TEMPORAL DEVOTION – exploring passions

TEMPORAL DEVOTION – an exhibition by MIPP Still Image Award photographers

Devotion:

Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.

Temporal:

Relating to worldly as opposed to spiritual affairs; secular.

 

EXHIBITION

TEMPORAL DEVOTION

In our current society, we are undoubtedly increasingly inundated with imagery; one cannot imagine how different our everyday life would be without images. Digital photographic technology has truly opened up and made photography accessible to an ever increasing multitude of people whilst the internet and online media has, for the vast majority, made the practice of taking pictures an ever-present part of our lifestyle. The speed and stress of today’s way of life has certainly made us less likely to find time to read and has made us more dependent on imagery in order to keep apace with what is happening around us. Yet, the ease and diffusion of photographs – combined with our hectic lifestyle –seems to have made most photographers less likely to avail themselves of one of the most powerful tools of photography: that of passing on a message or raising awareness on an issue. We are inundated with ‘beautiful’ imagery which unfortunately does not convey any further message or engagement with our society. I do not want to be misunderstood, beautiful imagery is important in order to enlighten our everyday lives – there is enough bad news and problems that escaping into savouring aesthetic and pleasing images is surely a good therapy.

However, when one starts analyzing the majority of the work being produced by Maltese photographers, one realizes that very few of our local photographers are tackling conceptual and meaningful work that will engage and stimulate viewers. The process of working on a project which has a final, conceptual end is usually shunned by most photographers. Many a time have I noticed that whenever local students and photographers are faced with a theme, they encounter a rather un-surmountable ‘block?’ Is it because our education system is not stimulating and encouraging our students enough; is it because our society is becoming more and more concerned with the way in which we personally exist in our microcosmic world; is it because commercial factors and daily needs have by far eclipsed our thirst for knowledge and keeping us away from the daunting challenge of attempting to engage ourselves in a more wider spectrum? The reasons are many and highly debatable and have often made me think and attempt to spur more learners to endeavor to go deeper into the more valid elements of the photographic medium.

Often, as a curator of such projects, I have to juggle between finding a challenging theme that, at the same time, is broad enough to produce a varied cross section of work and is also not so abstract as to discourage participants. The theme chosen for this exhibition is “Temporal Devotion.” It aims to set both photographers and viewers a vision to explore the many non-religious non-spiritual facets of secular devotion or passion which many of us seem to thankfully have. Have we ever thought about the loyalty and love that many of us have for their family, children, pets, hobbies, country, sport, profession or craft? Have we actually conducted some sincere soul-searching in order to identify whether our devotion has gone too far and perhaps is starting to border on unhealthy fanaticism? The dividing line is rather thin and tricky. The scope of this exhibition is to not only raise awareness on important issues which most of us engage with but also to stimulate those who do not seem to have a passion for anything to perhaps begin thinking of enriching their lives through ‘devoting’ more time to experience exciting emotions or feelings which, I feel, makes our everyday existence more interesting and worthwhile.

The participants in this exhibition, who have all successfully completed the MIPP Still Image Award, come from a very diverse cross-section of society, ages, profession and conditioning and this helps to make the final collective oeuvre much more heterogeneous.

 

Kevin Casha – Exhibition Curator

President Malta Institute of Professional Photography;

Master of Fine Arts in Digital Arts (Uom);

FMIPP; FSWPP; AMPS; AMPA; Hon FMPS; Master SWPP.

 

Photography in Malta – The History and the Protagonists

Photography in Malta – The History and the Protagonists
by Kevin Casha

“This study is a serious attempt to document the history of photography in Malta. It is a continuous work in progress on which I hope others will build upon. My wish is that it will serve both as an inspiration as well as a reference for future scholars and researchers of photography. I strongly hope that this book makes the fascinating story of Maltese photography and its photographers better known and appreciated not only by the Maltese but also by a global public.”

Kevin Casha

Floriana © Kevin Casha

Floriana © Kevin Casha

Book Synopsis:

Over the last two decades, photography has increased its popularity in an exponential manner. The advent of digital technology has enabled people from all over the world to be able to engage themselves with this medium. This has had a noticeable influence on the way photography is being looked at in our time. The medium has become an ingrained part of our everyday life and, with the ease of current advances in media technology, the sharing and proliferation of images has not only boomed but has created an increasing thirst for knowledge in all spheres of art and research in this fascinating art form.
This book aims at filling a glaring gap, not only in local circles but also in international photography, by delving in depth on the history of photography of Malta and its photographers. Photography arrived in Malta in 1842, approximately just two years after its introduction on mainland Europe. Unfortunately most of its exponents have been neglected or even forgotten. Through in-depth research and over 500 predominantly unpublished images, this book attempts to trace the origins of photography on our island as well as the fascinating stories of many of Malta’s photographic protagonists. From the first French photographers who introduced photography to island, moving onto the many British exponents and covering early pioneer Maltese photographers, this publication takes the reader all the way up to the introduction of Digital technology.
Photography in Malta – Its History and Protagonists, is not only a treasure trove of vintage photographs but a much needed reference in the field of local photography.

© Kevin Casha

The Chapter Contents include:

Foreword by Dr. Giovanni Bonello
Chapter 1: The Initial Spark – The French Connection
Chapter 2: The British Invasion
Chapter 3: War and Technology
Chapter 4: The Appearance of the first Maltese Photographers
Chapter 5: The Ellis Photographers
Chapter 6: The Proliferation of Photography in Malta
Chapter 7: Photography moves gradually towards art.
Chapter 8: The Struggle of Maltese Photography in Peace time
Chapter 9: Other early photographers of note associated with Malta.
Chapter 10: The influence of other significant protagonists up to the end of the twentieth-century.
Chapter 11: Photographic Groups, Associations and education in Malta.
Chapter 12: Digital – The Game changer
Chapter 13: Conclusion

© Kevin Casha

© Kevin Casha

© Kevin Casha

© Kevin Casha

FOR ALL SALES ENQUIRIES, CONTACT THE AUTHOR ON kevcash@maltanet.net

Maintaining your Passion!

Maintaining your Passion!

I recently started teaching another series of the MIPP’s Introduction to Photography Course and the discussion fell on what discourages newcomers to photography. I gave it some thought and I tried to narrow it down to five main factors which contribute to the failure of beginners to maintain their initial interest and momentum.

© Fast Track (2)

1. EQUIPMENT:
Do not blame your equipment (or lack of it). Yes, certain equipment is needed for some genres of photography, such as macro, sport or wildlife, but photography has been with us for nearly 200 years and those photographers who came before us did not even dream of the equipment we have at our disposal today. Yet, the history of photography is brimming with outstanding and iconic work where a basic camera and lens were employed. Auto-focus and the camera Monitor, just to mention two things, are relatively recent inventions.

2. POST PROCESSING:
On the other hand, post processing or digitally editing images after they have been captured with a camera, is here to stay. How can the images of a student of photography, who has no idea of post processing, compete with those of someone who is employing the enormous benefits of fine tuning one’s images? The answer is simply a big “No.” When such newbies compare their images, they are bound to be disheartened. Thus, when taking up photography, or going to learn, one must today perforce interest oneself in image editing. Otherwise, one’s images cannot reach today’s industry standards.

3. SLOW DOWN:
Life has become so fast that most of us rarely pause enough to see the opportunities and the great visual images that are there for the taking.
One can carry a camera around the clock, (which I recommend) but unless one learns and disciplines oneself to slow down and to look at the world a little differently one may never actually see those images. When out taking pictures, fully absorb the surroundings and if something stops you in your tracks, keep the camera down and first use your eyes and your brain. What has attracted you to stop? How can you shoot the subject differently? What do you include and leave out? Is the background complimentary? The list never ends. Yet ask yourself these questions as eventually it will become a natural procedure which will get one into the habit of seeing subjects which otherwise would be ignored. The main idea is to include photography into your daily lifestyle and rhythm, and observe even when the camera is not with you

4. RESEARCH:
This is becoming a very neglected part of the photographers of today. Art needs stimulation and knowledge. If we do not constantly research and improve our knowledge, in all spheres of life, our horizons will be as restricted as a horse with blinkers. The more we research on what others have done before us, the more we look at other art forms, the more we read on photography, the more we research themes and concepts, the more our imagination and creativity will broaden. Humans are a product of their conditioning, so how can someone who isolates oneself and is not constantly searching for ways and means to improve his work progress? The more knowledge we have, be it conceptual, historical, technical etc; the more capable we will be to improve our work.

5. NETWORK & COMPETE:
A common gripe I hear is that newcomers are very scared to compete in photographic competitions or even to show their work on social media. Here I totally disagree. Images were not meant to be taken and hoarded by the photographer. Images are taken to be seen, discussed, generate awareness, pass a message. The reasons why we photograph are endless so if one is going into photography being perpetually scared to show one’s images, one might as well stick to philatelly or needlework! Do not be worried about how others see your work, or if you fail in a competition. This is a vital process for a beginner to learn how to improve. If one does not hear critique of one’s work, how can the work evolve? How can a photographer’s confidence grow if the photographs are only seen perhaps by a few close people around him – who would normally be too polite to say what they truly think? So go out there to compete and show your work and remember, even those ‘judges’ started out the same as you.

Sarbjit Singh and the We for We mission

Sarbjit Singh and the We for WE mission …

I first heard about Sarbjit Singh around a year ago, from Carmine Martinez, a dear friend and colleague of mine. In the past, myself and Carmine have collaborated on a number of projects, mostly connected to photography and the model business. We understand each other perfectly and there is a proven mutual trust between us so, when she asked me if I was interested in working and participating in a campaign against human trafficking and for women empowerment, I was ready to listen. I had just gone through a taxing period of study which had somewhat drained me, so a totally new challenge was just the tonic I needed to restore my normally combative character. She eventually introduced me to Sarbjit, naturally with the help of online media, and the collaboration commenced from that moment.

Sarbjit Singh

Sarbjit Singh

I started interesting myself on the many issues relating to women empowerment and the upholding of women’s rights. The more deeply I delved, the more horrified and shocked I became. It is no news to anyone that such problems have been with us since time immemorial and, unfortunately will most probably remain with us for a long time. Until greed, envy, abuse, religious fanatics and lack of education and basic human rights remain predominant in humans, this shameful scourge will not be eradicated. Putting everything in a more focused context, the fight is mainly against the unending abuse of female human rights and gender inequality. The main aim behind Sarbjit’s group, aptly named We for WE, is to attempt to alleviate such problems in all their forms. Although established in India, the group has a global vision and this is rightly so, as these issues are definitely not only present in India, but, alas, all over the world.

Poster at Conference

Poster at Conference

I eventually started corresponding with Sarbjit and began to try and help in any manner that I could. We found a lot of mutual respect for each other and, when he told me if I was interested to join a group of other international campaigners on raising more awareness of such issues in India, I accepted. My job was to photographically cover the whole awareness campaign as well as help in any other useful manner in my capacity. It was easier said than done, as I had to get time off from the Malta College of Arts, where I teach photography, as well as take a marathon of inoculations that were recommended for my visit to India.
Sarbjit is a tall, imposing man with an extremely responsible and demanding job. He is the Commandant of the first Battalion of the Punjab Police Force. He is directly in charge of over 4,000 staff and his volume of work can be assessed by his use of his mobile phone – which is constantly ringing! A taxing job indeed that Sarbjit handles very well, showing no apparent signs of stress. When young, Sarbjit studied Aeronautics, gaining a Degree in the subject and was reading for a Masters in Engineering, when he was selected to join the Police Force, were he steadily progressed to his current position. Sarbjit is married to ‘Rozi’ Ripandeep Kaur and they have two delightful boys.

We for WE chairperson Ripandeep Kaur addressing a conference on Woman Empowerment

We for WE chairperson Ripandeep Kaur addressing a conference on Woman Empowerment

It is remarkable how Sarbjit finds the time to contribute on such a demanding project and NGO, outside of his normal Police work. He is, in fact, also the President of the Indian Association of Health and Fitness. His wife Rozi has also been busy with other NGO work and in fact it was she who steered Sarbjit towards establishing the We for WE Group. Rozi and Sarbjit’s everyday contact with people made them conscious of the many issues that females face not only in India, but globally. Their wish was to work for women empowerment and all the issues that stem from inequality and abuse. The practice of ‘arranged’ marriages is also still very much a scar on those Societies which still condone it. Sarbjit and Rozi were motivated to help on problems faced by the female gender at ground level: problems such as lack of education, health, employment, slavery, arranged marriage, sexual and domestic abuse.

We for WE founder, Sarbjit Singh

We for WE founder, Sarbjit Singh

Being for so many years active in the police force, Sarbjit has encountered these problems first hand. The exploding population of India, which has trebled over the last 50 years , has given the authorities a great deal to handle and, as always, the help and commitment of NGO’s is not only most welcome, but definitely needed. The initial start up of We for WE concentrated on raising public awareness on the related issues – attempting to vitally make females aware, at grass roots level and particularly in rural areas, of their rights and learn about the tools they have to protect and improve their lives. The initial push was done through establishing various leaders in international countries who are striving to promote the empowerment of women. Most of these Leaders come from the ranks of former Beauty Queens – the idea being to show that women can take control of their own lives and move forward. The modeling, showbiz and fashion community is also notorious for having its fair share of harassment and stories of molestation and exploitation – so these same Leaders could, through their own personal experience, possibly grasp better the problems faced by females.

Delegates at a We for WE conference.

Delegates at a We for WE conference.

I pushed Sarbjit to further elaborate on what motivated him to launch this NGO, and he replied:
“At my job, I have witnessed a lot of crime and abuse against women. Girls, under age or not, being molested and raped. I felt that they do not have a real practical platform to fight for their legal rights so, sometimes, their grievances are not addressed properly. Particularly in outlying and remote rural villages, victims find it very hard to obtain redress and lack of education does not help. Furthermore, at times, some village heads might also be swayed to cover up crimes because they are committed by influential and powerful people. All such factors made me and my wife more determined to help in any way we could.”
The NGO’s chairperson, as stated before, is actually Sarbjit’s hard working wife, Ripandeep Kaur. Being a husband and wife team with the same goals facilitates their work in the NGO. A female chairperson is also vital in order to inspire confidence and trust, as females seeking help, particularly in sexually related cases, can usually relate much better with a woman than with a man.

One of the visits to a national TV station in India.

One of the visits to a national TV station in India.

One of We for WE’s first practical moves was to set up a Call Center, based in Jalandhar, India, to cater for any issue which females find difficulty in addressing. The Center uses trained female operators to guide and give practical advice on how victims can acquire redress and justice. The main priorities of this call centre, which is sponsored by benefactors, are secrecy and a friendly, sympathetic approach – an approach which is not always found in Government operated call lines. Government has been regularly addressing these issues by launching more adequate laws and policies, yet, at grass roots level, in such a huge country with so many people and levels of education, implementation takes time and is fraught with difficulties. Yet, the current Modi government seems to be on the right track and has done its fair share of legislation that aims at empowering women even in base, practical matters, such as making a determined push so that adequate toilet facilities become available wherever females need them. NGO’s have been also encouraged to come forward and help in the implementation of this policy, hopefully soon making such facilities mandatory in the whole country.

Children with We for WE representative Diana Irina Boanca at the Tibetan School in Dharmshala

Children with We for WE representative Diana Irina Boanca at the Tibetan School in Dharmshala

We for WE is also trying to help with micro industry such as making available sewing machines and ancillary material to females who cannot afford to buy them. Instruction is also given to enable these women to learn the trade so they can eventually become independent through their own work. This is being done with the help of various private businesses, well wishers and sponsors who believe in such causes and who are helping out with donations both in hardware as well as monetary. These initiatives are mainly being established and maintained in rural villages and the idea is to also help facilitate the marketing of products manufactured with the proceeds going to the girls themselves. Naturally, the NGO keeps track of these initiatives so as the girls are constantly monitored, given encouragement and ensuring they are not exploited. Women must help themselves but in many instances, particularly where poverty is rampant, they need channels and tools that can improve their situation. The We for WE motto is ‘Education – Health – Employment’ – the implementation of all three is essential if progress is to be made.

At an Orphanage in Goa

At an Orphanage in Goa

Being head of Punjab Police, Sarbjit is also ideally positioned to ensure that complaints coming to his department are dealt with in the right manner. Special refresher courses on female related issues are now being regularly held for police officers. It is now part of police policy that whenever a female is involved in a complaint or a report, a female officer is present. After a recent horrific Delhi rape case, which unfortunately made the headlines all over the world, the Government has taken steps so as such serious cases are now being ‘Fast Tracked’ in order that justice can be achieved in the least possible time and ensure that cases are not bogged down or sidelined. Expediency is important as ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’

The catchy enthusiasm of a Tibetan Schoolgirl

The catchy enthusiasm of a Tibetan Schoolgirl

Forced prostitution is also another stigma for society and Sarbjit believes that much more can be done here to protect victims of this terrible form of modern slavery. Another initiative by We for WE has been the organizing of ‘Medical Camps’ where people can ask for assistance with health problems and even get some basic free medicine. These camps are specifically for females and are supported by some doctors and various pharmaceutical associations. Government also gives help but at times, again mostly through lack of knowledge, some would-be beneficiaries have no idea of how to apply or get help. These medical camps act as an information centre for guiding people in obtaining their rights. Understandably, these camps are not easy to organize, and so are not yet so regular, but a start has at least been made. Although We for WE was initially born in India, it now has delegates and group leaders in a number of international countries, such as Sierra Leone, Serbia, Venezuela, Canada, Ecuador, Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria, Namibia, Japan, Malta, Romania. This is necessary, as the issues being tackled by NGO’s like We for WE, are not restricted to India, but exist, perhaps in other forms, in most other countries. Thus the push for addressing women’s rights is global. The recent campaign, in October, specifically aimed at raising awareness on these issues was conducted for a whole month all over India. It was an exhaustive but successful campaign which managed to obtain substantial media coverage that, without any doubt, helped in further exposing the problem and predicament of women’s rights in all spheres of the general public.

The Indian Media reporting on the campaign

The Indian Media reporting on the campaign

Here I must applaud the Indian media’s help in covering and diffusing the campaign in a very encouraging and enthusiastic manner. The power of the media is extremely vital in getting the message over to both the general public and to the authorities.
Working with Sarbjit and his wife for a whole three weeks, (I photographically covered the campaign for media purposes), has made me see how dedicated they are to their chosen cause. They are determined to make a change for the better.

Visit to a school near Chandigarh

Visit to a school near Chandigarh

As Sarbjit said in his own words: “Even empowering one girl makes the whole exercise worthwhile!”
Let us hope that many such girls can benefit from the work of NGO’s like We for We.

We for We website: http://www.weforwe.org/

© Kevin Casha

Flying the flag … in Lithuania!

My vision of Maltese photography has always been to constantly expand beyond our shores. In the past years, this vision has become much more doable, due to technology such as internet, digital photography, Skype coupled with the facility and relatively lower price and frequency of air travel. These circumstances have been ideal in empowering me to visit different places and societies in order to teach photography. If there is an international art medium which ideally places the practitioner in contact with other artists, surely this is photography.

Students practising natural  lighting

Students practising natural lighting

I recently had the pleasure to run my Fast Track photography course in Lithuania – an opportunity not only to work in the sphere I enjoy most, but to also learn and challenge myself from the different perspective of my talented foreign students. The intensive three day course covered aspects of studio, street, low light and fashion photography as well as post processing and photographic concept generation. The hospitality I was shown was second to none, and this made the experience so much more enjoyable.

Low Light (and rainy) workshop in Vilnius

Low Light (and rainy) workshop in Vilnius

The Lithuanian weather, although in summer, was a challenge as on the first day the temperature went down to 12 degrees – and there I was with no jackets and only short sleeves! It was indeed a challenge to start off the course with a low light workshop in the business centre of Vilnius accompanied by a steady sprinkling of rain! Here, my experience in London weather during the yearly Societies convention came in handy. Both myself and the students rose to the challenge and we still managed to produce some useful images in rather adverse conditions. The next day, we spent the day inside a very well equipped commercial studio in an industrial area of Vilnius. I had the luxury to work with all the necessary equipment needed in a studio and also with two delightful girls from Vilnius, Olga and Jurate, who patiently modeled for me throughout the workshops. The industrial area, complete with an old railway track, made an ideal venue for location photography when it stopped raining and temperatures went significantly up. I made sure to base my course on hands on practice, giving the participants a lot to do throughout the three days  and naturally ended the sessions with a ‘no holds barred’ assessment of their work. The workshops were possible thanks to the help of my Lithuanian contact, friend and photographer, Renata Apanaviciene who, together with her husband Darius, went out of their way not only to organize the course, but also to make my stay as pleasant and varied as possible.

A portrait of Olga during the studio sessions

A portrait of Olga during the studio sessions

As always, when abroad, the MIPP is still very much in my mind, and through the help of Valdas Bogdanos, the Fuji regional manager for East Europe, I managed to make contact with the Chairman of the Lithuanian Photographers Association, the hard working Jonas Staselis. It was a really pleasant and fruitful meeting as the Association is more or less the same size as our MIPP one, thus a lot of common ground is shared. Yet, hearing how other people manage their Association, is always a fount of information and stimulates fresh ideas. The Association runs its own little premises and gallery in Vilnius – although it is not their property, the place is given to them by the local government and they run it through a council. The authorities also give the Association some funding which enables them to not only manage the day to day running, but also print some beautiful photography books as well as  organize a very important international photographic convention every year. Their grant is nothing great and it’s still not easy, but much more than we ever got from our governments – I wonder when local authorities will ever wake up and treat us photographers in the same way as other entities – maybe the time is ripe for a petition!!

Jonas-Staselis-Chairman-Lithuanian-Photographers-Association-presenting-MIPP-President-Kevin-Casha-with-Lithuanian-photographic-publications

Jonas-Staselis, Chairman-Lithuanian Photographers Association presenting MIPP President Kevin-Casha with Lithuanian photographic publications

I have come back from Lithuania refreshed, enthusiastic and greatly enriched with the friendship of many people I met over there.  I will surely be visiting Lithuania again and, why not, look forward to collaborating with the Lithuanian Photographers Association in the near future.

© Kevin Casha – july 2014

PHOTOGRAPHY TUITION – a new jungle?

Way back in 1992, when I originally started doing my courses in photography, I never realised how these same courses would evolve into what today I consider as my main job and passion. Although some courses and tuition were already being done by the only, at that time, organized photography group on the island, it was really unheard of for a person to teach photography in Malta as a freelancer!

How dare someone teach the profession and enable others to become better photographers! How dare someone deprive already working photographers of their livelihood by helping the ‘competition?’ What audacity for someone to facilitate the path of other ‘wannabe’ photographers towards building a business or a career in photography?? As if anyone who is in any profession has any God given right to stop anyone else from taking the same route that he or she, as a beginner, had first undertaken! Do you know of anyone who was born a photographer right away in his cot! Had all these short sighted detractors forgotten their humble beginnings?

Photography_Courses_Malta_Fast_Track

Photography_Courses_Malta_Fast_Track

Yes, all these accusations were leveled at me when I took the plunge and started teaching. Today, most of my critics are belatedly trying to do what I did years ago: yes – teach. I have always advocated that learning is important and I have eternally been in favour of a free market. Anyone who is capable and passionate enough has all my full support. Yet, currently, I cannot but cringe at the way that matters are shaping up. It really seems that everyone now is trying to teach photography and, although there are various persons capable of doing this in the right manner, there are a host of others who are just jumping in without any skills or background. Recent years have thrown up a spate of complaints from persons who are in some way being ‘duped’ into paying for photography tuition and then finding out that they are really learning very little or, worse still, getting the wrong information or guidance. There are even cases where courses where just terminated midway through their schedule without the students being refunded! Yes, unfortunately it is becoming a jungle and there is little one can do but attempt to educate the students BEFORE they go out and book courses blindly.

Photography_Courses_Malta_Fast_Track

Photography_Courses_Malta_Fast_Track

The answer boils down to common sense and, first and foremost, one needs to realize that a skilled photographer does not always make a good tutor. A good tutor needs to be organized, needs to know how to deliver and share his knowledge, and needs to keep abreast and on top of his game. Taking good pictures and being a professional in one’s work is necessary but a good teacher needs many other skills. With social groups and online marketing, it has become quite easy for anyone to create a course and diffuse it around the internet and attract students. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, it is a free country, but be aware, particularly of those who have no visible track record of teaching. A student can really pass through a nightmare experience. If you needed a doctor, would you go to anyone who advertises on social media? Would you blindly ask for a service from any company which pays for an advert in yellow pages or would you ask for referrals and recommendations? Do an exercise and look up photographers on Malta’s yellow pages – some of the claims that some advertisers publicize make you laugh (or cry, for that matter!) This is not just in photography, but in all other professions or service industries – it’s a sign of our times.
So how does one go about selecting the right course or the right tutor? In Malta it is rather easy. Just ask for recommendations, ask someone who has already been to the tutor that you are considering. There is no better advert than recommendation and word of mouth, particularly on a small island like ours, where everyone knows everyone else. Go for courses which are well structured and clearly map out what you are going to be taught and how it is going to be done. Look for professionalism in every detail.

So the next time that you are seriously thinking of going into learning photography, do yourself a favour, and research your tutor well. It will avoid you unsavoury experiences and a waste of time and money.

© Kevin Casha

Advances in Technology

April 2014

I recently ventured out to Vittoriosa to try and capture the essence of the celebrations of the Risen Christ – in Maltese, called ‘l-Irxoxt.’

It came as a welcome break from my current studies and work related stress to simply go out with my camera and lens and wander about in an attempt to explore the different aspects of such religious events. Such occasions are so strongly ingrained in the Maltese Social culture that we sometimes take them for granted. This was a subject that, for some reason or other, I had never shot in my career, so in a way it was all the more intriguing and challenging. Naturally, I wanted to capture the general mood and the climax of the event – when the bearers triumphantly run with the statute – but I was fascinated with other facets of the morning’s events.

The traditional 'run' with the statute.

The traditional ‘run’ with the statute.

One could not miss that the occasion was also used by most of the people to put on their best dress or something new they had just bought to proudly parade and show off around the packed streets. This tradition was amply demonstrated in Vittoriosa and I had a field day capturing images of the different attire – some really suited whilst other items not so suitable for their wearers!

I did have fun and fully engrossed myself in the atmosphere by going inside the local band club to down a couple of beers before going back into the fray of the celebration! It was a welcome break from my work tasks and my computers and convinced me to again increase and multiply my forays into the local villages and streets. No more excuses that it was cold or raining or that I have to rise early!
A thing I also noticed was the amount of mobiles and particularly tablets which were being used to document the event. I must say, the tablets are really annoying as they can easily block the view and are very difficult to clone out on such occasions.

The tablet... here to stay!

The tablet… here to stay!

Yet, it is modern technology which is here to stay and the photographer, (as in many other professions), is being constantly challenged to update and make use of such new technological advances. Failure to do this is bound to reflect on the photographer’s capabilities to survive in a very competitive arena.

© Kevin Casha

The case for a Center of Photography in Malta

The Case for a Center for Photography

I would like to make a passionate appeal to the authorities on a particular subject which myself, together with other like minded citizens, have been for a long time trying to lobby on. The issue is all about ‘the powers that be’ to finally realize the potential, the work, the professionalism, as well as the plight of local photographers and NGO photography organizations. Photographers, both professional, artists and hobbyists have till now more or less been ignored when it comes to concrete help. Since 1996 – yes, during the Sant government – I have been doing infinite rounds of cultural ministries, parliamentary secretaries, government funded entities and so on with the aim of trying to get help to set up a place where local photographers can finally have a premises where to meet, where to exhibit, where to set up courses, studios and darkrooms for their members, where to set up a photography museum, where to hold international conventions and workshops.

I have heard all the excuses, such as that the Lands department does not even have a list of governmental properties in its possession (!!!) or that it is not feasible that every association can have its own premises. The latter argument does perhaps carry some weight, but what about all the buildings going to ruin? What about empty factories? Due to the former argument, I have also countless times pointed out some locations which could prove ideal for a National Center of photography, but for one reason or another, nothing ever materialized. I am always told that the idea is good, that photographers have been neglected, that it can be done but, over all these years, nothing concrete has ever happened.

To set the record straight, I have not been asking for a ‘state of the art’ premises or anything grand, but a place which, with effort and reasonable funds, could become the reference point for all photographers on our island. Location is also not that important as Malta is reachable and any locality could be considered, as long as there are some parking facilities. Good marketing is what makes a place successful.

During my Presidency with both the Malta Photographic Society and the Malta Institute of Professional Photography, I have always had this issue in mind and for that reason I have painstakingly tried to collect funds from various activities so that should we ever get this place, we would have some money to embellish it. We are sure that if the photographic community was given a base we would be able to run it in a professional and feasible manner.

If one studies what other countries are doing, the current government could look into a recent heritage law and scheme successfully launched in the United Kingdom.
Like us, the UK government has a number of properties which are of historical value and going, unfortunately, to ruin. Naturally, it is impossible to find the enormous amount of funds needed to restructure, restore and maintain such buildings. So the idea is not for the government to do this but for encouraging and involving the private sector, particularly serious NGO’s and entities. If a list of properties could be finally drawn up by the Lands department, legislation could be passed offering appropriate buildings to private entities, NGO’s, organizations etc; who would have the passion and the energy to restore and maintain them. The smaller the properties are, the better, as the NGO’s would be more capable of handling such properties. The properties could be given out on renewable contracts, (say for five years), and strictly monitored by governmental authorities (MEPA and Heritage Malta could do this job) as to their proper upkeep and maintenance. Every five years, if the ‘tenant’ keeps to the terms of the contract, the contract would be renewed for another suitable period and so on. If, on the other hand, the tenant defaults, then the property would pass back to the government.

I think this is a win-win situation for everyone as it will:

1. Generate some more work in the service, maintenance and building industry.
2. Give a base and working space to various entities that in their own way will generate jobs whilst running these properties.
3. The properties essentially remain with the government, so they are not being given outright.
4. Arrest deterioration of historical buildings and bring them to their former glory.
5. Enable NGO’s to apply and corner funds for these projects from EU sources.

The ever growing legion of citizens involved and interested in photography keeps increasing all over the world and Malta is no exception. Why have other entities and associations been given premises by devolution whilst the local photographic community has not? It is undeniable that photography is one of the main contemporary art mediums practiced and utilized globally. I know that Malta cannot compare to other bigger countries, but even in smaller countries, entities have been successful in obtaining adequate help and recognition from their governments. When one adds to this the fact that the island’s photographers keep regularly winning international awards and accolades, the issue becomes more intriguing.

Coming to the Museum part, a photographic Museum should have been long established due to the importance that the evolution of early photography had in Malta. Photography came into the island as early as 1840 so a documentation of Maltese photography will not only depict the various stages of evolution in the history of photography but nearly two centuries of life in Malta. This museum would naturally be another tourist attraction to the island, especially to British, French and European students of the subject. It is a documented fact that whilst Henry Fox Talbot (acknowledged as one of the pioneers of photography) was perfecting his invention, he was constantly in touch with photographers in Malta who were actually using and testing his material!

It is also the appropriate time to establish a museum as with the advent of digital photography, most of the old conventional items are either being disposed of or even thrown away. So an effort must be immediately done to preserve these items for the future. It is a sad state of affairs when such treasures, like the Richard Ellis photographic collection, cannot be made available to the public because it is not housed in appropriate premises. Thank God that people like Ian Ellis, who has nurtured and safeguarded the archive with whatever limited means he has at his disposal has, till now, managed to painstakingly keep the collection together. This collection by itself can be the actual mainstay of a photographic museum in Malta. Like other collections on the island, perhaps less known, this archive is a treasure trove, not only for its content, but for the invaluable amount of data with which each photograph has been documented with.

A few years ago, I managed, with the help of the National Archives in Rabat, to collaborate and help set up a digital picture archive. This was achieved through my insistence and to the fact that Mr. Charles Farrugia, the National Archivist, not only believed in the idea but pulled up his sleeves and helped.
The archive’s main aim is to digitize photography collections in Malta so as these would not only be available for online research but would preserve copies of priceless images which would otherwise deteriorate and be lost to us forever. It is a slow and arduous process as funds are never available to continue this work in the manner it deserves. Is it really so difficult to provide some funds for this? We are here talking a couple of thousands per year.

For those who are not aware, there are two main bodies which have worked incessantly to promote and improve Maltese Photography. These are the Malta Institute of Professional Photography, (MIPP) and the Malta Photographic Society (MPS). Together we have 600 members, and one needs only look at our websites and events to see how hard we work towards making local photography recognized and respected all around the globe. Yet the authorities seem not to appreciate or recognize our efforts. Why are we being treated as the Cinderellas of the local art scene? Why has photography in Malta been left out in the cold?

Naturally, with the new Labour government, I have again started doing the rounds and trying to again for the umpteenth time to push this idea through and get something done. In fact, I have had meetings with various entities, particularly the Minister of Culture, Dr. Jose Herrera, who has kindly received me on various occasions to listen to my arguments and discuss a way forward. I am sure that if there is the right political will, a place can definitely be found to address this issue once and for all and give a tremendous boost to Maltese Photography and Culture as well as Tourism. This will, once and for all, fill in a glaring gap in the cultural agenda. It would definitely be a crowning glory if something is done particularly with Valletta V18 coming up – I just hope that the authorities take this opportunity – it would be a tremendous legacy bequeathed to the photographic community after all the dust has died down.

For sure, there are many well intentioned private individuals who, together with the strong base already in place provided by the work of the MIPP and MPS, that should premises be found, this cannot but prosper and grow for the benefit of all Maltese. I think this stumbling block can be surmounted to help the Photographic community in Malta to further grow and meet the challenges of the future.
I would also like to state that I am writing this letter in my personal capacity and with over thirty five years of experience and heavy involvement in the Photographic sphere.

Kevin Casha

A note on the MIPP:
The Malta Institute of Professional Photography (MIPP) has now been in very active existence for over sixteen years. Its main aims have been to promote the furtherance and improvement of photography and photography practitioners in all aspects.

The MIPP is a registered non-profit NGO and has, for these last years, been responsible in improving the standards of local photography both in Malta as well as abroad. Its current membership is around the 300 mark and it has been involved in cooperating with various Government entities and in cultural initiatives related to photography. The MIPP also established various important international ties and constantly strives to, not only promote the skills of local photographers, but also our island.

In fact, the MIPP organizes no fewer than three yearly international conventions/seminars on our island and has helped in no small way to make Maltese photography very well known and respected around the globe. Maltese photographers are now being regularly invited to other countries to network, lecture, learn and subsequently promote Malta and its photography.

Beauty, my fatal obsession?

BEAUTY – MY FATAL OBSESSION?

Obsession:  Preoccupy or fill the mind of someone, continually and to a troubling extent.

Model Catherine Gannon, photographed during my workshop in Ireland.

Model Catherine Gannon, photographed during my workshop in Ireland.

I have always been attracted to female beauty and particularly, perfection. It has been a constant search that is, at times, very frustrating due to its elusiveness.

When I look at the definition of Perfect and Perfection, I meet with statements like:

’The state and quality of being perfect’ and ‘free from any flaw or defect’.

Model: Lara Cassar Delia

Model: Lara Cassar Delia

In fact, I feel that all my personal work and attempts at art, both in my early painting days and, in a much more obvious way, in my photography, I eternally attempt to search and surround myself with beauty and perfection. Through my lens and my camera, I am always on the hunt to capture that elusive instant.

On the other hand, an internal conflict exists inside me and insists that Perfection does not actually exist and that no material or spiritual state can attain perfection.

So why strain to attain the unattainable? A further contradiction and curious fact is that, at the same time, I am very practical and flexible in my everyday life. Still, in whatever I do, I try to go to lengths to do everything in the best and most ‘perfect’ manner possible.

Model: Alisa

Model: Alisa

My main work in photography, and perhaps my forte, has been photographing people, particularly women. My style has been always bordering on the classical, putting women on an imaginary, but ever present, pedestal.

I attempt to glorify the female form, characteristics and features. I am forever drawn to this. Trying to go close, perhaps, to the classical sculptures of Greece? The Venus of Botticelli?  The models of Richard Avedon? The shady, edgy borderline so ably manipulated by Helmut Newton?

I believe this feeling is also very sensual and sexual as I am really not at ease when photographing the male form. Here my inspiration usually deserts me. I definitely do not feel as attracted to the male form as I am to the mystery, beauty or the aura that female mystery kindles in me.

 I feel that my initial and recurring trigger or spark, both in my art as well as in my everyday life, is this fatal physical and aesthetic attraction to beauty. I am also intrigued by the female mind which fascinates, (and often exasperates), me with its at times illogical, naive and, at the same time, intelligent way of functioning. In short I am also attracted to the female mind’s contradictory traits.
To me, women are beautiful in their incomprehension. I never feel that I really know a woman so I am always on the interminable road of discovery, on the road to reflection, on the road to comprehension.

It is a constant, but almost exquisite pain that I have learnt to live and thrive with. I sometimes reason that I could obtain satisfaction and happiness more easily if I did not have this obsession. Yet I cannot remotely imagine my life without the drive this search kindles in me.

 I cannot imagine living without women – it would be unbearably boring.

Kevin Casha – October 2012