Friday, 16 August 2013

Charles Mackenzie

South Africa, Eastern Cape


You write that your blog aims to present a "smooth flowing hub of the people" you "encounter at various stages" of your life. How did you come up with this idea?

It would be incredibly dishonest and counter productive to claim that that idea was uniquely mine, or even that it stays a constant. Firstly, my blog began as a way to express my voice and to connect with people. Photography was still new to me when I started, but blogging was not. I knew that I had to adapt to a working format, and apply some kind structure to my wildly enthusiastic but naïve vision. So if I had to relate it to anything, or investigate where the idea came from, it would most likely be the ongoing humans of New York project. But even then, I would say that my blog is different - just as it is now from it’s past self. I’d like to say that I follow a direction in which I want my blog and thus my work to go, but there are other factors involved that are always ever changing. This often results in the evolution and change in both my work and personal philosophies; for example I moved from Cape Town, where my blog was originally based, to Rhodes University to study journalism. I can only control my life to a certain degree, and the rest I kind of tackle as it comes. With that said, I still love being able to meet and connect with different people from all walks of life, something my photography truly has allowed me to do. And despite my involvement in other works and projects this is something I wish to hold onto for the rest of my career and life.

You also use the blog as a 'voice' to communicate with others and to document your development as a person and photographer. How 'open' do you feel you can be in this 'conversation’ with your readers? Where do you draw a line?

This is quite a long response so I am going to try organizing my thoughts under subheadings.

(1) Honesty regarding my art and success
I feel that complete and absolute disclosure is paramount to my success both as a human and an artist. I want all my life’s works – in my case journalism in particular - to revolve around honesty. It’s a big goal to have, but I totally believe that if I start now and build my foundations on openness and honesty, it will only continue to flourish and grow in that respect, and thus I can also create a career around it. With that said, there are certain exceptions or barriers that must be temporarily created for various reasons, mostly for clarity and structure, but also because sometimes pieces or photos just don’t fit at those times. Yet, at later stages, I may pop them in or rework them. But then all of this isn’t just about me. I don’t just want to be honest for my own personal interest, I want to create a medium, or at least contribute to the development of one, where honesty is not only encouraged, but it’s an adaptable and  viable option in a journalistic format. I’m not saying that this idea doesn’t exist, I know that all ideas are just regurgitations and modifications of past ideas, but I want to make my own contribution. Gonzo journalism is a huge factor in this style, but I don’t think I will live up to the ability of the late Hunter S. So instead I will refer to him as the complete inspiration, but not as the idea or format itself.
(2) Honesty regarding my self-expression and growth
This one also goes much, much deeper than that, at least from my point of view. My blog is a medium for expressing myself, and my photography has provided a lot for my personal development, and for my intelligence or competence as a human being as well. So if I can initiate a complete and utter network where all my inward problems, achievements and choices become public, I think I could grow in immense ways, and hopefully grasp my personal identity to every single degree. Thus far, I feel that my art, the blog, and the sum of all the things these two entail, have allowed me to know myself well already.
(3) Honesty regarding my personal life and barriers
I referred to barriers earlier and I most recently encountered one when writing a piece - ‘Hudson River pt. 1’ on It is a photo/story piece about my ‘panic attack’ - well I really don’t know what to call it, mental breakdown is too dramatic, but panic attack seems too trivial. Anyways, I was under the influence of pot (something I have quit now as a result), and I basically took down all the strings that attached my life together, and pulled them apart. I saw everything - my life, my career, my relationships - falling apart. For me, it’s about as close as I have ever gotten to a near death experience. During this time, I ended up photographing myself, I guess that’s just because of my weird nature. I figured that if I was ‘going to die’ I might as well capture it. In order to maintain closure for myself, and to better understand what had happened, I ended up writing the post I mentioned. At first I was going to post it anonymously, so as to not negatively affect my name, but then I decided that this was a complete and utter opportunity to take a step towards absolute honesty. If I couldn’t be honest about myself, how could I be honest about and to other people, both in reality and also on my blog? With this thought, the issue became less about me and more about my audience. I felt like I was taking ‘beautiful’ photographs, and despite trying to be open and honest, I thought that I was creating ‘fairy tales’ with my work. I started to wonder about how people perceived these ‘tales’, and if the posts even received the exposure they deserved. After thinking about it all, I chose to submit my story to co-mag. I think I did this in association to the shift in the core ideals of my blog. This new sensibility has become absolutely life altering to me, and the work ethos of my blog has spilled out into reality.
Still, I don’t believe that my blog is anywhere near where it should be just yet with regards to openness. This ‘openness’ on the web has allowed me to be more conscious and reflective about my identity, and also to be extremely open to new things and experiences. It’s not like I no longer have any self-control and don’t know when to say no, it’s just that by being honest and open I am able to experiences things that I could only dream about. And that is why I without a doubt will always push these boundaries of truth, so that this growth remains constant, and so that I can do my part in spreading some small part of it to other people. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever keep things to myself, because although my striving for openness may be good for me, it still might negatively affect others. I know that I have no right to reveal private information of others and I never will.

You study journalism; does your blog also serve as a 'playground' for you to experiment with writing in and for the public?

Yes and no. My writing ability, ethos etc. will always change and alter according to where I am and what I am experiencing. My courses, especially in journalism, allow me to think more laterally and formally before writing, publishing etc. It also allows for me to tweak my current format on the blog. However, I feel that no matter how much I grow or change personally or in my work, my voice will always remain the same, but that it will be more refined and clear. In the end, that’s actually all I want, and what I have been searching for my entire life also before photography: Absolute certainty. I feel that photos and writing are always illusory, and despite one’s best efforts, feelings and thoughts about particular pieces will always be different. Still, I have this thing that I want the viewer(s) to absolutely know what I am talking about, and literally travel through their monitor into the world that I have created with my photos and writing. Now, I know that’s a cliché, and I’m sure many people strive for this, but I am absolutely passionate and very driven to achieve this goal.

You always feature a photograph of the persons you introduce and write a little about them. In your opinion, what do photographs add to the little portraits you put together?

Generally speaking, the pictures I push out are extremely planned and thought out. When I meet somebody for the first time or I make their acquaintance again or whatever the circumstances are, I begin by taking their pictures. I usually know from the start if I want to take their picture or not, but it generally takes me a while to get the one shot that I truly want. I do believe in coincidence - and boy does it sometimes treat me with great photos – but, for me, taking a good portrait requires more than just a little luck. When I take the photo I knew I wanted, I become disastrously excited: I feel that I have succeeded in capturing a moment so special and unique and that I was able to place a friend or stranger inside this bubble. I never show the final picture to the subject, though. I proceed by packaging the image in words, maybe even poems, and showcase it on my blog. Therefore, I think that the portraits always come after the photos. In the past, I used to write about those people in general, but as I have refined my trade, I have begun to draw heavily from the experiences and instances I have with those people during the times that the photos were taken. Now, although these are gifts meant for the world, I guess that the pictures will always be more special to the person photographed and me. Often I feel that portraits create a strong connection between the person photographed and the photographer, because only they know the whole context of the picture. That is also why I feel that my blog is both personal and impersonal at the same time. I stand above it like a super charged rabbit, publishing and pushing things around, but in mere moments I fly right close up to each individual picture and I find ways to relate it to both myself, and the people involved. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I feel like a grand wizard or master or anything like that. I will always be a naïve novice and, in a way, seeing these connections and contexts rather allows me to stay grounded. Because as much as my art and ideas change, I still can frame everything with these glassy dreamlike eyes. Writing helps me contextualize my works for both the viewers and myself and I always end up posting something uniquely different from what I had planned. Now that I think of it, this is quite a paradox in my work, as my photography is often the complete opposite.

What do you enjoy about writing?

Writing actually came before photography. I had a blog on tumblr, where I used to feature poetry and the like. I still like to write, and read, and I do really try hard to refine those areas, but I would be a liar if I said that it always comes easy to me. Before photography and filmmaking I felt like I had no complete connection between brain and hands and that I couldn’t fully realize my potential. As it turns out, this actually is a literal affliction that prevents me from fully carrying out and processing the clouds of thought swimming around and in my head. Ironically it affected my perception of shapes and geometry, too, which, as I see now, is why I was never able to fully realize my dream of being a painter, too. Painting was a passion I had developed even before writing, but I simply couldn’t make the complete connection between ideas and reality.

How do the people you write about react to these portraits?

Always in the affirmative, but to varying degrees. It’s a running gag that all my friends use my photos for their profile pictures. To me, nothing beats their initial reactions though. Upon seeing a post that I had published they sometimes put a lot of time and effort into sending me messages or carefully packaged gifts. This really makes me happy and excited about what I do. It’s the thought of being able to have some form of impact on someone else’s life, no matter how small, which always gets me and encourages me.

What do you pay attention to the most when photographing people?

Oh boy this is a tough one, too. At the beginning I approach the ‘portraiting’ from a point of view that could be viewed as street photography. This is where I initially started out as a photographer, but I never was truly competent in this regard. For me, shooting portraits thus is still a little hard to do, even though I love the challenge and I am happy when I’m successful. But in general I like to take photos of how I perceive a person. Sometimes it’s the other way around and I discover how I actually perceive somebody by looking at the pictures I took. Finally, I also want to capture the moments that the people are involved in and portray them in a way that they never saw themselves.

When you're finished with your studies, how do you picture your work as a journalist?

I am really pushing to take a step into the ‘world of journalism’ now. Whilst I am studying I want to delve deeply into journalism. I see it almost like a practice run before I am out ‘in the wild’. I want to focus mostly on community work and relief efforts - I did a post on the anti-poaching efforts, for instance, though that barely scratched the surface, I have to admit. I want to further my ability and opportunities into helping other people in any way possible. I am not sure where or how to start yet, but I know where I want to go. I admit that my work is barely objective and maybe too artistic at times, but I will never let go of that sentiment. I think that journalism is incredibly important in all areas of life, but because of the de-sensation of media, it’s hard to get people’s attention and it’s even harder to make them care for more than five minutes. I want to change that. Or at least try to contribute to the grander scheme of that sentiment.

Do you sometimes think that pictures are being misused in the media? 

Absolutely. Some people have no f---ing clue what they are doing. Another issue about pictures is that pictures can be so contextual and individualized, that sometimes they are too blank. This is not to say they aren’t powerful, though. And other times pictures used are too overwhelming. Now images get spread and pushed everywhere, meant to shock and stun the viewer, but after a while sensation becomes common and imagery loses its impact. Not to say that these efforts aren’t positive and admirable, they often are, but in my opinion, imagery could and should be ‘sold’ to people in a better way.

In your opinion, do visual representations add objectivity or rather subjectivity to news reports?

It always is contextual. Generally speaking, in formal institutions, the visual representations that are produced will always be extremely succinct and objective, but with the rise of self-mass communication - that is ‘citizen journalism’ in the form of cell phone videos etc. - it’s getting harder for news organizations to control how those visual representations affect their final package in news stories. However, some video reports use subjectivity in the affirmative as a way to interest people and to maintain a connection with the viewers, so that although the videos have a personal feel to them, they are still regarded as pieces of journalism. Such an example are the vice documentaries which are taking over the internet, and rightly so, as far as I am concerned. Because although at times some of these stories are extremely niche and targeted at specific audiences such as myself, most of them are undoubtedly relevant and full of impact on journalism as a whole. By the way, I really, really love vice. Hire me, please?

What are your plans for the summer?

Well, our holidays are actually different from yours, and my summer is the second vacation coming up. But I will take this as an opportunity to answer about both holidays. In September I shall be interning Raya Rossi, editor of a fashion friend, most likely fetching coffees, but also delving behind the scenes in a lot of fashion shoots and such. In December/January I am will work at the production of a series of short films in Mpumalanga, depicting the anti-poaching efforts from many different perspectives, for instance those on the foot patrols, those involved with the welfare of the rhinos themselves etc. I can’t reveal too much, because truthfully I haven’t got very far in the planning process.

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