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 Photojournalist: the challenge of rightly interpreting the Story

The Photojournalist: the challenge of rightly interpreting the Story
By Kevin Casha

A recent statistic I encountered was that it is calculated that over 250 million images are posted per day on Facebook alone (source: Infographic Labs)! When one looks at the large majority of these pictures, one is many times at a loss in finding images worth investigating and reflecting on. This is rather a paradox, because with the amazing technology mankind has today, it should be more the case of equipment taking on a more diminutive role and the photographer’s brain and eyes doing most of the work. Alas it feels rather the opposite. Practitioners do not seem to be interested in mastering properly their equipment, taking this for granted and not concentrating enough, even before they put up their camera, on why they are shooting the picture, at what they want to convey, at what should be included or left out. Today there is also no real excuse at producing sub standard and defective work. Post processing software has given current photographers all the necessary tools to perfect and to create their images. Like the painter with a blank canvas, today’s photographer has the same accessibility and capability of producing whatever they have in their mind’s eye.

In this day and age of a plethora of, at times, meaningless digital imagery, the publication of a book like The Times Picture Annual (2013) is a proverbial breath of fresh air. I consider Photojournalists as a very purist breed. They mostly work in very difficult and challenging circumstances. They cannot, (thankfully), manipulate their images as it is ethically forbidden to manipulate their pictures. As several historical examples have shown, what one actually sees in a photograph is not ‘reality’ in the sense of the world, but an ‘interpretation of reality,’ influenced by the way that the photographer has cropped, selected or composed the image. So, primarily it is the photojournalist’s responsibility to depict the ‘story’ in a truthful, ethical and correct manner. Subsequently, this responsibility also falls on the editor or picture editor who is at a later stage entrusted with the photographer’s work. As Salman Rushdie rightly stated, “A photograph is a moral decision taken in one eighth of a second.”

I have now been heavily involved in photography for over thirty five years and one good trend I have noticed over the years is the increase in the standard and improved quality of local photojournalists. Do not get me wrong, there have been other great previous photojournalists, such as the evergreen Frankie Attard as well as Michael Ellul. Yet the current crop of relatively young photographers who have taken the medium by storm, during the last fifteen years or so, have managed to really raise the value and status of this vital genre. At this stage, I think that there is a person that has had a lot to do with this. He is none other than the editor of this Annual – Darrin Zammit Lupi. Darrin, who started working in photojournalism in 1992, is undoubtedly the standard bearer and champion of many current and future photojournalists. He has shown, despite the limitations, that even on a small island such as ours, it can be done. His journey has been a bumpy, difficult and highly challenging one but his passion has managed to surmount great obstacles. His work and dedication to the genre is inspiring and, together with other factors, has lifted local photojournalism to international level. I am positive that most of the talented current crop of photojournalists we have today look up at Darrin as their yardstick. We are lucky to have such a dedicated and talented person to inspire a number of true photojournalists who, due to today’s technology, are perhaps becoming a rarer breed.

Coming back to the eight edition of the Times Picture Annual, it is encouraging to notice the superb work of local photographers as well as the vote of confidence given by the book publisher in acknowledging their work. As is the norm, this yearly Annual gathers in it the best and most meaningful work of the photojournalists working for the Times of Malta and the Sunday Times of Malta. It is in fact a picture book with relatively little text – and that is how it should be. A striking image should not really require much text to convey its message. If a picture can hit home primarily through its visual impact, then it can truly transcend the barriers of time and language and be ‘read’ by any individual of whatever race, religion or creed. It is a delight to browse through this publication. The selection of images covers the salient points of what the island has undergone in 2013. The body of work as a whole is an obvious testimonial to the high standards of local photography that is perhaps sometimes taken for granted, yet the effort and dedication shown by the photographers should not be taken lightly. There are a great number of iconic images which not only tell a story, capture a fleeting or elusive instant but also evidence the admirable sensitivity, aesthetic and compositional sense of the photographers. One of the first pictures which made me stop in my tracks was Darrin’s haunting image of a Palestinian migrant child (p.14). Although depicting a tragedy, the hope in the child’s eyes makes us reflect on being optimistic of a possible solution. Darrin’s work with immigrants is well known and his other picture on p.19 is another ‘portrait’ with immense impact. This is not the same look as that of the child, but a look of desperation and fear of the unknown. The photograph by Chris Sant Fournier on pages 30-31 is a fantastic example of a picture which needs no text. There are so many stories in there: The plight of circus animals, the Arriva bus service, the boredom perhaps of the bus driver. The more one looks at this image, the more one uncovers interpretations and meanings. Jason Borg’s capture of an armed forces guard (p.35) is evidence of a keen eye and a calculated handling of light. A group of tourists at a bus stop is another subject which has been well captured by Jason (p.43). The irony of seeing the tourists in holiday gear miserably sheltering from a thunderstorm in a bus shelter contrasts heavily with the usual good weather that our island is blessed and promoted with. Jokingly, a more humorous interpretation could be that the seasons changed whilst these hapless tourists where waiting for the bus! On a more serious vein, the photojournalist has his work cut out when tackling ecological concerns. Lately, unfortunately, such subjects seem to abound and the photograph of dead fish in Marsascala (p.62) by Chris not only captures the moment but also tries to kindle awareness at such dangers.

Politics is a very hot topic in Malta, it could be our Mediterranean blood, so it is of no surprise to find a section allocated to this subject. The picture of the freshly elected Prime Minister, Dr. Joseph Muscat, saluting the crowds from the Palace after taking office is emblematic (p.64). The contrast with the staid classical architecture and the Grand Master’s bust adds that little bit extra to the image: what French philosopher Roland Barthes’ would term “Punctum.” Punctum refers to those obscure parts or details of a photograph that tend to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. Matthew Mirabelli has surely seen the potential of framing his picture in this manner. Another striking image of the new Prime Minister is that of Chris Sant Fournier on page 72. This is an exercise in keen perception also evidenced through Darrin’s daring crop in the image of Dr. Lawrence Gonzi and the newly elected leader of the opposition, Dr. Simon Busuttil (p.96). The image shows that compositional rules can be broken with a beneficial effect. Leaving politics aside and discussing a more pictorial image, Darrin’s depiction of two Red Arrows aircraft is a fantastic example of capturing the “decisive moment,” as Henri Cartier Bresson so aptly coined images which freeze a fleeting instant at exactly the right time. The same goes for Matthew’s photograph on page 106-107. The timing is just right. Jason Borg’s silhouette at the saltpans shows the effect of the photographer’s intervention. Here, Jason has not tried to depict or document detail but has gone for using light and form to the best effect. Darrin’s contribution on pages 123-124 also endorses his keen sense of composition and aesthetics. The use of tone, perfect exposure and the diagonal composition make this such a remarkable and striking image. Matthew’s photo of the new aquarium on page 143 is also another instant which ably portrays the enthusiastic love of nature that children possess. Matthew has not gone for a cliché picture showing the new building or general structure but has rightly honed in on the human element to instill interest and encourage interpretation.

Another interesting and important segment of the book is the Sport section. This genre of photojournalism has also seen a welcome growth during these last years. In recent years, photographers like Dominic Aquilina (in football) and Kurt Arrigo (in Yachting) have again proved great ambassadors for Maltese photography. Paul Zammit Cutajar is also another very valid photographer who freelances for the Times and so is also featured in this book. Paul’s enthusiasm shows through in his images. The image on page 172 of the Birkirkara Football club’s celebrations is an impressive photograph which, through its monochromatic and compositional factors, clearly brings out the fiery and celebratory emotions of that particular moment in time.

Naturally, there are many more images which consider further scrutiny and appreciation but I prefer to leave a bit of curiosity to the buyers of this book. Full marks to the publishers of this book for the support, belief and confidence they have shown with the continued publication of this series. Just one last word which I would like to end with: I know that printing and publication costs are high and it is not easy to commercially justify such books, but I would have loved to see this book graced with a hard cover. It thoroughly deserves it!

© Kevin Casha
Master FSWPP; FMIPP; AMPS.
President Malta Institute of Professional Photography

www.kevincasha.com
http.//kevincasha/com/blog

(this review was published in the Times of Malta, 31st December, 2013)

MODEL MATTERS – an interview with UK model Nikki Hafter

Model Matters
by Kevin Casha
http://kevincasha.com/blog/

I had the fortune of meeting Nikki Hafter whilst doing a photography workshop at the Societies Convention in London, in January 2013. It was a somewhat fortuitous meeting as Nikki was assigned by the organizers to be my model during the workshop I was conducting. I was instantly very impressed by her preparation and professionalism. We hit it off straightaway and the images which came out of our collaboration clearly evidenced that . Having worked with models for over thirty years, it’s not every day that I am impressed by up and coming models, but Nikki was one exception. Her maturity and intelligent mind actually belies her young age.

Nikki Hafter with a 'familiar' Malta background during the MIPP convention workshop with John Denton

Nikki Hafter with a ‘familiar’ Malta background during the MIPP convention workshop with John Denton

So I met the news with pleasure when Juliet and Phil Jones, who regularly collaborate with the Malta Institute of Professional Photography’s (MIPP), agreed to bring over Nikki as UK lecturer John Denton’s model for the October convention. This time, during a hectic three day schedule, I took the opportunity of interviewing her and trying to discover what makes her tick.
Modelling has always been a tricky and demanding job. One does not only have to be beautiful and talented, (as Nikki surely is), but intelligent enough to navigate through many pitfalls as well as sift through people who are really interested in art and the model’s professional input and those who have ulterior, not so noble motives.

Nikki is a 23 year old full time model who hails from London, UK. She is a graduate of Fine Art so she is naturally creative in various art spheres. She models for runway, photography, video and fine art, including classic and very stylish nude work. During the last year, she has established a great working relationship with photographer and tutor, John Denton, and has been regularly working and gaining experience all around Europe. She had got to know John through a friend of hers who had previously modelled for him.

Nikki actually started out by modelling for a hair salon at the young age of seventeen. In fact an offshoot of her involvement with hair salons is that she also learned to dye her own hair.
She recalls that she participated in a nationwide contest and made it not only to the grand finale, but actually winning and being given the opportunity to feature on the front cover of Hairdresser’s Journal Magazine. Her commitment to both her modelling and art career was tested when the actual cover shoot clashed with her university graduation art show. Typical of Nikki’s drive and determination, she ended up squeezing in both in one day!
Whilst studying at Leeds University, she had met sculptor David Williams Ellis who invited her to model in the nude for one of his works. This was Nikki’s first experience of art nude modelling, though she had herself drawn from nude models many times during her art education. She was lucky as her parents are quite open-minded and their policy with Nikki was to give her space and, in their own words let her “do whatever makes you happy.”
After graduating, Nikki had spent some time at care job, but found the level of emotional commitment and long hours very challenging, so she took made her take the plunge into full time modelling. She secures her work through model agencies as well as independently and through social media.

Nikki has a naturally beautiful delicate complexion and, when needed, she expertly does her own make up to perfection. I think her smooth, flawless skin is particularly ideal for strong studio lighting and will avoid the photographer plenty of tedious hours at post processing. There is really very little to correct in Nikki. Although she does not really involve herself with dieting, her lifestyle is always geared at keeping herself and her body healthy. Nikki is a pescetarian, loves fish and is intolerant to dairy products. She actively frequents a gym and loves swimming. Drinking a lot of water also helps as well as her love for the outdoor life – although she takes care to use sun cream due to her delicate complexion. No more so than during her visit to Malta!

Nikki Hafter with Kevin Casha during the interview

Nikki Hafter with Kevin Casha during the interview

Nikki prefers working on a one to one basis with photographers as it contributes to establish a better working relationship and that way she can also collaborate more in depth through her personal input. During a workshop, with various participants shooting at the same time, that is not really possible. It is always better when a model and a photographer are regularly working together as this usually guarantees better and more creative results.

A tip for models, coming from Nikki, is that in such a competitive world, if one thinks he or she is good at what one does, do not be afraid to ask for fair remuneration for your work. For Nikki, modelling is a serious job and, as I can vouch for, models need to do so much background work and effort to try and remain in the business – a business which, like photography, is becoming ever so more difficult to maintain due to the hordes of people now doing it for free. Still, Nikki is not bigheaded at all, and has her feet firmly planted on the ground, so she does recognize the difficulty and importance of maintaining standards. People who do not keep a bargain or take advantage highly irritate Nikki. She sometimes finds people who try to get more time or change the rules during a session.

Nikki is aware of how short a model’s flame can last, so she is already looking towards the future. Her wish is to be able to have more opportunities not only to model professionally, but to involve herself in styling, make up and props. Her keen visual sense will surely provide her with such chances in the near future.
She sees her future mostly as a further extension of her artistic lifestyle and is considering involving herself more and more in the art world. Yes, another fickle and difficult job, but then with her talents, definitely not beyond her. She likes sculpting and installations and works mainly from found objects and media. Performance art is another of her pet likes – and she has had good experience on this: what is modelling but a form of performance art? Nikki motivates herself with the right people, particularly when they are creative. She mentions sculptor and installation artist, Cornelia Anne Parker as an influence and an inspiration. Nikki is looking forward to completing an artist’s residency next year, between January and March, in Berlin, considered by many to be today’s culture capital.

I really wish Nikki the ability to retain her independence, retain her charm and enthusiasm for life and continue doing what she inspires her but at the same time manage to balance this with a job that can ensure her future. All she needs is her continued determination and yes, why not, the right breaks!

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

Review of the Likeness Project by Anthony Catania

 

Back to square one, a (re)visitation to vintage portrait photography in Kevin Casha’s The Likeness Project.

In his treatise on photography Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes observes an enigmatic equivalence in a portrait photograph taken in 1865 by Alexander Gardner. The sitter is Lewis Payne, a prisoner about to be hanged for conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Barthes says that ‘by giving me the absolute past of the pose… the photograph tells me death in the future’.

Lewis Payne, Alexander Gardner 1865

Lewis Payne, Alexander Gardner 1865

In his recent exhibition The Likeness Project, held at St James Cavalier, Kevin Casha also revisits the early days of photography to search for acumen in portraiture. He approaches this venture by paradoxically working with the latest professional photographic camera equipment and Adobe Photoshop technology.

The first thing we are presented with in The Likeness Project is an artist’s statement showing a photographer struggling with his inner demons. He condemns his past glamorous portraiture career and is now ‘trying to capture people in a truer and more realistic way – attempting as much as possible not to alter reality …’. He further describes how in the beginning of photography the portrait was also known as a likeness, hence the title of this exhibition. The aim of this project, he says, is to invite the audience to search for ‘hidden nuances … that can possibly … give a deeper insight into our character.’

What Casha displays in this exhibition is a series of thirteen equal sized grey-scaled portraits of anonymous sitters juxtaposed by a copy of a dictionary’s definition of the word portraiture. Each perfectly squared panel is a fivefold showing the same person from different angles and in various light exposures. The upper diptych consists of opposing silhouettes, whilst the lower triptych is formed by two classical profiles, the three-quarter-view portrait and the frontal, shown conjointly with its inverted state. This inversion, which harks back to the vintage negative reel, has the ambience of spectrality. Casha very wisely places it in the centre of the lower set, giving prominence to the model’s Orphic gaze.

Casha allows us only a number to identify each sitter. This anonymity further conjures the viewer’s subconscious mind to recollect connections. One could associate friends, family members, acquaintances or perhaps archetypal figures from history or literature.  For instance, the elongated features of the silhouetted images in portrait number ten remind me strongly of the Egyptian eighteenth dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamun. The melanchonic face of portrait number one’s ghostly negative image, stikes me as an Edgar Alan Poe’s Madeline falling into one of her cataleptic, deathlike trances.

There are many questions being asked in this exhibition.

Why are all these sitters presented in the same formulaic manner? Appearances are deceptive and to countenance for it, Casha creates a structured procedure that makes one feel these persons are being equated. Not in the Orwellian sense where people are language controlled but in what the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre says in his existentialist essay Being and Nothingness, ‘All human activities are equivalent … and … all are on principle doomed to failure’.  

Why is Casha showing us the dictionary’s definition of the word ‘portraiture’? Is he implying or connoting Plato’s concept of Forms, showing us that the idea is superior to the material world of constant flux? Reminiscent of Joseph Kosuth, Casha is highlighting the relation between language, image and referent thus inserting this exhibition in the terrain of conceptual art.

Marcel Proust wrote in his most prominent work In Search of Lost Time, ‘Habit is a second nature it keeps us in ignorance of the first, and is free of its cruelties and enchantments.’ Casha is surely not showing what we are habitually used to seeing in Maltese photography.

 

Anthony Catania