After 11 years of procrastinating and postponing, seasoned photojournalist Pako Lesejane has finally resolved to take the plunge and share products of his artistic talent with the world, through an exhibition scheduled for Thapong Visual Arts Centre on July 02. He chats to STAFF WRITER DITIRO MOTLHABANE about his upcoming Fine Art Photography exhibition.
How did you end up a photographer/ photojournalist? Did you study photography or were you inspired by someone or something?
PAKO: Photography started off as a hobby. My father is a photographer so I grew up being surrounded by cameras and assisting my father. I never fancied myself a photographer but rather wanted to be a pilot or a computer engineer. It was in 2005 that I took a couple of photographs and sold them to The Midweek Sun newspaper. The photographs made front page and that was the beginning of my career as the editors gave me a freelance job until being hired. I then took a decision to develop my craft and attended photography school at National College of Photography in 2006. I have since been going back to school whenever possible to develop my craft even more as one can never be too good in photography.
How long have you been a photographer in a professional set up? What is Fine Art Photography?
PAKO: I have been a professional photographer for 13 years now. It has been a long journey but I must say the lessons learnt from my father helped me a lot in my professional career as well as school. Fine Art Photography wow.., the term “Fine Art Photography actually has no universally agreed meaning nor definition. The idea behind the genre underlies in the criteria that distinguishes fine art from other fields of photography is about the recording of a subject. A fine art photograph is distinguished by not recording a scene or subject exactly as it exists in realistic rendition. One aims at producing a more personal, evocative impression. Like in my works of fine art photography, I have photographed a subject, printed the photograph and after that using acrylic paint, water colour paint, sugar overlays and chemicals like turpentine, thinners and at some point even burning some parts of the photograph in accordance with my creative vision. So it is more about what the photographer sees than what the camera sees. A camera is basically is one more tool to help create a work of art to help reveal the vision of the artist. That’s quite some explanation there hey".
What has been your experience over the years as a private press photographer? Challenges, triumphs and tribulations...
PAKO: When I stepped in the newsroom those 13 years ago, I was the youngest among both reporters and photographers and it was tough hey. Fresh from the streets! I had to grow a thick skin quickly like most of my colleagues. Being in journalism requires that and it is sorely because of the challenges we come across on the field of sometimes being chased away or being attacked for doing your job. It takes time for me to react in hostile situations so that has been a challenge. The other challenge is training. Photography training does not come easy, as I have seen it come easy for reporters. We are constantly left out and I think the reason is that people do not see photography as something that one can go to school for hence my decision to take myself to school and learn. A trained eye sees better than an untrained eye. Photography gear does not come cheap. It is very expensive and one needs to get with the times and upgrade. Yet again when you upgrade you do not just buy a camera just because it is fancy and is the latest model. You have to look at the internal rate of return on your investment. Here in Botswana people do not buy photographic art. So buying what you need can be a challenge, as it will take time before you can recover the costs. One of my biggest challenges also comes with hosting this exhibition. I have approached many potential sponsors and got no response. Some would not even acknowledge receipt of my request just to at least say we got your request or to even turn it down. Unprofessional if you ask me. Getting support for art is a challenge but a man must just soldier on. Remember that the best artists were the same people who were doubted but they stood and ended up being counted.
Your biggest achievement so far?
PAKO: That is a tough one! Well I would say seeing my self-grow my craft to where it is today and to finally host my solo exhibition. Many people long asked me to do an exhibition but I held back because my art was not where I wanted it to be. There was a lot of room for improvement and I am happy to say I believe I have closed that gap a little more over the years.
Some of your colleagues call you "Picasso", while others claim you are "Young, Black & Gifted", what is that all about?
PAKO: Hahahaha Picasso neh..! That name actually comes from my childhood friends in Phase 2. No one knew about my interest in photography while growing up until they saw my by-line on the papers next to my work. The name has now stuck with me and even my grandmother calls me Picasso. Young, Black & Gifted is a name I got from veteran journalist Mr. Ernest Moloi. I think he sees something in me and has always motivated me to do my best in everything good I do especially photography. YBG has now become a name used by those close to me in the office as well as those I have worked with. It really helps with keeping my spirit up when all seems lost.
Your first solo exhibition. Why the exhibition now? What do you hope to achieve?
PAKO: It is time, I have practiced the craft, I have attended many school lessons, I am 35 years old and it is the beginning of my career even though I started getting paid for it years ago but this is just the beginning. My mentor Martin Osner always said to me, learn practice and be the best that you can be so that someday when you stand up, you will be counted. It is time to stand up and be counted. The lessons I have learnt are not even on YouTube unless they call them something else. I hope to inspire my people and show them the most artistic part of photography as never seen before in Botswana.
Briefly explain what the exhibition is about
PAKO: The exhibition is showcasing different techniques of photography in an artistic form. The works to be presented at the exhibition feature hand painting techniques that were mostly practiced from the early beginnings of photography. Pinhole photography, which has been forgotten by many people and rarely, practiced here at home. Sugar and glass overlayed photographs and old looking prints that were photographed on film and given a feel of the 1800’s by using hand painting techniques. Having to take a photograph, develop and print it, then photograph the same print is something unheard of here so I am redefining photography in that way.
Who is the target audience for the exhibition?
PAKO: It is mostly for art collectors and the community at large as I want them to see something different. Art collectors know that art is an asset that can even help elevate the cost of your property such as your house, hotel or office.
How many artworks are you exhibiting? Who created the artworks? How long did that take?
PAKO: Whoo I’m planning on exhibiting 20 photographs. The cost of printing is expensive and if I had a sponsor I would have pushed to 30.I and I produce all the artworks only. I would say close to 10 years because some of the photographs were taken many years ago and I have printed them many times and repainted them with acrylic and chalk pastels, oil paints and so on to get them where I want them to be.
Photography (Fine art photography) is largely misunderstood locally, your views?
PAKO: It is very much misunderstood especially in the digital era where everyone claims to be a photographer. People even mistaken clarity for a good photograph. This is where I urge photographers to go to school and stop relying on YouTube. Many do not even understand psychology of visual communication. Ba re bolaisa batho..!
Most locals often complain that artworks are very expensive. Your comment?
PAKO: It depends on whose art you are buying and how good the artist is. Let’s do the math together. Cost of production may come in years than money spent on equipment, paints and canvas. Travel expenses and how easy was the subject to capture. There is expensive art and there is cheap art in all markets. Just make sure that if the art is expensive then it is worth the investment; that is why I talk about art being an asset. You should be able to get somewhere with it.
Some of your colleagues have compiled and published books from years in the field of photography. Any plans to venture into that area as well?
PAKO: Maybe and maybe not…, it is too soon to say. I have been approached by people to do a book so it something to think about. Maybe I will
Any motivation for young upcoming talent?
PAKO: Learn and practice the craft, do not let anyone make you believe that photography school will brainwash you. So learn practice and practice hard so that someday you will stand up and be counted. Also remember that the best equipment is what you have in hand. A camera without a lens can still take photographs, cut a box a make a lens, I have done the same and come see the results at the exhibition.