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

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.