Visual Culture: The Photographs of Pogus Caesar

pogus-caesar
Photo: © DMJ Images

LargeUp: You come from Birmingham by way of St. Kitts. How did being Caribbean steer your direction as a photographer working in the UK?

Pogus Caesar: It has always been important to document the world as I see it. Being in situations and having my camera at hand has been a blessing. The UK provides a rich seam of images, so I always shoot whatever interests me. Sometimes it takes years before I develop a photograph. Also with each photograph I take, I realise that I’m still learning my craft.

LU: What can you tell us about the West Indian community in Birmingham at the time?

PC: The West Indian community was very diverse, with most of the islands represented. Coming from St Kitts, the majority of people I interacted with were from Jamaica, Barbados and Nevis. The majority of jobs were either in factories, public transport and health. The community was proud and aspirational, never asking for more than a fair share from the motherland. However as the years passed by, an element of disappointment crept in. Even today it still remains.

LU: Were reggae performers visiting the city regularly?

PC: In the 1970s, Birmingham had a wealth of venues that would put on live music. Reggae performers were a weekly event. I remember the likes of John Holt, The Pioneers and Nicky Thomas all dressed up in tuxedos and bowties. The Wailers’ first gig in Birmingham was at Top Rank supporting Johnny Nash. Of course we were all aware of Nash, [but] when The Wailers came on, there was no dancing, no flash suits, just conscious lyrics. It was very different from what we were used to. So many Jamaican artists played in Birmingham, from Burning Spear, I-Roy, U-Roy, Leroy Smart, Jackie Mittoo, Peter Tosh… the list is endless.

LU: Tell us about your TV work and how you went from photography to TV/films?

PC: The production work started in the early 1980’s, working on multicultural programmes for British television. Firstly as a stringer for LWT , then a presenter for Central TV, progressing on to Director/Series Producer for Carlton TV. I left and joined the BBC in Manchester as a Senior Producer/Director, a few years later I returned to Carlton as a Series Editor. The series I was responsible for varied from politics, race, sport and entertainment and multicultural. I don’t see a dividing line between the still and moving image. I had always taken photographs. The situations I found myself in, it was important to document and archive. I have always used the same Canon film camera, bought in the 1980s—the grain in 35mm is what works best for me, so I’ll continue to use it.

LU: Your work has taken you to some interesting locations. Which was the most memorable?

PC: Each location has its merits. I have worked in some interesting places. I think Albania had it’s challenges. I found it difficult to take images. South America was really interesting. All of the countries hold memories, some of them captured on film.

LU: Your Muzik Kinda Sweet exhibition of music photographs became a book. Are there plans to turn your Reggae Kinda Sweet show into one as well?

PC: I have been asked on a number of occasions, when is Reggae Kinda Sweet going to be published? I would love to collaborate with a great writer and find a publisher who is sympathetic to those legendary reggae artists I had the pleasure to meet and photograph. There are hundreds of negatives in the OOM Gallery Archive, so [there is] a wealth of material to choose from.

LU: Do you only shoot black and white? Why?

PC: I would say 98% of the time I shoot in black and white, usually Ilford HP5 at 400asa. I just love the gain it produces, I also find it slightly unstable under certain conditions—sometimes it produces a washed out quality much like a painting. Of course, the Canon being a film camera, I have 36 frames, so selective shooting is important. There is no screen to view what I have taken, so it could be months before I see the results. I’m sure I’ll move to digital at some point. For the time being, I am fine with the basic equipment.

LU: What are your future plans?

PC: To keep documenting and learning more about my craft, a very important element. I am also presently collaborating on two books about my photographs, one set in Johannesburg and the other in Birmingham. We are exhibiting a small selection of photographs from Reggae Kinda Sweet at The Drum, Birmingham, UK from 3rd July-31 Aug 2013. It will be great to bring these images back home again.

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