Pogus Caesar rips up his work and starts again
I was talking to another outsideleft contributor about how excited I would be to see Pogus Caesar in outsideleft again and about his new work he is sharing on the website Sedition, and she was like... "Pogus... He's arts royalty." And then... I guess so. I've always thought him a supremely talented observer, a watcher, a most dignified interpreter whether you choose to see what he sees or not. Whether you choose to hear the story his images tell or not. There's an undeniability. I guess when you've been as consistently good as Pogus, for as long as he has been doing it, then yeah maybe so, arts royalty is most apt.
He recently took park in the launch of the V&A's Staying Power project, to raise the breadth and depth of black British photography in the V&A archives [here]. And he has a long record as a creator and advocate for the arts in his own often culturally neglected backyard of Birmingham.
I was enchanted and blown us away all at once by his books culled from his personal archives, Muzik Kinda Sweet - his massive coffee table collection of candids featuring some of the greatest stars of reggae and rnb the world has seen. And Sparkbrook Pride, Pogus' more recent homage to Sparkbrook, the much maligned neighbourhood of his childhood, which featured a foreword by acclaimed poet, actor and writer Benjamin Zephaniah.
Although known as a social documentary photographer, the work on Sedition is a mash up and remixing of his work, a stepping off, stepping away from the confines of a reputation no matter how well earnt, a revision and a new treatment, the moves of a restless man who won't quit. He never has and he never will.
Hexville County Welcomes Married Men (2015)
Sedition is a pretty great platform for discovering artists and buying art for your screens. Pogus' adoption of it is interesting but first we talked about the evolution, or current State of his Art...
Outsideleft: The Sedition work seems a little different to your earlier work, more allegorical vs. the less metaphoric work you are known for...
Pogus Caesar: The work on Sedition is from the series 'US of A.' I have spent time in North and South America, first visiting in the early 1980's, I enjoyed peeling back and photographing a fascinating land full of contradictions and mysteries. For a long time I have been trying to turn what is in my head into artworks, it has not been easy to move forward as many obstacles were in the way. It's taking a personal view of America from a Black British perspective. Also I don't like to be tied down to one genre, predictability is not in my makeup - it's important to keep the mind rotating.
OL: Can you discuss the US of A series here?
PC: The 'US of A' series is much more experimental and intensely personal, I intended to use various imagery coding to convey an alternative narrative on cultural identity, religion, sexuality and race. I have been working on the series for the past few years and have completed about 21 artworks. Although there are initial ideas about what I want to achieve, the work usually takes on a life of it's own, but occasionally I have to gently reign it in. With the artworks it's important to lay my viewpoint bare regarding America, if you don't agree or if it's unsettling then so be it. The starting point of the process is to revisit my archive of 35mm negatives. Selecting images, breaking them down, introducing colour and remaking new forms.
Buggin Buggin Me (2014)
The artwork "Buggin Buggin Me" takes a view of religion and the powerful hold it has on societies - the backbone of ideologies since the beginning of time.
The central character in the artwork states, in our home, school and church we were taught that Jesus was Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes. Our family craved acceptance within the dominant community, we nodded and smiled when white folks passed by. My close circle of friends were Black, at meetings we would debate radical ideas on how to create an equal America. At night I would pray to the picture on the wall asking for my dreams to be realised, the piercing blue eyes would stare back "Buggin Buggin Me."
OL: I like sedition and spend time checking out artists on there. When I've shown your work to people though, they want a different kind of ownership, I suppose, something not more tangible, more traditionally so, they're talking about giclee prints, high quality inkjet that sort of thing...
PC: You cannot force the public to appreciate your work, all an artist can do is to place it out there and hope to provoke some type of discussion.
Regarding the importance of black and white prints, with the internet it's easy for the public to download work in a click - these have no financial value at all. My work is taken from OOM Gallery Archive vintage negatives. I have always provided collectors with photographs that are within an authenticated edition. The Victoria & Museum recently acquired four limited edition prints for their collection. They are printed by Robin Bell and now stored under specific conditions at the V&A.
OL: We loved your book, Muzik Kinda Sweet. Do you ever think of maybe another volume of that
PC: The exhibition and book 'Muzik Kinda Sweet' was appreciated, another more narrative volume would be interesting. We published a second book a little while ago called 'Sparkbrook Pride.' It consisted of 70 black and white photographs of residents located in Sparkbrook, Birmingham – where I grew up. I spent time documenting the diverse individuals who live and work in the area, the book features both the long-standing residents from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan and the more recent additions from Somalia, Sudan, Malawi and Afghanistan, In the foreword which was written by author and playright Benjamin Zephaniah he says “I love the ‘rawness’ of these photos, they have a sense of place."
OL: What are you looking forward to in 2017?
PC: 2017, I'm working on the 'Schwarz Flaneur' series, It would be good to work with an inspiring writer and forward thinking publisher. These projects take time but I'm very optimistic.
Hexville County Welcomes Married Men, Pogus Caesar (2015) courtesy of the artist and OOM Gallery Archive. * from the series 'US of A'
Untitled, Pogus Caesar (1986) courtesy of the artist and OOM Gallery Archive. * from the series 'Schwarz Flaneur'
Image credit: Buggin Buggin Me, Pogus Caesar (2014) courtesy of the artist and OOM Gallery Archive. * from the series 'US of A'
Portrait image Pogus Caesar by Dee Johnson