By Zarina Holmes
We could barely keep up with the meteoric rise of Luca Sage. Last year alone he won the KL Photo Awards 2011, LPA Portraiture Awards 2011 and ‘Best in Show’ at Foto8 Summershow 2011. The multiple award-winning photographer shares his thoughts on what makes a great visual storyteller. He said: “Never stop trying different ways of seeing, but above all try to slow down.”
Bread boy in Malawi. Photo © Luca Sage.
Q. You have steadily won a few leading photography awards recently, especially on your portraiture work. How do you describe your style and influences?
In some ways I think my work is quite clinical with its composition, I seem to have a dislike for disorder. Conversely, my locations are anything but clinical, I tend towards cultures and countries that are relatively less homogenised by global culture.
Regarding influences, I find it hard to pin it down to one or two photographers or mediums, I think I’ve been influenced by everything I’ve ever seen and done, not just the photographers I have studied. A thread running through my work my response to the negativity that mass media and press has on people’s belief of other cultures.
Mass Media has a very powerful and lasting affect on people’s opinions of what is going on in the world. If viewers only ever see footage of starving African children or wild elephants then it stamps a cultural view in their subconscious.
Hopefully my portraits give a different view to one the mass media portrays. My portraits are positive portrayals engaging with the sitter as an individual but at the same time I now realise it is as much about them as it is about me. I’m in control of what and who I portrait, just like the Media are in control of what footage they want us to see.
Q. How does a photographer achieve consistency in style? How do you balance between commercial demand and retaining your unique photography signature? I think you have successfully arrived at this point.
It is not a simple matter but I think my eye is now trained to see in a certain way. In a sense, it is like peeling back the layers until I get to see what I want. I de-clutter the immediate World around me, trying to express the essence of what I feel. I can’t say it is the essence of what the sitter feels, as I can never truly know that.
With my personal work it is easier because I have more control over when and where I shoot, I don’t see that as work at all. With commercial demands, I adapt my work into the brief, it hopefully ends up as being something to be appreciated by more than just other photographers, which is probably a good thing.
Q. You have been working in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. I like the fact that many of your images of these countries are positive and expose the beautiful side. Do you think there are too many heavy depictions of Africa and the third world in photography?
Yes, I certainly do. I can instantly call to mind a plethora of images that have become the norm for representing ‘Africa’. It is an impossible task first of all because Africa is many different countries, religions, people and societies.
Secondly, our view of Africa in the West is filtered through two broad avenues, one being the ‘Africa needs our help’ view and the other being the ‘Sunset Savannah Safari’ landscapes. Contemporary photography is now contributing to a change in this narrow view and it is not a moment to soon in my opinion.
Multiple award-winning Ivory Coast United. Photo © Luca Sage.
Q. Sojournposse uses digital anthropology observation to inform our multimedia storytelling. You are also a social anthropologist. How does that discipline inform your storytelling?
“Anthropology holds fascination for many people, with good reason: its subject matter is no less than the entire range of human experience.” – Harris.
One of the first times I showed my book to a picture editor, I said that I had previously studied Social Anthropology but didn’t want to become one after I’d graduated. He laughed and replied: “But I can see it through all of your work, it is all still there”. It is embedded in my thought process so much that I don’t even notice it so much.
I think the biggest lesson it has taught me is respect. Respect for the differences we have but highlighting we are all the same, we are all human, we all have feelings and emotions.
Q. Any advice on how to be good at portraiture, or photography in general?
That’s a good question. You never stop learning, which is why photography has such a hold on photographers. We certainly aren’t in it for the money.
Never stop trying different ways of seeing, but above all try to slow down. If you are driving a car and want to concentrate on the view outside you have to stop, step out of the car and really look. Nobody ever sees something fully at 70mph.
Of course this is easier if you are shooting personal work than if you are on assignment and have only 5 minutes to nail the shot. But even then it is better to have 5 great shots than 50 average shots. Above all, follow your heart. It really is how you produce your best shots.
See Luca Sage’s work on www.lucasage.com
KL Photo Awards entry is now open until Saturday 31 March 2012. For more details, visit www.klphotoawards.com and follow @klphotoawards on Twitter.