It feels like there just hadn't been a chance to talk to multimedia artist Pogus Caesar in ages. We were supposed to get together at Why Not Coffee in Bearwood just before the lockdown and suddenly, it seemed inadvisable. Our first point of connection then in a while, has been the great OUTSIDELFT playlist Pogus provided for Tuesday May 26th, Pogus Caesar’s Consciousness Raising Reggae Playlist. Music has been important, often within the environs of his work, kind of an accompaniment to his work, in a way, so that’s where we began our conversation…
OUTSIDELEFT: Do you use music, play music while you're working in your studio, how does music work for you?
POGUS CAESAR: Music and the process of producing it has always fascinated me. Essentially how the combination of narrative and sound create feelings that are so personal it can be difficult to explain. I listen to music every day, as it energises me on a mental and spiritual level. So many classic Jamaican songs have inspired me while working. During this surreal time of self-isolation I'm being inspired by a lot of Reggae music, the historical and religious element plus the warmth of analogue has a way of penetrating body and soul.
OUTSIDELEFT: It's a decade since Muzik Kinda Sweet, do you envisage another, sequel, follow up, anything like that?
POGUS CAESAR: Yes a decade has passed since exhibiting "Muzik Kinda Sweet" at British Music Experience, London. I'm pleased there was a positive response from the public, to display archival photographs including Grace Jones, Stevie Wonder and Lee 'Scratch' Perry over two floors was as initially overwhelming, however my perspective adjusted once they were hung and bathed in lights. These legendary black musicians have contributed an overwhelming amount to world music and also inspired countless generations. I receive numerous requests on a range of projects including exhibitions, collections, documentaries and publications - let's say "the race is not given to the swift but the one who endures to the end."
Pogus Caesar, Canon AF... Photo by Dee Johnson
OUTSIDELEFT: In the recent past, as a photographer, you've documented civil rights matters in the UK, amongst so many other great things you've done. As we find our way beyond this horribly momentous moment, there will be battles ahead, certainly in the US and UK where civil rights, the rights of women, of working class people could be seriously and surreptitiously curtailed... Meanwhile, what about now, and I of course know this is not true of everyone, right now, a lot of people are actually enjoying being forced from the rat race onto the sidelines. Being benched by coach Johnson. What are you feeling?
POGUS CAESAR: Honestly, I have to use this moment to reflect on life and what it really means, we are all affected by the situation. Being creative and working with a wide range of institutions on post Covi projects is really theraputic. The internet/social media has allowed us to open up new channels of communication, utilise it with the aim to uplift audiences. As artists, sometimes we don't realise the importance of inspiring others throughout challenging times.
OUTSIDELEFT: How has the lockdown impacted you professionally, and personally, if you wanna go there?
POGUS CAESAR: The lockdown has allowed me to adapt professionally, find new ways to channel my creative stream. Personally, I just take it one day at a time, absorb a wide spectrum of information supplied by the media and make informed choices.
OUTSIDELEFT: Your photography is part of the permanent collection at the V&A and elswhere. You've been honoured in your home city. Do you ever, ever feel... Job Done...?
POGUS CAESAR: It has been humbling to have work collected by national institutions such as V&A, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, I'm pleased the photographs now have a permanent resting place. Being awarded a Doctorate by Birmingham City University, it was an honour knowing that my contribution to the creative industries was recognised. The job is never done! you have to keep moving forward, never stay still, there is no safe space for the quizzical artist. I'm only human and still make mistakes.
OUTSIDELEFT: Let’s talk about photography and technique... The film... The camera. Your camera is almost as iconic as you are... Do you still use the original one, if so, how do you keep it going?
POGUS CAESAR: The camera, it has been one of the most important tools throughout my career. I never imagined the Canon AF purchased in 1980's would become such an extension to my creativity. I still use the original camera, now and again things go wrong so I've had to source parts from other cameras through the internet - there are still individuals out there who can fix make my Canon beautiful again. I have recently purchased a Canon 105 film camera, it seems this will be my new collaborator for the forseeable future.
OUTSIDELEFT: When you created Handsworth 1985 Revisited with Benjamin Zephaniah. I imagine those images were seared into you, never far from your mind anyway? Drawing on that collection though, it's interesting right, the events in Handsworth are referred in the mainstream media, the riots. The Uprising amongst people I've spoken to. Your photographs speak their own language too. And now, Benjamin's poems, bonding the words. He kind of reminded me of Charles Bukowski with that sort of factotum worldview of the work to be done. But your images, if they came from a sound stage at MGM, your images can seem unreal. To see the streets on fire, while some people are just going about their business. It's so important that you were there at the time.
POGUS CAESAR: The images from the 1985 Handsworth Riots are firmly embedded in my psyche and Benjamin Zephaniah's too. In 2019 we collaborated with flyingleaps and Your Space Or Mine, we displayed the artwork on 20 billboards through Birmingham. Benjamin and I started collaborating years ago, his poetry has really provided an alternative narrative to my images. On reflection, the filmic element has been mentioned before as some of the photographs do seem like they were constructed on a sound stage. It would be interesting to see how the images worked as flags or projected onto the side of buildings
OUTSIDELEFT: You've begun another project with Benjamin Zephaniah, can you talk about your plans? Why things work between you and him. On what level. What's that connection.
POGUS CAESAR: Yes, I am working on a number of projects including a few publications. Of course, everything is taking longer to develop but provides much time for reflection. As for audiences, if creatives are projecting on multiple platforms you'll always attract extremely diverse audiences. Working with Benjamin Zephaniah is based on mutual respect, also we speak to each other when there's something to discuss. We both have busy lives and he makes things happen.
POGUS CAESAR: Finally, many thanks to outsideleft for giving me the opportunity to showcase some of my favourite Reggae songs. I hope you enjoy!
Hear Pogus Caesar Spotify Playlist for OUTSIDELEFT
main image: Dennis Brown: Birmingham, UK 1987 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive.
All Rights Reserved From the series Reggae Kinda Sweet