Seeing the World - an interview with photographer Rob Covell

I decided it was time to interview some photographers and find out what drives them to take pictures. Below is an interview with my friend Rob Covell. Rob has a deep humanity in him and an abhorrence of social injustice. As well as his great work I also admire him for sticking to his principles which he talks about in more detail here.selfportrait

What or who got you in to taking photographs and did you ever study it ? 

There have been a few factors, and I guess I don’t really explore the reasons until you ask me like that. 4 years ago I went to the Caribbean with my partner and took a cheap bridge camera and I couldn’t stop taking pics. That certainly sparked an underlying need for me to take photos. A year later I saw some beautiful photos on Flickr of a model, and I just thought how I’d like to take shots of my partner like that. The bridge camera was not allowing me to take control of the photos, so I bought an entry level DSLR. I’m self-taught plus whatever info I can cadge off other photographers.

What inspires you ?

My influences are really my passion for the things I photograph. I know little of the wider art form, so I couldn’t really name you many famous photographers that inspire me. I actually just like going through magazines or websites and will suddenly see a photo I really like. But as I said, for me photography is about capturing my passion, or the passion of the subject…or in some cases both! I see photography as a means to convey something, rather than just photography in itself. That also extends to issues in the world that I care about, where perhaps my photography can help give publicity or fresh angles.

What projects and photography you are working now ?

I’m working on a sports photography project and also looking to expand my fashion portfolio this year. I also want to get into wedding photography and really strengthen my overall portfolio.

Can photography heal ?

There is no question it can heal. For me personally coming off a recent illness, the relaxation and distraction photography has given me has been invaluable mentally. As for the subject… if I can take a photo that makes the subject see themselves in a positive light, say for example someone who doesn’t like their photo taken, and they are pleased with what they see… I guess that’s a mini-healing, or reconciliation with self. I love it when someone sees something about themselves that they like in a photo, particularly when camera shy.

In what ways is photography exploitative of its subject matter ?

I think this is a very deep and important question, with no doubt many perspectives to it. I personally avoid taking photos of suffering, eg. If I’m photographing a marathon, and someone hurts themselves, I find it gratuitous to zoom in on their agony. That extends wider to those photographing more serious human suffering, eg. In war zones. If what you photograph can make a difference to the subject’s plight, then there is an argument for the invasiveness of some photography. If it’s all about the photographic award of the shot, then I have a problem justifying it. I regularly photograph protests against Deaths in Custody, and I’m very wary of how raw the emotions are of those who have been bereaved and unjustly treated. It’s a responsibility not to step over a line in conveying what needs to be told, and putting out a family or loved ones personal desperation.

Another angle on this is the exploitation of women. I have strong views on how women are portrayed in the media, and at the same time my photography has recently moved into the realms of fashion/models, although this is not exclusively female of course. But I feel a personal responsibility to what I maybe portraying in my pictures and to the subject. I won’t manipulate photos for example, and I won’t use a shot that the model doesn’t like. I firmly believe in re-addressing media/social perceptions of what is feminine and what is beauty and that’s something I hope to develop.

Finally, please complete this sentence 'I love taking photographs because...' It helps me convey what I see and what I love and lets me see the world with new eyes.

Keep Learning - an interview with photographer Rob Covell

Dzifa and I (under our collective title Word Migrants) had a great time hosting our book event, The Book Salon, last week featuring Leila Segal, Gemma Weekes , Agnes Meadows, Rachel Rose Reid, Courttia Newland and singer/songwriter Marcus Begg whose photo you can see here.

It was taken by photographer Rob Covell whose portfolio is becoming increasingly impressive. I have really been enjoying Rob's live shots as well as his stunning photographs of his partner, writer and performer extraordinaire Kat Francois.

Having recently picked up the camera again (it's been just over a year since I have entered the digital realm busying myself with portraits and more) I asked Rob about what photography meant to him.

Art to me is a tool. I see art as a means to convey something. For me that is the most important part, not necessarily the art itself. Like true hip hop or poetry I like it when it teaches me, when it's revolutionary and empowers people. It still has to be good artistically, but if the message is missing or is hidden in too abstract a way, then it’s not easy to grab me.

Photography is the same. Yes, a beautiful landscape, nature pic or portrait will grab me. A gratuitous shot of suffering will not. If I’m taking a portrait, I would like the subject to look at the photo afterwards and feel empowered by it, that they see something beautiful about themselves that they hadn’t seen before.

A lot of discussion around photography understandably focuses on the image. I am very interested in the interaction between the photographer and the subject especially when it comes to more personal and meaningful relationships. Rob told me a little about the role taking pictures played in the relationship with his daughter.

I have a teenage daughter who has autism. I wondered if the relaxation I feel taking photos would help her, so I’ve started taking her out to parks and zoos, and just letting her loose with my camera. She loves nature and has told me how she too finds it relaxing. Photography totally de-stresses her.

So, what's next ?

I really want to get to a point where I can be semi-professional. I work as part of Zupakat Productions, run by Kat Francois and would like to develop the photography arm of that along with my own music production and writing. I’m working on some ideas for combining my three art forms. As with my writing, a main focus of my work will be to re-address euro centric perspectives and history.

As photographers, we have the ability to record the legacies of others, and I think that is a beautiful opportunity to create history that otherwise would go untold. I don’t want to specialise in one type of photography, there’s too much to see out there.

But what’s really next - Keep learning !