Text & photography by Kevin Mullins

As a photographer we are the visual storyteller, we are, in essence a witness. A “curator of memories”, I like to tell my clients.

On a daily basis we photograph the seemingly mundane, the seemingly sad and the seemingly happy. We photograph every day events and we are making memories, forever, of the world unravelling its rich little tapestry.

Occasionally, this role leads us down a path full of unexpectedly tender twists and turns. One of, perhaps, the most natural events to occur, childbirth, is often fêted, often talked about but rarely captured.

I spent seven hours in the presence of strangers, photographing the planned caesarean birth of their daughter. 

Many will think this is a voyeurism too far, but remember we are the “curators of memories”. 

This, right here, is the dawn of memory. 
In fact this, right here, is life.

Process & Incubation

Text and Photography Patrick La Roque

Words hold powerful magic. Scribbled on a torn sheet of paper, yelled or whispered, proclaimed into the vastness of a concert hall or howled into a sweat stained pillow, lost to screams no one will ever hear... They can be pure and soft, or hard — yielding nonsense or the unavoidable truth.

For three days I watch quietly as this object evolves. Three days of incubation, from concept, to form...
From silence to a dark celebration of music and words.

L'Art et la matière

Text and photography by Vincent Baldensperger

Ici parlent les éléments. Ici se marient l'Art et la Matière, la lissière et le coutelier-forgeron. Chacun s'exprime avec passion, précision et intensité, les gestes sont précieux, délicats, attentifs mais aussi techniques et maitrisés. Quand l'Art de la tapisserie d'Aubusson rencontre celui de la coutellerie traditionnelle cela donne naissance à d'étonnantes créations.

Les contrastes existent, de la quiétude du métier à tisser aux fureurs et aux flammes de la forge du coutelier, à l'image de la nature qui les entoure, de ce coin de campagne perdu et cerné par des forêts denses où le soleil déchire les sous bois à coups de lames aveuglantes.

Entourée de dizaines de pelotes colorées, Marie-Armelle maitrise son ouvrage avec calme, patience et minutie, reprenant ces mêmes gestes, ce savoir-faire vieux de plus de six siècles inscrit au patrimoine de l'Unesco. Chaque nouvelle pièce de tapisserie d'Aubusson est destinée à orner plusieurs manches de couteaux.

De la petite pièce où elle travaille, on entend clairement les claquements métalliques du marteau sur l'enclume, le vieux soufflet de la forge réveillant les ardeurs du métal… Ici David dompte les éléments, se joue des extrêmes, des heures passées à marteler ses lames, découper, poncer, aiguiser, lustrer puis finaliser ses montages en orfèvre…

Sans fioritures, j'aimerais vous inviter à passer quelques heures et pourquoi pas plusieurs jours ici, au cœur de la Creuse. Respirer, sentir, observer, écouter, vous proposer de découvrir l'authenticité de deux artisans, de deux savoir-faire uniques alliant tradition et modernité.
(english translation follows)

Here the elements speak. Art and Matter combined — fiber artist and silversmith. Each one speaking in a voice of passion, precision and intensity; their gestures delicate, precious, attentive and rooted in technical mastery. When the Art of Aubusson tapestry  encounters traditional cutlery… The resulting creations are nothing less than astonishing.

This is a world of contrasts, from the soft and quiet whispers of the loom to the fiery depths of the forge. It echoes the surrounding countryside and its dense forests where the sun can rip through the undergrowth in one sharp, blinding fury.

Surrounded by tens of coloured balls of twine, Marie-Armelle works patiently, repeating century-old gestures recognized as part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Each and every new piece of Aubusson tapestry destined to grace a knife.

From the small room where she toils you can hear the clanging of the hammer falling on the anvil, the old bellows awakening the soul locked inside the metal… This is where David conquers the elements, hours upon hours spent hammering the blades, cutting, sharpening, sanding, polishing…

I’d like to invite you here, to spend a few hours or a few days in the heart of La Creuse. To breathe, to smell, to observe and listen. To discover the authenticity of two artisans, two unique savoir-faire's — borne of tradition and modernity.

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.

Week / Week

Text & photography by Bert Stephani

I’m a father … Every other week.
My divorced friends said I would get used to it. But after four years I still don’t and probably never will. I always wanted kids, but I never wanted two lives. 

I know I’m very lucky compared to many other divorced moms and dads: the relationship with my ex-wife is pretty good, I get to see the kids regularly after school on my weeks off and I've fallen in love with a woman who accepted that I came as part of a package deal. 

I’ve learned to live with the week/week thing. It makes managing my work and travel schedule easier. But I’ll never get used to the deafening silence that descends upon our house ... every other Friday night. 

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.



the Luxury of Failure

By Bert Stephani

Some nine years ago, when I decided to pursue photography as a career, it soon became clear to me that I needed a good base level in my work. An amateur photographer gets judged by his best images, a professional gets judged by his worst. I realised that I had to learn how to make my worst pictures good enough. I’ve spent lots of time and energy to raise that base level and over the years I’ve became capable of returning with at least usable images from pretty much any assignment, even when things go wrong. 

I still believe that this is a good thing and an essential skill for a professional photographer but we all know that playing it safe isn’t creativity’s best friend. About two years ago, I embarked on a long term personal documentary project about hunting in Belgium. I’m hoping to turn it into a book and an exhibition in 2015 but even if it turns out to be a success, I probably won’t make any money on it. The topic of hunting is rather controversial here in Belgium, so I don’t expect the project to become a showcase towards potential clients either. But it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time: use my camera as a passport to satisfy my curiosity and the fact that I had a hard time understanding why anyone would hunt in this country. And even more importantly: no assignment, no client, no pressure, only … the luxury of failure. 

I promised myself that I would go for only the best images. Instead of playing it safe and make sure that I had usable pictures of anything that happened and some pleasing pictures of anyone involved, I wanted to go for fewer but better pictures. Even if that ment accepting the risk of coming home without anything to show for a long day in the fields. 

It turned out to be easier said than done. I found myself often slipping back in my default professional photographer mode. At a certain point I even taped a note on the back of my camera that said “take risks numnuts!” For a long time it remained unnatural to do so but I slowly grew into it thanks to a couple of tricks and discoveries.

On my first day of the project, I went out with a full camera bag. I had a Nikon D600 with a 28-300 lens with me, plus my X-Pro1 and a couple of lenses. That was of course the safe, professional thing to do: cover all your bases. I got some good pictures but upon reviewing my images the next day, I realised that I failed to capture the feeling of the day. All that gear and worrying about it’s well being in the muddy fields, restricted my vision. 

The next time I went out with just the X-Pro1 and the 18-55 lens around my neck and some spare batteries in my pocket. Less gear, allowed me to see better and I’ve stuck with those limitations ever since in this project. I have been using different cameras and lenses but never at the same time. By forcing myself to leave the camera bag in the car, I think longer and harder about what I want to say with my pictures and what are the best tools for doing so. 

During my first few days on the project, I got impatient and bored when nothing happened for a while. And I got frustrated and angry with myself whenever I picked the wrong spot and couldn’t move safely for the next hour or so. The hunters taught me a valuable lesson in patience. They didn’t seem to mind a bad day. Even when they didn’t fire a single shot during a long (and expensive) hunting day, they seemed to be at ease with it. Only when I started to adopt their mindset, I saw that accepting a bad day is the price you have to pay to experience a good one. It took me a while to be able to trade control for the chance to be awed. 

Even almost two years into the project, I often feel uncomfortable being out there in the fields not playing it safe and taking the risk to come home without a single good picture. But the weird thing is that I’ve never come home without a couple of pictures that I’m really proud of. I’ve learned that whenever I allow myself to fail, I make my best work. 

It pays off to allow yourself the luxury of failure every now and then. In personal projects it’s a luxury that you can afford, makes your work better and allows you to grow as a photographer. I found out that you can apply the luxury of failure to professional assignments too, but that’s for a future blog article. 

Inner Sanctum


Should I even be here? I'm not entirely sure. My lack of faith, in many ways, has me feeling like an intruder. There's nothing public about this space — It's so obviously private, a hush permeating every square inch. Empty corridors, empty stairways, empty classrooms with empty chairs. The echoes of a bustling fraternity have long since faded, lost in the aftermath of the Quiet Revolution.

We enter a chapel I never knew existed and there's no one here but us. My friend signs himself; I simply bow my head in respect. He leads me to a door behind the altar: "I want to show you something" he says. There's a metal staircase leading down to the original foundations and... A crypt — A long room lined with dirt on either side and tombs dating back to the 1600s, a shovel making it clear this is not only about past, but present and future as well.

I walk in reverence, whispering.

We pass through another door and enter what first seems like a semi-abandoned storage area. But there's life here: potted plants are being tended to, small projects are obviously underway... And yet it's all perfectly still and frozen. In one room I find pictures, newspaper clippings, empty bottles and what appear to be small bone fragments on a shelf, all of it spanning decades or more; like the accumulated knick knacks of an immortal. 

This is a refuge.
I feel the awe of the explorer — And the guilt-ridden pangs of the invader.