Kevin Goss-Ross

We’ve been wanting to interview Kevin since we started this site. Over the years his live photography and band shots have documented countless nights out and given bands a visual identity that truly represents them. We chat to him about, India, shooting live music and geographical loyalties.

 

 

DIY: A little bird told us you come from a very artistic family. Is this true? How important have they been in shaping the artist and photographer you’ve become?

Kevin: Who is this little bird? Yes, my Gran paints, her and my great aunt used to paint together. I remember doing a wonky painting of a dinosaur when I was like seven and my Gran telling my mom that I’m not allowed to stop painting. Not that my mom needed telling, she is a very diverse artist. Every time I visit them she’s doing something new. If she isn’t chemical etching, she’s on the beach at 4am with her camera waiting for the sun to come up, or painting the house yellow. I suppose I’m really lucky: with my family all being creative in their own way creativity was always encouraged and nurtured. Being different was a good thing. Innovation in ovation. I think I’m the first person to try make a living off art/creativity so there was a good deal of concern that I’d become a hobo in the beginning but the support was always there. If it wasn’t for my family I’d probably be an accountant.

 


DIY: A lot of local photographers seem to cut their teeth on event and live photography before moving onto something more specialized. How important do you think event and live photography is in a) creating a name for yourself and b) learning how to actually be a photographer?

Kevin: There does seem to be a bit of a trend there. When I started taking my camera to Burn like four years ago it was actually mainly because I had recently been dumped and suddenly had loads of free time on my hands. There weren’t a lot of photographers shooting live music well in Durban back then, so Delia from Burn started paying me to shoot their events- which was great for a second year student living off noodles. I think the live music photography monster has only really exploded in Durban recently and in many ways I think it has become a bit of a problem. When the entire front row of people at a gig is made up of photographers who then bitch about getting bumped by someone dancing, moshing or even getting drinks spilled on them, there is something amiss. The paying audience always comes first. I don’t even cover live music now unless I get specifically asked to do so because I don’t like being part of the problem. But that’s just me. I do reckon that it is a great platform for young photographers to create a name for themselves but you must realize that the people who end up knowing your name don’t have money either. So if you’re all about cash don’t waste your time. I only did it because I fucking loved music and wanted to be a part of it all.

As for learning photography in those conditions: it’s difficult, especially in venues like Burn, but I maintain that if you learn your craft where it is hardest you’ll learn it properly and every other situation is cake. Unfortunately being nocturnal and shooting primarily in an environment where lighting can be so beautifully shaped and controlled, you do tend to struggle when it comes to photographing anything properly during the daytime. Of course now that there are sometimes up to ten photographers at a show it has almost become an educational institution where newer photographers can watch how their more experienced counterparts do what they do.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I see no reason that I owe a geographic location some sort of loyalty.

 

DIY: When did the photography bug really bite?

Kevin: I suppose (and this might sound needy) it was when I started getting a positive response from people concerning my photography. Not necessarily prospective clients, but artists that I respected. Then on the other side of the spectrum, I went for an interview for a graphic design job at one of Durban’s better known agencies and the art director expressed concern about me ‘liking photography too much’. I got angry and stopped doing design altogether. So the bug bit somewhere between validation and anger; probably not the healthiest place but it has worked out pretty well so far.

 


DIY: All over the internet you see tourist shots of India with shocking displays of the poverty that riddles the country. You recently had the opportunity to holiday there for a few weeks. Were you looking to document anything in particular or was it more for holiday snap shots?

Kevin: There is no such thing as a holiday in India. People go on holiday from India. To be honest it was another crazy family holiday… our family go somewhere and rough it for a month every now and then. Last time it was Oz, which we toured in a little redneck style kombi my dad bought. We slept next to the road in a tent and ate in parking lots. This time was a similar vibe but we just used public transport because driving in India is suicide. I shot a series of portraits of holy men and other locals in India because I couldn’t help myself. The pollution is so bad there it makes for the best skies (which is a very glass half full way of seeing things, I’m still coughing up bits of Mumbai). Tyler Dolan lent me a fucked little umbrella which we used to light stuff and I’m very excited about those.

 

 

DIY: Was there ever a moment where you felt guilty for taking a photo of someone?

Kevin: Definitely. I blame my education (especially BTech) for this: studying the ethics and the general ‘why’ of your craft can sometimes be detrimental to actually producing work. My younger brother is in second year now and was absolutely shameless in photographing anyone and anything and I envy him. There are a lot of beggars in India severely disabled by other people to get more money from begging à la Slumdog Millionare. Even when I negotiated with one of these unfortunates about how much money they’d want for me to photograph them it felt wrong. On one hand you’re helping them eat but on the other you’re supporting this gruesome practice and potentially getting something from their misfortunes.

Other times there are beggars who rent babies from mothers to get more money from begging. They’ll ask you to buy ‘their’ baby some milk, and then lead you to a friend of theirs selling milk on the side of the road for twenty times the real price. The money then gets divided between everyone in this little gang. Then you get the holy men who always need money in order for you to photograph them. I had to pay the supposed reincarnation of Ganesha Rs1000 for a couple of photographs, which made me really angry. Begging from and conning foreigners is a full time job for a lot of the people there, and for some a bit of a sport.

 


DIY: You’ve developed relationships with certain local bands over the years, two of those being THOTS and Contrast The Water. Does both bands moving out from Durban in an effort to “make it” inspire or depress you?

Kevin: I do tend to befriend certain bands. Often it is because I just have an immense respect for their music and just want to contribute. THOTS blew my mind in 2009 and I did my first proper elaborately staged and lit promo photograph with them. Contrast were amazing in supporting me when I was just starting out. They used to pay me to cover their live gigs, which was fine by me since I was there each time anyway. Seeing them progress in the US does inspire me. They met some of my metal heroes. I go on Facebook and I see photographs of them with people like Mikael Akerfeldt. I love South African music and musicians but God damn I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like the opportunity to shoot Opeth or Slayer. Jeeeeesus.

 

 

DIY: In one of the blurbs on your blog, you talk about the ethical implications in the process and/or creation of nude photography? What exactly do you mean? Was it weird for you to photograph people you know in such a manner with both parties being sober, how do you combat any awkwardness that may arise from nude photography?

Kevin: I had to go look for this blurb. I tend to run my bitch mouth sometimes. I think I was trying to get to grips with those very questions, but took the low road, gave up and just made sure that everyone was properly fucked. I asked some of the Winston locals to come pose for some nudies for Interpret Durban and I was a bit worried about things being awkward at first, about having both the subject and the photographer being comfortable enough to create a good photograph. I think it might be easier when you’re photographing a nude stranger because they’d approach you as a client and there would be a distance between you. But basically instead of dealing with any of those questions of ethics or expanding my mind as an artist, I went to the bottle store, picked up two cases of quarts and a bottle of tequila and made sure that the social situation was properly ‘lubricated’, as it were. I think I was over thinking things anyway. Who hasn’t seen the majority of that crowd naked?

 


DIY: You’ve photographed at events which have gotten quite wild and out of hand. Burn’s Sex & Candy parties for example. Do you ever worry about some of the social/work related consequences for the people in those photos? Have you ever been threatened with legal action because of your photography?

Kevin: When it comes to drunk people I really can’t care about ethics anymore. If there is a photograph of you with your sweaty tits hanging out, five cigarettes in your mouth, hooking up with eight different people at the same time whilst trying to ride some dudes on a horse outfit at a party like Burn’s Sex and Candy, I AM going to put it on the internet. Not because I’m trying to ruin your career or relationships, but because I’ve been paid to document the evening and, quite frankly, it happened. So I documented it.

If something illegal is happening I’ll think twice, and if someone contacts me and asks that it be removed I’ll do so. But I am so tired of people getting angry because their parents saw a photo of them smoking, especially if they pouted at me for a photograph. All that said I’ve yet to receive a lawyer’s letter in the post.

 

DIY: In the blurb about the Van Coke Cartel shoot you said this: “Being an Afrikaner in Durban, I often feel like Afrikaans people mean little in our country – being the previous oppressors and what not.” Photographers often have to remove themselves from situations, become outsiders that document. Do you think that that sense of marginalization you may feel as an Afrikaner has, in anyway, influenced the way you go about your photography?

Kevin:  I wrote that in context with what I perceived their lyric was trying to communicate: “as ‘n boer beteken ek maar min”. After that shoot Francois informed me that he meant for those lyrics to say that he isn’t much of an Afrikaner, not that he doesn’t mean much in this country, being an Afrikaner. So with those photographs I was exploring my interpretation of the lyrics, where I see our generation of Afrikaans people being in an odd space of not remembering Apartheid but speaking the same language as the knobhead leaders of the Apartheid movement, and an entire language being demonized for the actions of our forefathers.

Being Afrikaans hasn’t really influenced the way I go about my photography as much as the way I’ll over analyze things will. I might feel like I’m being marginalized due to my constant over thinking. Tool says it best in Lateralus: “Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind”. That song is my Bible now. I’ve changed a grown a lot in the past couple of years and I think it is largely because of photography. I think perhaps my insecurities and sometimes introverted nature started my love for shooting at night. The cloak of darkness and drunkenness was an amazing way for me to start my career and become more confident as a person.

 

 

DIY: Lastly, any exhibitions or shows lined up? What plans do you have for the future? You’ve grown into one of Durban’s favourite sons, but can you see yourself in this city for the long run?

Kevin: Gareth Bright, Caitlin Fay Smith and I have been chatting about a joint non-gallery exhibition featuring photographs of India, particularly Varanasi – one of the oldest living cities in the world. All three of us have been there recently and Gareth is there again right now, so it’ll be interesting to see how three very different photographers process such a mindfuck of a place in their own ways. Also exhibiting them in a city which has one of the highest concentrations of Indian people outside India might also be exciting. I’ve seen some of Gareth’s recent images and they are amazingly powerful. You can see ten out of the forty portraits I took in the next issue of Mahala magazine, but until we get our acts together and Gareth sends me some of his stuff, it is just an idea.

My plans for the future are ambitious, and I’m hoping to get some advertising orientated work from South African agencies so I can finally utilize my graphic design qualifications and make a decent living. As for staying in Durban for the long run: this might make me wildly unpopular but I’m not as patriotic about Durban as most people who live here. Maybe I’m cynical, but I see no reason that I owe a geographic location some sort of loyalty.

In the immortal words of Bill Hicks: “The world was round last time I checked”. The only thing keeping me here are my friends, family and clients, and to be honest there isn’t that much of a market for what I do here. The ceiling is also pretty low here in terms of how far you can go. There is a whole universe outside of this place and I make a conscious effort to remember that.

 

DIY: Thanks for this. Awesome

Comments
17 Responses to “Kevin Goss-Ross”
  1. When did GG Allin start getting good tattoos?

  2. Sarah says:

    Kevin, you fab man.

  3. fundi Phungula says:

    kev im loving your India pictures to awesome u rock bru lmao just reading your response with ur answers thats just a true reflection of the down to earth guy u are keep up the great work ur work is sick bru

  4. mat says:

    Sick!
    Glad you were honest about the staying in Durban vibe.. good on you and good luck!

  5. Wayne Szalinski says:

    Quality interview, nicely done Kevin.
    Very impressed with your work

  6. Micaela says:

    “As for staying in Durban for the long run: this might make me wildly unpopular but I’m not as patriotic about Durban as most people who live here. Maybe I’m cynical, but I see no reason that I owe a geographic location some sort of loyalty.
    In the immortal words of Bill Hicks: “The world was round last time I checked”. The only thing keeping me here are my friends, family and clients, and to be honest there isn’t that much of a market for what I do here. The ceiling is also pretty low here in terms of how far you can go. There is a whole universe outside of this place and I make a conscious effort to remember that.”

    This was so so well put. Seriously.

  7. James says:

    Such an amazing interview.

  8. Thanks to everyone for reading this. Didn’t know how saying something like that about Durban on a site called Durban is Yours would go down but I haven’t received any death threats yet.

  9. Pascal says:

    Beeg love Kev.

  10. Matt says:

    I agree with James, such a sick interview

  11. Samora says:

    Kevin is boss… cool interview!

  12. Samora says:

    I dig the family under the street light pic

  13. Rob says:

    Great interview. Kev you’re doing so well man, keep up the excellent work!

  14. Daryn says:

    Never before have I known someone who can preform such visual trickery with a camera thing .

  15. Daisy says:

    Was an awesome interview!!!

  16. Raheem says:

    KEV you too fresh with em lenz bruv

  17. Peter Machen says:

    Kevin Goss-Ross! You are the man!

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