An interview with Alex Coghe by Stephen Cosh

WARNING : THIS POST CONTAINS EXPLICIT IMAGES

Alex Coghe is a world renowned street photographer and I’ve followed his work for years, however it wasn’t until I interviewed him that I saw there was more to the man than his street work…

 

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Hi Alex, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background.

I am an Italian Photographer, and have been living in Mexico for 5 years. I’ve never just been a photographer, I was born a writer.

My profession is therefore a union of various activities: I am a photo-journalist. In the past I have written articles about Mexico for an Italian Magazine. I have also had experience as a political journalist but now I interview artists, especially photographers, for my blog and for The Leica Camera Blog.

I also have experience as a photo editor, a skill that I now apply to my publications. The most recent is The Street Photographer Notebook, a project that I’ve just started but that already has been greeted with much enthusiasm from street photographers around the world.

I consider all my professional entities equally important, I’ve never been just a photographer. I hold workshops, for example. And I still offer my journalist services.

I think Photography for me has been an evolution, an extension of my experience as a creative a writer. Poetry is an admission of loneliness and when I realised that I had no more time for this, my camera has become my pen. I will never abandon writing, but I’ve delegated the exploration of my soul to photography.

 

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Alex you are known throughout the digital world for your street photography. How and when did you get into street as a genre?

Well I actually began seriously in 200, but before that I had studied it alot. All the work done without a camera helped me a lot in terms of a solid base.

There were just a few resources on the internet then and books have been very important for me.

 

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What is it about street photography that compels you to get out and shoot?

The sense of self challenge. Street Photography is probably the most challenging genre and I consider it a permanent school for the photographer. I would advise all photographers to practice on the street because even a studio photographer will benefit from it.

For me Street Photography is an attitude, a state of mind. When I am shooting in the studio i still apply the approach of street photography.

But the main reason I shoot street and walk miles exploring places in the city si the feeling that at any moment I can be surprised and get as excited as a child, and the street is always and experience within an experience where you can meet new people and hear their stories.

To be a good street photographer you must have empathy for people. If you do not have a sincere interest in your subjects you will never get good photographs of them.

 

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Recently you have entered into erotic photography. Why this move and how does it link with your street work.

I’m just exploring another part of being a photographer.

I’m a commercial photographer and sometimes I’m not a contractually restricted from showing the images I made which is a pain. I respect the agreements with my clients, but I am pleased with some of this work ,especially my work for fashion brands. I would share but I can’t by agreement, so a year or so ago I launched the Mexicana Magazine project. It is a project where my followers finally can know another side of my work.

I don’t think I need to find a connection between my street work and erotic or fashion photography, but you can certainly see some elements typical of my vision as a street photographer inside my work with models.

I use the available light most of the time and my approach to this genre is the same as my approach to street, looking for that special candid moment. Yeah, erotica and fashion is “set” photography, but I am always looking for the “random moment”, that special, natural moment avoiding fake expressions and poses.

Mexicana Magazine is not just erotic photography, inside you will also find good documentary.

 

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Between street and erotic photography, which do you find the most creative and why?

Both are creative in a different way. I think creative ideas in erotic photography can be more interesting as I am not alone like I am in the street.

I do not direct my models. It is real creative work with them. We have equal power. They are in front of a camera and I’m behind it, but there is always a dialogue and a shared experience. I think erotica is like sex; it can never be one-way. The result would be bad.

 

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Can you tell us about the kit you use to shoot with, especially the Leica gear and how you go about processing your images?

I have been using a Leica X2 for two years now after delivering work on assignment from Leica Camera AG.

The Leica X2 is my main camera. I use it for street photography, photojournalism, fashion and erotica.

As a photographer I don’t need a lot of equipment or big cameras.

I have two ways to work with Leica X2. When on the streets I use the X2 like an analogue camera: LCD turned off, and shoot black and white JPEG without RAW (DNG), optical viewfinder and pre-set focus. When I am working with models I prefer to work with the electronic viewfinder, autofocus and of course I work in RAW.

In my opinion, this camera is always best with manual exposure.

For street photography I don’t edit the files that much. Sometimes I add contrast but that’s all.

For erotica and fashion, yeah I work the images with Adobe Lightroom where I will choose colour or black and white and of course I alter the mood and aesthetics to suit the shoot’s particular requirements.

 

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What is next for Alex Coghe?

I will continue to devote myself to the projects that I have… with two magazines there is a lot of work to do.

I need to prepare work for the agency I am collaborating with: it will be a classical photojournalistic piece, here in Mexico City.

I have other projects and ideas for 2015, but right now I can’t tell you about them. I will announce them when they are ready to go.

 

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Thanks Alex!

Alex Coghe website

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A day with Summilux-M 50mm ASPH – Possibly the ‘best’ standard lens ever made!

An article written for The Leica Meet by Jip Van Kuijk

The lust

I have wanted a ’50 Lux. ASPH in my collection for quite a while, so after much deliberation, I finally bit the bullet. My finish of choice was the silver chrome version, which, if you’ve ever compared it to the black version, (almost) weighs a ton. It’s easy to see why tho; the black version is made of anodised aluminium, while the silver is build of solid chromed brass. It’s all brass, even the lens hood. While it’s heavy on the M (Typ 240), it’s truly a joy to use; it instantly felt right when handling it for the first time, especially the wonderful aperture and focus operation. This is a geek with a new toy. A very happy geek.

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The lens and the camera, M (Typ 240) with Summilux-M 50mm

First impression

On first use, I was astounded by the performance wide open (f/1.4) and slightly stopped down at f/2. Naturally, I didn’t expect anything else, but the reality is impressive. Some further testing showed that even at the closest focus ranges, the performance is very high indeed. This is clearly made possible by the floating element at the rear of the lens. Due to this element, the focus is smooth, yet slightly stiffer than other lenses. And gosh, is this lens ever beautiful on the chrome M.

Blossom blooming in winter

Blossom blooming in winter

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After my initial play, I just couldn’t wait to test the lens further and get some more images with it. Since the weather was warm (18˚C, in fact – really warm for winter in the Netherlands) I decided on a lovely location, the beach at Cadzand-Bad. If you’ve never been, it’s a great place for some fresh air and landscape shots, even more so with the 50 Lux. I love the old style of the wooden breakwaters they have on the beach there, especially compared to the harsh modern concrete crosses they have elsewhere.  They made for a nice subject on a winter’s day, that while warm, was ultimately colder than anticipated. We can thank the strong sea breeze for that. As long as I didn’t stand in the shade for too long, the bright sun kept me warm enough.

Breakwaters and me, at Cadzand-Bad

Breakwaters and me, at Cadzand-Bad

The sea and wet sand was causing glare and reflection, so I made use of Leica’s Universal Polarizing filter. This not only cut them right down, but also acted as a two stop ND filter, allowing me to shoot in very bright light. An ideal combination of both effects in one handy package, like killing two birds with one stone, or like we say in the Netherlands, ‘Twee vliegen in een klap’. I was concerned that the filter might cause reflections of it’s own, but the lens performed really well, even against direct sunlight. I only managed to get the lens to flare in a single photo; pretty good if you ask me.

Footsteps on the beach, at Cadzand-Bad

Footsteps on the beach, at Cadzand-Bad

Just when I thought the lens couldn’t amaze me any more, the shots just kept coming. I didn’t shoot wide open a lot, as I wanted a deep depth of field on the beach, mainly shooting between f/4 and f/8 to maximise the depth captured. Returning to the handling again for a moment; the focus and aperture feel really good, better than the Summicron-M in my opinion. The focus tab is also a welcome change from the 50 Cron; I found it make focusing faster and easier, especially when focusing on people. For more precision, you can still use the knurled ring, so it’s the best of both worlds – you don’t have to use the tab if it’s not to your taste.

Against direct sunlight, used the pol filter to remove reflections on the wet sand behind the breakwaters. At Cadzand-Bad

Against direct sunlight, used the pol filter to remove reflections on the wet sand behind the breakwaters. At Cadzand-Bad

Golden hour

As the sun started to set itself into the sea, I made my way up into the Dunes to find new shots. I love the texture of the dune grass, it’s subtle colour against the sand gives a soft pastel palette when lit by the golden glow of the setting sun. Just add some great bokeh from the 50 Lux and you simply can’t go wrong! I was lucky enough to have a model on hand in the form of my companion Lorenz, who’d been along for the ride to shoot some long exposures with a 6 stop ND filter on his M8/50 Cron combo. As he was going through his shots of rocks in the sea, I took the opportunity to grab a few shots. Note the subtlety of the out of focus areas in front of him, and the creaminess of those behind.

Lorenz checking his results, at Cadzand-Bad dunes

Lorenz checking his results, at Cadzand-Bad dunes

Even wide open, the 50 Lux is sharp from edge to edge, it’s performance is sharp, with a subtle vignette, which I love. I feel it actually adds to the images and certainly shouldn’t be considered a negative point. The colour rendition of the lens is also very pleasing, but I haven’t really been able to compare it directly with other lenses. I’m planning a 50mm lens comparison in the near future, to show the different qualities of each lens for a variety of subjects. I have always been a big fan of the 50mm Summicron-M and it’s angle of view; now I think the 50 Lux will become my most used lens. It’s as if a whole new world of possibilities has opened up to me.

View from the Cadzand-Bad dunes

View from the Cadzand-Bad dunes

 

An article written for The Leica Meet by Jip Van Kuijk

Memory, Narration and Curation in Photography by Mick Yates

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In recent meetings and photo shoots with friends, I have been attempting to self-appraise my photography – when do I shoot my best work, when do I not? Perhaps a little presumptuously, what is my signature style, when am I doing a good job? And therefore what should I focus on in 2015?

Having been a “serious” photographer my entire post-teenage life, it has probably been too easy to slip into travel snaps, family record keeping and simple reportage. In the past eighteen months, I have been getting into “street” photography quite seriously (and even published on the subject). Yet, it does seem that a little more thought is required, before pressing that shutter release.

So, how should we think of our “photographic voice“?

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A perfect place to start is “The Decisive Moment” (1952) by Henri Cartier-Bresson, just re-published in a superb edition. I was lucky enough to receive this as a Christmas present.

My favourite paragraph?

“Memory is very important, particularly in respect to the recollection of every picture you’ve taken while you’ve been galloping at the speed of the scene itself. The photographer must make sure, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps, that he has really given expression to the meaning of the scene in its entirety, for afterward it is too late. He is never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again.”

Whilst Cartier-Bresson is adamantly against the “shoot everything as fast as you can” approach that is used by so many with high-speed DSLRs (myself included), he absolutely advocates extracting the maximum possible meaning from the scene presented to the photographer.

He goes on to say:

“There is subject in all that takes place in the world, as well as in our personal universe. We cannot negate subject. It is everywhere So we must be lucid toward what is going on in the world, and honest about what we feel.

Subject does not consist of a collection of facts, for facts in themselves offer little interest. Through facts, however, we can reach an understanding of the laws that govern them, and be better able to select the essential ones which communicate reality.”

So the subject is all important, but the reality of the subject isn’t a simple depiction.

I have also been reading John Berger’s “Understanding a Photograph” (1967), where he addresses “memory” in photography.

“I am not saying that memory is a kind of film. That is a banal simile. … Unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. They offer appearances – with all the credibility and gravity we normally lend to appearances – prised away from meaning. Meaning is the result of understanding functions.”

“Photographs in themselves do not narrate. Photographs preserve instant appearances. Habit now protects us against the shock involved in such preservation.”

Simply capturing an image, however technically skilled, without giving it a meaning is not enough. Narration is needed.

Berger also notes:

“Memory is not unlinear at all. Memory works radially, that is too say with an enormous number of associations all leading to the same event.”

And

“When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future. … Yet unlike the storyteller or painter or actor, the photographer only really makes, in any one photograph, a single constitutive choice: the choice of the instant to be photographed. The photograph, compared with other means of communication, is therefore weak in intentionality.”

Looking at an image as a mere “instance” isn’t enough to provide any real meaning.

In reviewing my own work, I “feel” most comfortable when telling a story. Une histoire. In recent times, two of my images seem the most satisfactory in this regard, both offering a pictorial examination of an “event”.

The first I have referenced before, showing a short-lived interplay between worlds at a pedestrian crossing, in Dublin. There’s lots of context and content in this shot – layered memories perhaps. I just love the expression on the girl’s faces, and the almost “defiant” attitude of the ‘lady”.

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The second, in Glasgow, was taken late at night in the rain, with two young women, obviously seeking a party, sheltering together almost against the odds.

There is context and layered content, and a capture that tried to sum things up at that exact time for the two women.

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Both are telling a story. And, interestingly, both are amongst my most liked recent pictures on social media. Of course, one should never be swayed by false praise (how do we value “likes”?), but it does seem to me that art is so often “in the eye of the beholder”, whatever the artist’s intent, so it is a useful view about how others see images.

Berger led me to read more, including Susan Sontag, in On Photography (1977)

“ … such [photographic] images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real.”

This seems to underpin the idea that the photographer is interpreting the real, as a photograph combines both gritty reality at that moment, and the artist’s interpretation or composition built around it – the “memory” he or she is attempting to create.

That said, Sontag also noted:

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”

If people are never “seen as themselves”, in a sense their very existence is being curated, moment by moment, by the photographer.

The photographer should thus, at least in a  “street” sense, be about both narration (the story) and curation (the moment of memory that is chosen). And the subjects are captured almost like Schrödinger’s Cat – you only see their true reality in that exact moment of capture, however much you might like to ponder the before and the after.

Berger’s references to other forms of communication led to Berthold Brecht, where I found this passage appropriate.

“Portrayal of Past and Present in One” 

Stand out, without in the process hiding

What you are making it stand out from. Give your acting

That progression of one-thing-after-another, that attitude of

Working up what you have taken on. In this way

You will show the flow of events and also the course

Of your work, permitting the spectator

To experience this Now on many levels, coming from

Previously and

Merging into Afterwards, also having much else now

Alongside it. He is sitting not only

In your theatre but also

In the world.

From John Willett, Brecht’s translator, attributed to poems Brecht wrote between 1947-1953.

The photographer’s job is thus very much like the actor’s. Both want to involve their audience, even though they use different means.

The photographer, though, unlike the actor, can only involve the viewer by curating the most appropriate moment. A fragment of time (or perhaps a series of fragments), rather than an extended performance.

Yet in that fragment of time, there must be both depiction of the reality of the moment, with enough narration (content, context) in the composition to suggest to the viewer that they can see beyond that very same moment, both past and future.

That will truly engage the viewer.

A sound challenge for 2015!

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Images taken with either Leica M9-P or Leica M-P, processed in Color Efex Pro. Henri probably wouldn’t approve, but he did say colour was in its infancy when he was writing in 1952 …

Leica M6 TTL, Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 pictured.

Mick Yates

http://micksphotoblog.com/

The Leica Meet Skye – just 8 weeks to go… two spaces left…

Isle of Skye – Leica Meet – Mar 8th – 11th

These routes have been chosen to allow for multiple options to stop/shoot on the way. But as always bear in mind that the schedule is flexible and weather dependent. This is a festival of seeing, shooting, sharing, socialising…. and when you get back and process your images – celebrating!

Mar 8th – Sunday

Mar 9th – Monday

  • 6.00: meet for coffee/biscuits. Sunrise and explore coastline and local landscape.
  • 8/8.30: return for b/fast at lodge
  • 9.30: depart for Elgol on West Coast. The village of Elgol, on the shores of Loch Scavaig, has a wonderful rocky coastline with magnificent views out to the Inner Hebrides & across to the Black Cuillin range. This is a scenic drive including multiple stopping options along the way for mountains, abandoned church, lochs. Circa 1 hour on beach taking classic views.
  • 12.30: lunch at cafe in Elgol.
  • 1.30: possible trip in to see Fairy Pools or similar lesser known location, head North to Fiskavaig bay for sunset over the sea & islands of Bracadale Bay. Again options to stop/shoot
  • 7.00: return to Sconser and dinner at the lodge

Mar 10th – Tuesday

  • 6.00: meet for coffee/biscuits, dawn shots at Sligachan where an early 19th century picturesque stone bridge crosses the river that carries the water down from the Cuillin. This is a classic setting. Water cascading over a stony river bed with the surrounding hills as a backdrop.
  • 8.30: b/fast back at hotel and re-pack
  • 9.30: drive to Neist Point, the most westerly point on the Duirinish Peninsula. With its lighthouse perched on vertical cliffs it forms one of the iconic Skye vistas.
  • 12.30: pub lunch en route
  • 1.30: drive to the Northern part of the island (via Faerie Glen) eventually for sunset over the Outer Hebrides.
  • 7.00: check into Beinn Edra House: http://www.valtosskye.co.uk/bedandbreakfast.html
  • Dinner at Lodge tba

Mar 11th – Wednesday

  • 6.30am dawn shots along the Flodigarry/Staffin coastline
  • 8.30: b/fast at hotel and re-pack
  • 9.30: drive to the iconic Old Man of Storr (a rocky outcrop with interesting pinnacles that are the remnants of ancient landslips). It’s eastern face looks across the Sound of Rassay
  • Lunch is on the go and around 11.00 we need to start watching the clock. We need to be on the bridge back to the mainland by 12.30 latest to get back to Inverness airport by 3.00 pm for flights back.

Each person is responsible for getting to Inverness airport, costs of accomodation, food and drink. The hotels will be pre-booked at the following costs: Sconsor Lodge £65 single room p night for two nights. Beinn Edra House, £45 single room for one night. Additionally there is a charge of £300 pp for the driver/guide, 8 seater minibus, collect/return to Inverness airport, available pre-sunrise to post sunset each day.

Any queries or questions please contact me on olafwilloughby@gmail.com