Artist in focus: Pogus Caesar

Join artist Pogus Caesar as he takes spontaneous photographs, gives advice on how to capture the moment, and explains why nosiness is part of portraiture.

Reflecting on his beginnings, Pogus Caesar explains how we can make art even without money or resources. With the same camera that he has used for decades, he heads out and about to take photographs of strangers, demonstrating how politeness and curiosity are important in his photography.

In a dark room studio, Pogus Caesar looks back at photographs he has taken, and explains what he loves about shooting on film. He explains why mystery and surprise are part of his process. He gives advice about learning from mistakes; how to seize the moment to capture spontaneous photographs; and using your instincts as an artist.

 

  • There’s nothing more thrilling and magnetic and magical about taking photographs. And that’s why I do it and continue to do it.

    I’m Pogus Caesar and I’m an artist. I’m mainly a photographer and I work in all kinds of genres, but I tend to use analogue cameras which use film. I tried digital cameras, but they just didn’t work for me. What I love about my camera is the “ch-click”, “ch-click” and the “glrrrrr”. I love those sounds, it’s very organic.

    Never let money hold you back. The sun is the most natural free light and the most natural flash that you can get.

    I came from the Caribbean, St Kitts in the West Indies, at a young age and I think one of the things that fascinated me was my dad used to have lots of books, and I was fascinated by them they transported me to lands that I never knew anything about.

    One of the reasons that I take photographs is that I’m actually quite a nosey person. “Excuse me, do you mind if I take your photograph?” Nosiness is part of the game. It’s just not about taking photographs at all.

    “No smiling, just be very proud.”

    You know, there’s a whole bundle of emotions when you’re actually snapping. I usually tend to see the subject way before they see me. I think trying to build relationships with people whom I’m taking photographs of is very, very important because you’re a stranger and they’re a stranger also. And I think the main thing is to, you know, be nice, be courteous and try and find the right moment to take the photograph.

    In terms of relationships, I first took a photograph of Benjamin Zephaniah in the 1980s. And the opportunity to work with him again in the early 2000s, where I actually went back to Sparkbrook in Birmingham, where I grew up and I photographed the local community. There was a book called Sparkbrook Pride Benjamin wrote the foreword to it. He’s a great poet, he’s a great musician, he’s a great inspiration.

    There’s that mystery with the camera. You never know what you’ve got until you take the film to the lab and you get it processed. And that mystery is what really enthralls me, because you get heightened anticipation. When I look at what I’ve taken, it’s never ever how I imagined it to be. Because I could take a photograph today and not take another photograph until maybe two weeks later. And then by the time the whole roll is finished, it may be a period of eight months.

    The amount of mistakes that I’ve made in my life, taking photographs, and I’ve done things like shooting over the same roll of film, losing film, erm, sometimes not having a lens cap open. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you’ll learn so much.

    I think spontaneity is very, very important. If you see something and you feel like taking the photograph, just do it. Because even if you walk away and you think “ah, let me go back”, it’s a completely different moment. It’s a different feeling. The light would change, and you’d be amazed how the photograph that you think that you should have taken, is not the one that you go back and you take. You feel the moment, take it. You see the moment, take it. Seize the time. Don’t worry about why you think you took it. There’s something in you that says, I like this face. This face is a great face to take a photograph of. And if you feel that inside you and you’ve got the camera and the camera’s there and the camera’s saying use me, document. And you use it and you document. And once you get that “click” and the film rolls on, you know you’ve got it.

    If there was one bit of advice that I would give to the younger me, it would be to be bold, be brave, have no fear. Surprise yourself constantly, and just go and do it. Because, you know, the only person that’s stopping you, is you.

    This camera has taken over 17,000 photographs. I’m still making mistakes, I’m still learning. I’m still learning how to take photographs, as strange as it seems because people are changing, the way they are dressing is changing, attitudes are changing, even the light and even the weather is completely changing. So, I have to relearn myself every time I take my camera out. “Click” that’s it.

Learning objectives

  1. Gather inspiration from the life, work and creative practices of a contemporary artist.
  1. Explore the creative practices and techniques of a portrait photographer.
  1. Consider how to make creative decisions in portrait photography.

Watch and discuss

  1. Pogus Caesar talks about the importance of spontaneity in his photography. To what extent is spontaneity part of your practice?
  1. Pogus Caesar discusses mistakes he has made and learned from. Is this something you can relate to? How have mistakes improved your artwork, or other areas of your life?
  1. What changes have you observed through making your artwork? They could be changes in your life, or in the wider world. Is change positive, negative or neutral for you?