DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY – A PUBLISHER’S PARADISE OR AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS?

It is useless denying it – digital technology has turned totally into a publisher’s paradise, or has it? Technology has made photography accessible to a much wider swathe of the general public. Most of this new, snap happy horde are part timers – they already have full time jobs and for them photography is a hobby, a pastime, nothing really too serious. So this vast proliferation of photographers has made available to publishers an ever evolving stock of free images and, consequentially made the sale of images by professional photographers so much more difficult.

An image which can easily fit into editorial. © Kevin Casha

An image which can easily fit into editorial.
© Kevin Casha

The publishing industry is aware that there are loads of good photographers who are ready to freely give their images for publication – just for the sake of seeing their photographs in print. This is a fact of life and cannot be reversed back. Pros just need to accept it, but then digital media and the internet revolution have also made it easier for one to proliferate images and make one’s work known. The first thing a photographer earning his livelihood from the business needs to determine is whether it is to one’s advantage to pass on images for free and thus join the bandwagon. Today, one does not need to fork out money for physical print portfolios or lose time and effort going to meetings. Internet has made it possible to market one’s work from the comfort of one’s laptop. It is up to each photographer to decide whether to start making his work known around the world or whether to remain a non-entity, stay out of business completely and satisfy oneself with the ‘likes’ on Facebook! Yes, the decision is a harsh one to accept for photographers who have been used to getting paid for their work – but today it is a fact of life and the sooner one accepts it, the better.

So how does one try to turn the situation to one’s advantage and tap the valid possibilities that are out there? Like in everything else, it boils down to hard work – nothing comes easy yet some photographers have turned the situation in their favour. One must not forget that although photographers have increased in a big way, the world wide web has also enabled us to enormously proliferate our client base. Images put online and published are now being seen all over the world. Who would before have seen one’s images in Africa, in Alaska or in China? If one trawls around the internet, one is bound to find up and coming young photographers who have managed to capture attention and, subsequently, paid work.

Sounds difficult? Yes, for sure with so many good photographers around. It is not easy to get noticed in such a competitive field. But is it really as inacessible as it seems or are we not making enough effort to tap this market? There are hundreds of online and conventionally printed publications needing images from all genres of photography. Publishers are all the time looking for fresh and engaging work which will enhance their content. One needs to get them to see one’s work.
Naturally, the main beneficial thing when one’s work is published or seen online is that your credited work is seen by a wide audience. There are so many opportunities out there to have one’s work published. It’s just a question of being organized and being industrious.

There are some things which need to be noted: Most publishers will require releases if you have recognizable persons in the images. This, as we all now adds another complication. Yet when one is aware it should not be such a great problem to obtain releases particularly for personal work in which one has control over the subjects. Just prepare releases for all types of photographs, even carrying them with you whilst shooting. Also one can use blur or movement to obscure recognition. Being aware of the copyright and data protection laws of your country is also vital. Furthermore, try and study the publications which would mostly welcome your style or genre of photography and concentrate your efforts on them. Fit your images to the publication.

A generic image typical of magazine potential. © Kevin Casha

A generic image typical of magazine potential. © Kevin Casha

There lies also the possibility of ‘barter.’ Make efforts to exchange your work for free advertorial space or any other product or service that is of use to you. This will be more doable in one’s own country as one would, most probably, know the publishers on a personal basis. It is not a disgrace to barter work – the world was, and still is, based on barter – be it with goods, services or money. One needs to be aware of retaining copyright of one’s images after they have been published. Most publishers recognize this and have no objection, but be aware of a few companies and individuals who are out to take advantage. Use your ready stock photography avoiding to go into expense to shoot purposely for publications. Make sure to read the submission guidelines in detail – remember that most editors will have hundreds of submissions to view and things such as sizing your images or naming them wrongly will most certainly get your work discarded right away. One other factor to remember is not to put up the images you intend to send to publications on Facebook -use other photographs for this purpose – as publishers do not like to use images which are already out there.

One last recommendation: do not be disheartened when publishers do not respond or give you feedback. The process is not quick and easy and most of the times it takes long to strike gold. The important thing is to be patient and persistent. If your work is good, it is bound to be eventually noticed and rewarded. So get off your backside and bring your work to the notice of the world!

© Kevin Casha 2015

COMMUNICATION AND THE SIMPLE PLEASURES OF LIFE….

COMMUNICATION AND THE SIMPLE PLEASURES OF LIFE….

I have recently returned from Inner Mongolia, in China. I was representing Malta in the 1st Bairin Left Banner Photographic Season. Needless to say, it was an unforgettable experience. Being so far away from my surroundings in little Malta, the trip and the stay made me reflect.

The inauguration of Bairin Left Banner Photography Season

The inauguration of Bairin Left Banner Photography Season

Travelling to the place was one of my most strenuous trips to date – it took nearly two days of travel going there and a further two days coming back, each way involving three flights and countless bus journeys! Yet it was well worth it! Together with other international photographers and personalities, such as the FIAP vice president, we were based in Bairin Left Banner, in Chifeng City, at an excellent and modern hotel, Jing Du hotel. I actually got to know that we were the first Europeans staying at the hotel! In fact, everyone wanted to take pictures with us – something which I must say, I did not mind in the least. It was a fantastic event with a grand opening in the main culture centre of the City. Coupled with this event was the inauguration of a high level international photographic exhibition.

A typical pastoral scene in Inner Mongolia

A typical pastoral scene in Inner Mongolia

Yet, what impressed me most during my stay was the
will for people to communicate and live together in harmony. My only Chinese is limited to ‘Good morning’, ‘thank you’ and ‘Kampei!’ (Cheers!) and the Chinese command of English is rather similar to my abysmal skills in the Chinese language. So it was not easy to make each other understood. Still, I only required to smile at totally unknown people, who unhesitatingly smiled back and welcomed me, a total stranger, not only into their houses, but also into their hearts.

Reminiscent of Van Gogh

Reminiscent of Van Gogh

The hospitality we were shown was really without any bounds. Just as an example, during one instance, I joked that I had not seen the traditional, furry cows (Yaks) that Mongolia is known for – so, lo and behold – the next day we were taken to a place where two Yaks and countless wild horses were grazing contentedly. I was later told that the area we were in did not have any Yaks but our hosts managed to bring two examples from some far off place in order to please us! This was the limits they went to so that their guests were happy.

Traditional Folk Dancers

Traditional Folk Dancers

It was a pleasant feeling when I witnessed countless scores of townspeople enjoying themselves with morning exercises (such as Tai Chi) and games (such as ‘shuttlecock’ and tennis). They daily congregate in the squares not only to keep fit but also to communicate with each other. Their pastimes are old fashioned yet geared towards keeping them in touch with their fellow beings – simply playing cards in the streets or singing together in choirs. How we have lost all these communication skills in the West! We are so hell bent on commercialism, on earning not only a living – but earning more and more in our greedy race for having all the commodities that we can dream of – that we seem to have lost our way. We do not even make the effort to talk to each other anymore without using modern, insensitive technology. In this day of stellar communication many of us are just lost, wandering souls with very little real human contact – living in our own little bubbles.

An uncomplicated folk

An uncomplicated folk

Switching to the photography side, I can add that the weather was kind and that I was pleased to be able to cut myself off from my everyday life in Malta.

Dusk in Inner Mongolia

Dusk in Inner Mongolia

A Buddhist temple

A Buddhist temple

Deer on the skyline

Deer on the skyline

It was exhilerating to lose myself in the Prairies, the mountains and the sunflower fields – so reminiscent of one of my favourite artists – Van Gogh. I just hope that I did not day dream too much and that the images I brought back of the place does justice to such an enchanting segment of the world.

Sunflowers and Sunlight - a perfect combination

Sunflowers and Sunlight – a perfect combination

“Kampei!”

Kevin Casha

Photographers and Weddings

PHOTOGRAPHERS & WEDDINGS

As many of you know, I have now stopped photographing weddings for quite some time. I spent quite a large chunk of my career covering what I consider a very demanding assignment. I was recently looking up some of my previous interviews and articles and my last interview for a newspaper in relation to wedding photography came to view. I was very surprised that reading it again it is still very apt till today. The main focus of this interview had been to raise awareness in the general public of who to entrust with their wedding pictures. I thought of publishing it again in the newsletter as I think it makes sense for both future couples as well as for photographers to gain a better insight into what wedding photography involves.

© Kevin Casha

© Kevin Casha

Weddings. Quite a staple diet for successful photographers – and a dilemma for wedding couples. The crucial question is who does one entrust with taking his wedding photographs? With over thirty five years of experience in wedding photography, besides other areas of commercial work, professional photographer Kevin Casha is more than qualified to express his views on this subject. In practice, he outlines that a competent wedding photographer should be capable of reaching that happy medium whereas the bride and groom are guaranteed excellent service whilst at the same time having as little time taken up as is possible.

Kevin stresses the importance of discussing beforehand all the details and facets of the couple’s wedding and subsequently fixing a shooting and time schedule according to the couple’s needs. Getting an experienced professional photographer specializing in wedding photography usually ensures reliability, quality and a smoother running event.

In reality, a couple should keep in mind that a good “general practice” photographer might not be the most suitable person to shoot a wedding. In health matters, although we do go to our GP whenever we have minor ailments, we eventually consult a specialist when more serious matters loom over the horizon. The same parallel can be easily applied when employing a photographer for a wedding. One should definitely source out someone who has experience and a proven track record of photographing weddings. A good portraitist or photojournalist might not be the right choice. Would you go to a Dermatologist if you have, say, a muscular problem? Of course not! The same goes for a photographer. There are very few really good “all rounders” (although one might think otherwise from the various adverts and hype in the media!!).

So a couple needs to be wise and ensure they book a photographer who is experienced in the genre of photography they require. Doing otherwise is inviting disaster. It is obvious that a wedding is a very special occasion and the more planning that goes into the preparations, the better. Each wedding has its own story and needs, and a good photographer should be able to gauge the needs of the couple and make their day a memorable one – naturally, for the right reasons!

© Kevin Casha

© Kevin Casha

The couple should not be taken in by aggressive and repetitive advertising. How “professional” and great a photographer declares himself to be is no yardstick as to how good he really is. The couple should here listen to referrals from their friends and the general public who might have already employed a photographer and where pleased with his work, attitude and service.

It is important that initially, before the couple finalizes their booking, they discuss at length what type of images they want and how they visualize the evolvement of their wedding. A good, experienced professional photographer can make a wedding fun, just as much as an inexperienced and ill prepared photographer can turn it into a nightmare.

Budgets, prices, editing and whether images are going to come in an album or just on DVD should be made clear prior to the booking. What is being paid, and for what it is being paid, should be clearer to all parties. One must also be prepared to allocate some time in which to take the posed set-up photographs and group shots. The photographer cannot guarantee quality if most times he is shooting in a candid, haphazard manner. A degree of control is needed in most photographs. Still, if everyone is organized and co-operative, this should not take an experienced photographer more than three quarters of an hour.

Kevin recommends that group photographs, which are usually quite troublesome, should be kept to a minimum and only feature the couple’s immediate family. The day for shooting all the guests at a reception has long been superseded, especially with video service being virtually an ever-present part of today’s weddings. Group images should be done as early as possible before the reception starts. This ensures the cooperation and the good state of all the featured guests.

Punctuality is another important factor and the bride should ensure that her hairdresser and make-up artist stick to their time schedules. Unfortunately, the practice seems widespread where some supposedly “professionals” just don’t care when they finish their work and into whose time they are encroaching upon. A sure way of starting on the wrong foot is when the bride fails to be ready by the agreed time. A photographer, no matter how experienced, cannot do the same level of work in half the time he would usually allocate. One should also make sure that the dressmaker has already delivered everything on time. It is not unknown that a dress arrives on the wedding day sometimes with disastrous results! Lively children are another delicate matter. Kevin reckons they should not form part of the bridal retinue. These will invariably start playing up and cause nervousness all round. If the kids are relatively well behaved, then it is not a problem.

If one is keen on getting exceptional wedding photographs, one should also consider carefully the venue and time of the wedding. A morning wedding can usually give more rewarding results than an evening one and a well-thought out wedding hall can further help the photographer to create memorable images. The fact is that it is not so easy to create certain images at night – for sure, the complications and time factor are bound to increase. Kevin thinks that today’s trend towards simpler, more comfortable dresses, textiles and natural looking hairstyles, help to make the bride more relaxed during her big day, thus contributing to better, more natural photographs. Everyone knows that a grumpy, irritated bride is not the ideal person to try to radiantly photograph!

One thing, which irritates Kevin tremendously, is when clients employ the services of an experienced photographer and then proceed to ignore his advice, restrict him and not co-operate or stick to what has been agreed. It is a fact that to take good quality photographs at a wedding is no easy task and time and concentration is needed. If the couple do not even want to concede this, it is best not to employ a good photographer in the first place!

Remember, a photographer has one sharp “guillotine” hovering above his head – he cannot go wrong. There are no second chances. The same applies to the bride and groom’s choice of photographer. The choice should be well thought out and studied.

KITTY CHOU – The Purist photographer

Kitty Chou was born and raised in Hong Kong in 1961. She is the fifth of six sisters.

Although outwardly shy and reserved, when talking about photography, Kitty immediately lights up. The passion shines through her eyes and a transformation comes over her when she meets people who are seriously interested in discussing her photography. Like most persons taking up photography, Kitty initially tried her hand at a number of diverse photographic genres, but she has always been fascinated and drawn to people and society. Like most photojournalists, Kitty has a natural knack of communicating and she loves engaging with people. Despite the human element features in a lot of her everyday photographs, there is, ironically, a conspicuous absence of persons in most of her Fine Art exhibition work. Her work is imbued with classicism although most of her fine art imagery borders on abstract and semi abstract subjects.

© Kitty Chou

Portrait without a Face no.2

Through her own admission, Kitty is an extremely curious person and one realizes that this characteristic filters through her work. Most of her Fine Art work invites the viewer to first of all, engage aesthetically, then to delve deeper into what the images can evoke. Kitty’s work is at times mysterious and leaves a substantial part to the interpretation of each viewer: she is not one who spoon feeds the viewer.
After attending primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, she went to the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, United States, graduating in Business Administration in 1982. Kitty was always keen to take what would be termed snaps or documentary images. She was interested in preserving the memory of a fast disappearing lifestyle with the development of the society, especially the one in Hong Kong. She was further inspired when she saw an exhibition of Henri Cartier Bresson at MOMA in New York while she was in university. Bresson’s work not only impressed her but set her reflecting on photography.

© Kitty Chou

An interesting view of a mundane subject

Her first camera was a Minolta analog model. Like a lot of photography enthusiasts, she also developed her own films. After University, she seemingly drifted away from photography only to take it up in earnest again in 2002, buying a compact, point and shoot, two megapixel Casio digital camera. Kitty is mainly self taught and does not put much store in what cameras and equipment she employs – for her, the camera is just a means to an end and the importance of her photography is encompassed through perception, subject framing and aesthetic composition. She recalls her early days when many people she encountered would be asking her what type of camera she uses – as if the camera makes you a better or worse photographer! Many tended to be biased and look down at her photography due to her not sporting the latest “professional” camera model! This reminds me of a dear departed friend and great photographer, David Facey who, when once asked as to what type of camera he uses, he replied: “One of those little black ones!”

© Kitty Chou

The exhibition venue – the Natural History Museum, Mdina, Malta

Kitty’s first exhibition, in 2011, at the New York School of Interior Design, was urged by her professor, who seeing her work, encouraged her to exhibit at the school gallery. She entitled her exhibition “The Accidental Photographer: Line, Colour and Perspective.” The response to her work was so positive and encouraging that Kitty felt that exhibiting and showing her work was the way to go. This is one of the factors which continue to encourage her to exhibit as she particularly enjoys the feedback of her audience.

 

A year later, Kitty conducted a talk with slide show, as well actual prints at the Asia Society in Hong Kong. Ben Brown, a gallery owner, was invited to attend the talk by the forum moderator. The gallerist was intrigued by Kitty’s work and expressed interests in working together. Less than six months after that initial contact, Kitty had a solo show in their Hong Kong gallery.

She followed this exhibition by taking part in a Hong Kong collective exhibition during 2013. This was held at Duddell’s , a very up market restaurant and gallery in Hong Kong. This exhibition merits particular mention due to the fact that iconic Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei, who was under house arrest then, was the curator. In 2014, another milestone followed for Kitty when car manufacturers Rolls Royce, converting their showroom into a pop-up art gallery, hosted Kitty’s work as their first Art Series in Asia.

© Kitty Chou

Kitty’s keen sense of light and texture

Ironically, there was a time when Kitty refused to go and see other photographic exhibitions as she felt that her work would be influenced and lose its distinct, personal character. Yet, today she has reversed that, mainly because she is confident enough about her work. These last years, she feels unshackled and free to do her ‘own thing’ and not be unduly influenced by what people say.
Kitty does not use any supplementary lighting in her images, preferring to keep her work as simple and true as possible. Her main ally is natural light. In fact, her style and work resemble more the photojournalistic or ‘street’ photographer. She does not manipulate, arrange or set up her images – her process is one of keen seeing and intelligent selection, cropping only in the camera and not in post process,maintaining that, if this is done, her images would lose or stray away from their initial purpose and concept. For this same purpose, even her digital editing is kept to a minimum – just some minor colour correction and brightness and contrast levels. Apart from Cartier Bresson, who remains forever one of Kitty’s inspirations, other photographers she admires are Horst P. Horst and Herb Ritts. She is particularly attracted to the more vintage photographers due to their studied composition and intelligent perception. This is actually interesting as in fact, although a large part of her work ends up being abstract and semi abstract, Kitty’s work is always imbued with classical inference.
She has now been working totally with the digital medium, due to its convenience and wide creative possibilities, printing her Fine Art exhibition work on high end special art paper. Kitty is increasingly looking to explore subjects which have a meaning to her and is interested in producing more work that possibly can have a social concept. Kitty is also looking at future challenges, and a project that is slowly taking birth is the production of a book on her photography.
Finally, I asked her how she would describe herself, a fine art photographer, or perhaps a photojournalist. She promptly replied that she really does not feel boxed to any particular type of photography but that photography has gradually just become an integral part of her lifestyle and is one of the main purposes and driving forces of her life.

Kitty today is married and has one son. She commutes regularly between New York, Paris, and her own Hong Kong.

© Kevin Casha, 2015
www.kevincasha.com

Note: Kitty Chou will be exhibiting her latest work in Malta at the Natural History Museum in Mdina between the 20th of May till the 7th of June, 2015. The exhibition is called “Cotidie The Magic of the Everyday.”

http://www.nysid.edu/news-events/events/kitty-chou-exhibition

http://duddells.co/venue/en/

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.

The Gentle Sex and Photogaphy

This time round, I wanted to share with you some personal thoughts. Last year, both top Malta Institute of Professional Photography’s competitions, namely the Photographer of the Year and the International Online Competition, were won by the gentler sex. Furthermore, four of the Institute’s members gaining Qualifications, (from a total of six panels), were also women! Was this a coincidence? I do not really think so and in fact I have long been feeling the growth and opportunity that women photographers have gained partly through Digital photography.

Fifteen years back, I distinctly remember the extremely low number of females who would apply to learn photography during my courses – they would invariably be outnumbered ten to one by the males! Yet, now the boot seems to have shifted to the other foot. Take the clear example of my MCAST Higher National Diploma Photography first year Class which consists of seven girls and one boy! Even the MIPP membership seems to be steadily increasing its female membership. So what are the reasons of this evident increase in women photography practitioners in what was, previously, rather a male dominated profession?


I feel that the main factor behind this is the facility that digital technology has undoubtedly given us. The barriers have surely been lowered. Through my previous experience, most females have seemingly shied away from technical aspects so, for most of them, it was rather daunting to get to grips with complicated equipment, f-stops and tricky photographic techniques. It is not because they are not capable of surmounting these obstacles but I feel that their temperament prefers concentrating on other things. Have you ever really met a girl who is a ‘techie’ or fixated with photographic equipment and technology? One in a million, whilst on the other hand, many males are actually into photography because they are gadget freaks and love technique.

Although I do not think that this is scientifically proven, this does seem to be a distinct trend between the two sexes. Thus, and again this is only my view coming from years of practical experience, when digital (and the camera monitor) nudged out conventional photography, females now do not really need any more to concentrate so much on technique but have plunged fully into the art of photography and creativity. Again, one can now feel another distinct trend – female photographers seem to be steaming ahead into the forefront when it comes to conceptual photography and many times, seem to be leaving males lagging behind.
I do feel that both sexes can learn from each other. How fantastic would it be that photographers who are obsessed with technique would start adding context and message in their photographs and how ideal would it be if those employing context and message could supplement their work with the right technique and quality? I feel that this is another benefit, albeit not very recognized, that Digital photography has granted us. It has got everyone in ‘on the act’ and this undoubtedly gives photographic art a much wider breadth and dimension.


So males beware – we all need to further improve our game if we are to provide an adequate challenge to the fairer sex!

© Kevin Casha

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

The Print Portfolio – a thing of the past?

I was recently sorting out my old darkroom, preparing it for an overdue repainting and a restructuring, when I came across my old 12×16 inch print portfolio. Leafing through it, after leaving it inactive for quite some years, I started reflecting on another change which the Digital revolution has brought upon us. Today, very few photographers, (and models or actors), still use print portfolios. Most clients require only digital files, both to review or to see samples of photographic work and they are also more often than not to require digital files as a final product.  How times change – yet, I think, that in this matter, it is for the better.

 

The printed portfolio

The printed portfolio

 

Producing Digital portfolios costs so little as one does not need really to print photographs anymore. Previously, it was very costly to update portfolios but now, through using digital media, it is actually cost free. This has not been good news for photographic laboratories, but now, one can update work in step with one’s progress and improvement. The portfolios of anyone who uses them are today much more up to the minute and thus reflect the portfolio owner’s current levels and standards. It is also a faster process to diffuse and advertise one’s work. Most viewers of portfolios are not interested in print quality at all, but in the actual content. Seeing this content on screen instead of in print does not adversely affect them. Today’s photographers need to consider their output based on different media than previously. There are so many more options.

Still, one argument does persist – and I daresay will continue to persist – and that is that many people do still enjoy and relate with images more in depth if they are printed. This could stem from the fact that when viewing physical images or a book, one tends to concentrate more on the process than when viewing imagery on a screen. Our impatience usually makes us fly through imagery on screens. Photography book sales have not really decreased and the relatively recent option of printing custom books in any amount of copies, even one copy, keeps increasing. In fact, I believe this latter option perhaps is not exploited enough by photographers and other users of portfolios. A custom book can keep promoting one’s work indefinitely, particularly if placed in the right place. Leaving a book inside a drawer does not serve its purpose, but making sure it is visible and easily picked up by visitors to your studio, office or home, diffuses and promotes your work with little effort. Naturally, it is also important to have your name proudly displayed on the front cover of any book containing your work. This constantly evolving paradigm should also make photographers think more about online ways of promoting their work. With high quality video available in most DSLR cameras, one has the tools to produce little clips or tutorials so that these can be put up on online media and again show your work all over the globe. Producing custom books is relatively cheap and getting cheaper, whilst diffusing one’s work on online media is usually free.

It is also rather puzzling that Maltese photographers, in my opinion, are not really exploiting this media as much as they should. One does not see too many PDF portfolios produced by local photographers. I wonder why this is so when, again, this is so cheap and easy. PDF portfolios, if produced in the right manner and in a reasonable size that is easily manageable by email, can again boost the work and promote many photographers. Although on this island we seem to pride ourselves with being very up to date with modern technology, I have a feeling that most photographers seem to resist or not realize the full potential of this evolving technology and the many ways that they can utilize it.

Or are we too busy to explore new methods and ways of moving forward or are we just too lazy or engrossed in our day to day chores to open up our eyes to all these benefits? I hope this makes most of you reflect and take action before the whole world passes us by!

© Kevin Casha