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 Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (2)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Alex B Muir

Alex B Muir

Camelot98

Camelot98

Frédéric Lanoizelé

Frédéric Lanoizelé

Haoming Wang

Haoming Wang

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

jonathanliewys

jonathanliewys

Julien Ducenne

Julien Ducenne

Keith Goldstein

Keith Goldstein

Lane 4 Imaging

Lane 4 Imaging

Lillo Cabrera

Lillo Cabrera

Mark Heaver

Mark Heaver

Rick Bronks

Rick Bronks

Stephen Starkman

Stephen Starkman

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Tobias Gaulke

Tobias Gaulke

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (2)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Axel Wohlbold

Axel Wohlbold

Benya Acame

Benya Acame

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

Turodrique Fuad

Turodrique Fuad

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Rob Steele

Rob Steele

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

Jason Howe

Jason Howe

Giuseppe De Santis

Giuseppe De Santis

Gianluca Federighi

Gianluca Federighi

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

Ferenc Simicz

Ferenc Simicz

Elie Bescont

Elie Bescont

Daniel Novello

Daniel Novello

camelot98

camelot98

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

Portraits of Strangers

As any street photographer will tell you people watching can be fascinating business.  It’s something many enjoy whether they ‘ve a camera in hand on not. Perhaps its has something to do with trying to guess someone’s story just from observing them that taps into our creativeness , or it be could real life is far more interesting than watching television, or even somehow by watching others it can help us to make sense of our own lives.

After a spell of shooting people who were usually unaware I felt I wanted to get in closer and shoot those interesting characters I had been watching from afar, capturing their faces in more detail and hopefully a touch of their spirit in my pictures.

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‘Vexed’ M9 Summilux 35mm

Getting Closer

Using a Telephoto Lens – One obvious way to get closer without people knowing or without affecting a scene is just use a longer lens. Often I use a 90mm Summicron , probably not a lens most people would associate with street photography but I like the extra distance it gives me and that ability of getting closer without being noticed.  New York Street photographer Saul Leiter was very fond of using telephoto lenses and even used a 150mm lens for some of his Street work  .

The Candid Street Portrait  – This is using a standard focal length (usually 35mm or 50mm)  pointing a camera at someone point blank without asking their permission.  The candid method can produce some great photos if the person doesn’t notice you and can also provoke an interesting reaction if they do , usually one of disapproval. Personally I feel it can be intrusive, unsettling for the person and as recently pointed out to me by Stephen Cosh, it might end up ruining it for all street photographers –  if too many people complain about street togs sticking cameras in their faces , then street photography could end up becoming illegal.

Shooting Discreetly or From the Hip – This method works great and can produce some  wonderful close up shots, with very little chance of you being noticed . Sometimes seeing a person coming towards me I’ll pre/ zone focus which means choosing a point of focus that’s in their path and waiting for them to walk into it, whilst  trying my best not looking like I’m about to take their photo.  Shooting from the hip and walking around with the camera I generally set the aperture somewhere between ƒ5.6- ƒ8 to give a better chance of hitting my subject.

9613133216_e462ededce_c‘Girl in Juice Bar ‘  from the hip  – Summicron 50mm

Asking Permission – This has actually become my favored approach and the one I am going to talk mostly about. You might say that as soon as you’ve made that contact, the person has become aware that your taking a their picture so it totally changes the photo you’re going to get .

Now you’re dealing with that persons sense of how they want to be perceived its not a candid photo anymore, but to me that’s part of the challenge , developing a sense of how to make people feel at ease,  breaking down our natural social reserve.

I’ve found asking someone can often be most rewarding and I’ll often come away after meeting someone feeling really exhilarated from the experience, it’s difficult to put into words but I could say it’s like a good energy flow.

One of the most enjoyable things for me can be how happy the person is when they see the picture you made, something that none of the other close up methods I mentioned are likely to give you. Usually I’ll give a business card with my email and am always happy to mail them the picture.

Its possible you can ask for a portrait without even saying a word by just holding up the camera in a gesture as if pretending to make a shot and then you can generally gauge by the persons reaction whether or not it going to be cool.

It’s all down to your ability to catch the person in an honest and truthful way, making the person feel comfortable enough to let down their guard infront of a complete stranger and building a sense of trust between you . Its not something you can learn in a tutorial or from book but something that might either come naturally or can be developed by practice.

When I approach someone I know in my own mind that I am only trying to make a good photo and want them to be able to enjoy the photo too and I think people can sense if your intentions good.

8151910461_93f265f17b_c ‘Spencer’ M8 Summilux 35mm

Ready Set Go !

Sometimes you’re only going to get one shot so make sure you’re camera is set to go, there’s nothing worse than having to apologize because you got it wrong the first time . Usually I’ll have the camera set to Auto-exposure, which I can rely on to get me something about right and then if I have more time I’ll review and adjust manually to make sure I got it perfect.

What do I Say ?

There’s no set way of asking sometimes I can just walk over and engage in a conversation for a while before I even get round to asking for their picture,  other times  I’ll just come straight out and ask them, every situation is going to be  different .

If you use the simple and honest  ‘I am doing some kind of photo project ’ approach can often be the most successful, people are often willing to help . Perhaps there’s something interesting about the person you can point out , like they have a great beard or cool fashion style that could be part of a project or simply just I am doing this project which involves asking complete strangers for photos .

Keeping the conversation going , the more you build a rapport between you the more relaxed they’ll be and then you might be able to get them to help make a better photo by moving into a better light or background  .

Recalling the first time I made a street portrait I was so nervous ,

I saw this cool looking Rastafarian guy walking through Soho, and  before I knew what I was doing found myself following him down street. As I approached him I had butterflies in my stomach and I wasn’t even quite sure yet of what I was going to say to him .I think I said awkwardly something like

“Hello I’m a street photographer and I’m doing a project about people in London, would it be ok for me to take a picture of you ?”

His reply threw me a bit, he said in his strong Jamaican accent  “ Man… you to advanced for me “

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant but I just carried on chatting to him, being honest and explaining that he was actually the first person I’d ever asked .

I went on to tell him he looked a bit like the Reggae artist Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry which made him smile ,  it happened to be one of his favourite artists.

He then said “you’re ok man go on and take my photo “

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‘Ras Ras’ M8 Summicron 50mm

The first time is always going to be the most frightening but with each person you ask its going become easier.  If you approach with a confident smile that’s going to be a big help and you always have to remember what’s the worst that can happen.

A Final Word

Of course its up to you how to approach Street portraiture and each situation can require a different method, you can only use your own judgment what’s going to work best . Sometimes its possible to use a more than one approach by discreetly getting a shot before asking as  you might get the feeling they’re probably not going to agree if you ask, so cover your bases rather than lose the shot.

If you’re interested in making street portraits and have been to nervous or shy to approach strangers I hope that reading this has helped a little and if you have any more thoughts on the subject , want to add any thought or share any of your own experiences or pictures on ‘The Leica Meet ‘ we’d be very happy to hear from you.