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!

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

The Likeness Project – Outcomes

OUTCOMES OF THE LIKENESS PROJECT EXHIBITION

My photography exhibition, The Likeness Project, has now closed for viewing. Still, I would like the idea’s provocation and the debate to carry on.

general view of the exhibition set up at St James Cavalier, Centre for Creativity

General view of the exhibition set up at St James Cavalier, Centre for Creativity

In fact, from the amount of comments and interest the work has generated, I have decided to soon post all comments on this blog. This will serve to evaluate the outcomes and reflection that came out from this concept.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those who visited the exhibition and took time to write down their views. A big thanks also goes to the persons who kindly co-operated and accepted to be photographed for the project.

I have now posted below a few of the exhibits for those who for some reason or other did not manage to view it.

It is also with pleasure that I can announce I will now be exhibiting this project at the London Hilton in January 2013.

The debate goes on….

 

THE LIKENESS PROJECT

THE LIKENESS PROJECT

THE LIKENESS PROJECT

THE LIKENESS PROJECT

THE LIKENESS PROJECT

THE LIKENESS PROJECT

View also Vanadium Avenue blog – http://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/the-likness-project-exhibition-by-kevin-casha/

 

The Likeness Project

Artist’s Statement – The Likeness Project

It is not easy for a person to live and breathe photography and to keep challenging and stimulating himself with his work. It is a hunger which needs to be satiated every day.

It is also a shocking awakening when an artist sometimes gets that sinking feeling that he has done it all wrong and his path has, perhaps, taken him nowhere he would currently like to be.

Making a living from professional photography has never been easy, particularly now, in this extremely competitive and saturated digital world. For me it has always been trying to find a balance between my commercial and my artistic work. My commercial stimulus has always been that paid work would subsidize my personal projects. I have always had to work hard to get results.

Recently I have been asking myself where I want to go from here. A career of over thirty years is not easy to handle and it seems to get harder to map out one’s journey.

Although a general practitioner, I am mostly known for my portrait and fashion photography, which used to rather satisfy and content me. But currently I have been tortured by doubts about this genre of photography. Is it all made up? Is it all fictitious? Have I really been creating images which show character, mood or a message? Searching deep in my soul and my work I can only come up with few images which fit these criteria.

This is where this exhibition, and its name, “The Likeness Project”, come in.

The Likeness Project

The Likeness Project

Why Likeness? In the early days of photography, portraits where actually termed as “Likenesses” and photographers toiled in order that in some way, compete and better the work of painters and their portraits.  A “Likeness” rarely attempted to show anything more than a similarity and a record of the person.

Matters changed drastically as technology progressed and photographers, (as well as their subjects), strayed further and further away from the truth to create idealised or clichéd portraits of their sitters.

The more I think about my past work, the more I am inclined to revert back and return to the basics of photography – of trying to capture people in a truer and more realistic way – attempting as much as possible not to alter reality and just showing and conserving people’s real features, moods and characters.

The work in this collection consists of images which all have the human element as their subject. Images which are basically unaltered and which require and intrigue the viewer to look deeply and in detail at the subtle nuances of a portrait by comparing silhouettes, facial negatives and portraits simply shot with natural north light coming from a window – just as vintage studio portraiture was originally conducted in the early days of the medium.

My subjects were instructed not to apply any make up or physical enhancements, not to wear any jewellery or ornaments and where only given a plain black top to wear.

In this exhibition, the idea is to invite and encourage those viewers, who must not know the actual subjects, to write down their thoughts on such matters as what they consider the subject’s characteristics, mannerisms etc. to be. That way a debate can hopefully be entered into as to whether the portrait as we know it has been giving us the wrong impression of a person’s countenance and character.  Perhaps hidden nuances about the subjects can be possibly borne out and give a deeper insight into our character than fictitious, unnatural, posed portraits.

The main manipulation I have done to the images is by turning them into monochrome to remove the distraction of colour and to also give them a timeless, retro feel.

 

Kevin Casha – The Likeness Project

St James Cavalier for Creativity, Valletta, Malta 2012

Frammenti di Donna – a photographic exhibition

“Frammenti di Donna”

During the past years, the Malta Institute of Professional Photography (MIPP) has been actively following a policy of networking and cooperation with various Photographic entities around Europe and the Mediterranean. The main aim has been to empower local photographers and enable them to enhance their vision of the work of other countries and photographers in order to further push the boundaries of their photography.

Due to this policy, the MIPP has managed to bring over to Malta a series of interesting photography exhibitions which help to inspire local artists. “Frammenti di Donna,” showing at Palazzo Xara in St Paul’s Street, Rabat, is the latest of these exhibitions. It will be open to the general public from the 1st to the 26th October, 2012.

The work exhibited hails from the Sicilian Fotoclub Le Gru, who have already been cooperating on various visits and projects with the MIPP. In fact, a delegation from the Group will be in Malta for an exchange visit and for the actual inauguration of the exhibition.

As the name implies, the exhibition concerns the female sex. Women have always been an attractive and inspiring subject for all artists, and photographers are no exception.  The debate on the exploitation of women in art, advertising and commercials will surely rage on interminably and revolves and fluctuates according to the different perceptions, customs and religion of various nations, but one sure thing is that artists will never cease to be intrigued by the mystery as well as the controversy and attraction that surrounds the female gender.

© Rosario di Maria

© Rosario di Maria, Frammenti Di Donna Exhibition

This exhibition attempts to capture instants in which a glimpse of this mystery and attraction is evidenced. Most of the images in this exhibition try to show us curious moments and insights of women’s presence in the world around us. Although the sexuality, eroticism and beauty of the female body are not neglected, other less obvious, perhaps less evident, facets of everyday life are also explored. This gives this collection an interesting and curious cross section of the theme and encourages discussion and debate.

© Silvano Bicocchi

© Silvano Bicocchi, Frammenti Di Donna Exhibition

The image by Silvano Bicocchi, subtly shows the hands of a hard working woman. Hands which carry a message of toil and sacrifice that a woman sometimes goes through in her married life. A picture by Rosario di Maria contrasts sharply with this. Di Maria captures the sexual beauty of a young woman in an artistic, romantic manner – introducing slight movement in order to breathe more life into the image. Two different sides of the same coin.

© Donna Manta

© Donna Manta, Frammenti di Donna Exhibition

Again a very different angle is depicted by Donna Manta. Her image of an adolescent coloured girl, peacefully at rest in what seems to be a hospital bed, conjures the plight of women risking their lives to try and escape the harshness and perils of countries were women are treated as little more than slaves. The restful and, seemingly, exhausted but peaceful deep sleep of the girl hopefully augurs a brighter future in a new, better beginning.

© Gabriele Rigon

© Gabriele Rigon, Frammenti di Donna Exhibition

Gabriele Rigon’s nude combines the sensuality of the human figure with the everyday habitual motions of smoking – perhaps after a night of passionate love? The shallow depth of field enhances well the softness and curves of the model.

Paola Garofalo’s image of a girl at her toilette plays on the effect of multiplicity and reflection – rather reminiscent of the work of Chiara Fersini, recently shown in Malta again during another MIPP international exhibition. Available light and colour is put to good use here.

© Paola Garofalo

© Paola Garofalo, Frammenti Di Donna Exhibition

Santo Mongioi’s cubism inspired photograph gives a different, yet somewhat semi abstract view of the theme. It is quite arty in its rendition and I believe that work such as this should be commended and more exploited and explored by photographers.

Daniela Sidari’s images hint on the female form through the clever use of shop manikins as her chosen subject matter. Using positive and  negative versions of her images and combining them in a diptych, she has managed to create an aura of clinical, inquisitive coldness, again encouraging the viewer to examine form and light on the contours of the “female’s” body.

© Danela Sidari

© Danela Sidari – Frammenti Di Donna Exhibition

These are just a few of the images I have singled out that have particularly intrigued and fascinated me. I am sure that visitors will have their own favourites and areas of debate, opinion and discussion.

I urge photographers and artists alike, as well as the general public, to view the interesting works of the Le Gru members at Palazzo Xara and try to delve deeper into the fascinating world of women.

Viewing Times (free entry) are:

Mon – Sun  from 09:00 – 24:00

1st October to 26th October, 2012

 

Kevin Casha

© 2012

 

Learn, Evolve and Network!

 

Tuition and Learning.Two ever-present buzzwords in today’s lifestyle. The irony of it all is that in the sphere of photography, with all the teaching and learning opportunities there are, most of those jumping on the popular photography bandwagon are sadly drastically cutting corners where one cannot cut corners – in technique!

Continue reading

Introduction & Welcome

 

Dear Photography Lovers,

I welcome those who are seeing my Blog for the first time. It is my latest endeavour to try and stimulate discussion and networking on the wonderful and intriguing world of photography.

I encourage all to comment or add remarks to the blog, view also my gallery images and give their remarks, but most of all, I want you to participate in the various debates I intend to publish in this space – naturally, all pertaining to our medium – Photography.

thanks for subscribing,

Kevin

A moment of Reflection….

 

During a recent lull in my usual busy, somewhat stormy lifestyle, I was experiencing, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, a feeling of dissatisfaction about my photography. Trying to find inspiration and perhaps some answers to my “artist’s block,” I picked up a book by Reza Deghati, entitled “War and Peace,” (www.nationalgeographic.com/books).

This book had been given to me a few months ago by one of my ex-students as well as a dear friend, Charles Mifsud.  I had not yet had the time to savor it fully.

Continue reading