great players, like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon...etc. I'm now producing black and white photographs that I'd be happy to see in any of the jazz books I own. I think the work I'm doing now is as important for the musicians today as it was to document the greats of yesteryear. This is what keeps me going back. A documentary photographer has a duty to document and hopefully feels the urge to do so on a daily basis.

How long should it run?

Question: How long is a piece of string?

Answer: As long as it needs to be!

Same goes for personal projects. The project will usually determine the length of time it will take. It could be a subject with limited variety, a short window of time that might take a day or two, or even a week or two. But it could be something that will take a lifetime and may never be finished. The big question should be this: does my chosen subject have enough interest for me to keep going and see it through? If the answer is no, you will need to think of something else.

What should I do with the work I produce from my personal project?

Don't just keep it to yourself or leave it sitting on a hard drive. There are many ways to share your personal projects these days, including blogs, magazines, books. It's a good idea to have an end goal in mind. You might be happy just to start a blog and share your project images as you go along. Maybe you have a subject that would lend itself to a book some day. Even if it's not something a publisher would be interested in, it's a great feeling to hold a book in your hands containing your own photographs. There are many self publishing options out there — Blurb being one of the most popular. There are also many specialist magazines on the shelfs that are desperate for content. Would your project make a good feature for them? It only takes an email to the editor and it could help fund part of your project.

What now?

Start right now! Get a notepad and pen or an app like Evernote and start writing down possible subjects for your personal project. What do you have a passion for? What do you have access to in your life that would make a good documentary essay? Write a list and then write plus's and minus's for each subject and see which one keeps pushing its way to the surface. Be open to the idea and the subject will present itself to you... But do it now! 

 Documenting ourselves on a regular basis and in a variety of ways is an essential long term project IMO.

Documenting ourselves on a regular basis and in a variety of ways is an essential long term project IMO.

Being Born | KAGE phase II

From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying
— Bob Dylan - It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

By Patrick La Roque

A friend of mine reminded me of that Dylan quote a few months ago; it's a concept that haunts me constantly. The line between finding your voice and repeating yourself is infinitesimal... One day you're on top of the world, secure in the knowledge that you're pushing as hard as you can, that your creative endeavours are true, honest, a constant exploration of your capabilities as an artist, photographer, craftsman, whatever; the next you're gazing upon a landscape that feels completely empty, devoid of any meaning beyond some endless repeating pattern. You're stuttering and you can't stop stuttering.

I'm not saying we should change for change's sake. But within the parameters we've set for ourselves, we should constantly be aware of our tendencies to be complacent and content with the status quo. It's so damn easy to be content.

Today we're unveiling our biggest reinvention since the project's launch in 2012. 


A lot has changed in the past two years: we've gone from 4 to 8 members, we've solidified our alliance as a group and all of us have grown tremendously both personally and professionally, inside or outside of this collective. And even though many of the things we're introducing have been on the table since the first moment we began this conversation, only now does it make sense to put these in place and offer them as part of the concept. We needed that growth and we needed that time for all of it to be possible.

With today's communication tools it's trivial to get a bunch of people together on a website and call it a collective —  I guess on some level it's perfectly legitimate too. But in my mind that's not what it should be about.  A collective implies an actual ongoing conversation where everyone gets his/her say, where every member participates in the decision process and the direction of the project as a whole. It needs to be about a continuous exchange of ideas. The KAGE COLLECTIVE was built from day one on discussions, photography and cohesiveness; on visual and philosophical coherence within the group. Which is why we'll never add new members every other week or strive to "get" as many photographers as possible. We're not and will never be in it for numbers — we prefer to be relevant, to ourselves as well as to others, at least as much as we can. Beyond the visual redesign, many of the new features/sections we're introducing come from some rather intense internal brainstorming sessions and all of them reflect a very strong group identity on which we wish to build the future.

The most obvious addition to the site is this new blog you're currently reading called CHRONICLE. We didn't pick the name lightly: we intend to go in all sorts of directions with this one. Yes, we'll be writing some technical articles, reviews and tips etc... But we mostly want this to be a journal ON and ABOUT Photography — capital P;  as an idea, a concept and a journey. We want to explore why we do what we do, not just how. We'll write about shoots and share backstories; we'll look at the landscape of the photographic world and share thoughts and reflexions, the sort of thing we already engage in within the group. Basically, we'd like this to be a glimpse into our thought process — which hopefully will turn out to be a somewhat interesting read for you guys out there ;)

If you're a regular visitor, you've probably noticed changes to the way the site is now organized:

  • The front page is now solely dedicated to presenting the project. It includes a contact form: if you feel like getting in touch, that's the place to do it.
  • Stories now have their own dedicated magazine-style page that includes an updating grid view of all stories published so far.
  • Our personal blog posts, @kagecollective tweets and Flipboard mag are now part of the Chronicle homepage.
  • We now offer two different RSS feeds (available on the Chronicle homepage): KAGE Posts & Stories offers updates to both the Chronicle blog and the Stories section. KAGE Uber offers this same content plus updates to all our individual blogs.

Overall we've tried to consolidate the various features into sections that made sense, instead of laying everything out on the homepage. Events and Publications are new sections that reflect some of those changes we've undergone in the past years and a global Workshops page will soon follow. On this front, look for much closer collaboration and cross-projects coming in the near future.

I can tell you we're very excited about the challenges ahead and the plans we've laid out, and we hope you'll be part of the journey. Most of all, we're excited about keeping ourselves busy being born.

Welcome to KAGE phase II.