Pogus Caesar: "The business side of being an artist is just as important as the creative side"

    Pogus Caesar talks to us about his honorary doctorate, racial representation and how DACS supports him with the business side of being an artist. 

    What made you want to become an artist?

    As a child I was always expressing myself, drawing cartoons of the family on the back of postcards, cornflake packets, anything with a blank space. At school, I told the careers officer that I wanted to pursue a job in the arts, but he did not offer me many options; a number of my classmates were steered towards apprenticeships. I ended up as a chef instead, and painted in my spare time. On reflection, it's a shame that so many of us were denied the opportunity of chasing our dreams and aspirations.
    It was after seeing a documentary on Pointillism and the work of Seurat and Pissarro that I began working in that tradition, using fountain pens instead of expensive paints to create dot pictures. However, this only lasted a short period as it affected my eyesight. For years after that, I tried to find the voice to express my art - then in 1983 I stumbled upon what I had been searching for.

    What was it like first starting out as a photographer?

    It was nerve-racking, as I didn’t have what was deemed to be a professional equipment. My very first camera was an Instamatic 110 and then, after saving up, I purchased the Canon AF. Many of my friends had weighty camera bags containing Nikon, Olympus and Pentax, with flashguns, light meters and multiple lenses, while I carried this basic instrument. I’m attached to my Canon Sure Shot. It fits in my pocket and is less intimidating. But it's getting old now, so I will have to upgrade soon.

    Who most inspires you?

    In 1983 in New York, visiting a bookshop in Greenwich Village, I came across a book by Diane Arbus. The work was urgent and immediately consumed me. There are myriad other photographers who inspire me, from Gordon Parks and Henri Cartier-Bresson, to Dan Weiner and Paul Strand. Back then there was no internet, so I would visit Birmingham Central Library and discover a new creative world - a painstaking task but hugely rewarding.

    How would you describe your work?

    Colleagues have called me a ‘flaneur’ or a ‘stroller’, as on my travels I try to take images that are representative of the cultures I'm absorbed in. I prefer to shoot in monochrome, as with black and white your eyes make up the colour. I also avoid placing a lot of text with my images; you want to lead the viewer to your work and hopefully create a conversation.
    An important element of my work is also about providing representation that relates to the Black experience. Lubaina Himid (winner of Turner Prize 2017) and I curated one of the first touring shows by contemporary black artists at the Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield in 1984. Into the Open included work by Keith Piper, Claudette Johnson, Eddie Chambers and Sonia Boyce.
    In recent years, I’ve been working more in the conceptual realm, altering and embellishing photographs, applying text, convoluting them on obscure computer programs and leaving them outside at the mercy of the elements, before re-photographing them. Although I don't usually work with colour film, I have used this format on the series 'US of A,' and am inspired by the results.

    What is it that draws you to analogue?

    35mm is why I love analogue film so much, it's about the grain. When developing you get something different every time and with analogue there's also a finite number of frames on a roll, so you have to be selective with what you photograph. I'm still learning my craft.

    It’s notoriously difficult to sustain a career as an artist. What do you think of DACS’ role in the field?

    It’s very hard to sustain a career as an artist, and this is what makes DACS such an important presence in the art world. When it comes to copyright and reproduction rights, it's easy to get caught up in “people like my work, I should give it away for free”, but DACS helps protect your copyright, as well as receive due benefit from it. The business side of being an artist is just as important as the creative side and DACS is an invaluable source of knowledge and support.

    How did you hear about DACS and what made you decide to sign up?

    I have always represented myself, but being signed to DACS has been a huge benefit, as I now have the ability to channel processes through another organisation. The staff at DACS are also very transparent and easy to work with, which I really appreciate too.

    What do the royalties you receive go back into?

    Anything I receive from DACS go straight back into my practice.

    Finally, can you tell us about any projects you are working on at the moment?

    On 24 July Birmingham City University are awarding me an honorary doctorate for my contributions to the arts. I am also featured in an upcoming BBC 4 documentary on Black artists, and working on a new photography book, 'Schwarz Flaneur' - hopefully there is a sympathetic publisher out there! Also, there a number of interesting collaborations in the near future.

    Find out more about Pogus Caesar 
    Browse and license Pogus Caesar's work on Artimage 
    Join DACS: Learn more about our services for artists and artist estates

    Image: Pogus Caesar, photographed by Brian Benson for DACS. Photograph © Brian Benson, 2018. www.bbphoto.me.

    Posted on by Laura Ward-Ure