Gareth Bright

Gareth Bright has been travelling the world using his photography to create awareness and open our eyes to the plight of those with no voice. This coming Thursday, The Factory Cafe will play host to the Life & Death Between Chai exhibition, where Gareth will be showing what his time in India meant to him alongside Durban stalwarts Kevin Goss-Ross and Caitlin Fay  Smith. We managed to squeeze a few online moments with GB to find out where his head is at and where it’s going.


DIY: The way you photograph, it seems that photography is a medium that you use to try and understand people. Is that a fair assessment? Was it a fascination with human beings that lead you to picking up a camera or did you develop that fascination through photography?

Gareth: Yes certainly a fair assessment, but it runs a bit deeper than just people. Photography, for me, will always be about understanding something or at least trying too. I am finding that the more places I go to, and the more I photograph, it’s not only about people. The opportunity to try and fathom out a place, a situation, a person or people as singular components in a story is becoming more and more fascinating. I must admit that it was the voyeuristic approach and the little golden ticket you get to be curious and inquisitive with a camera in hand that certainly cured my initial fascinations with people and places far from my backyard, and the questions I had concerning them. Yet the more I do it, the closer I get, the more it becomes about everything around me, the faces, the dogs and cats, the buildings, the noises, the light, shape and shadows and then using some sort of visual literacy to try and frame them up and trip the shutter in a way I am being caring and honest about everything that’s going on around me. In doing this I am also learning things about myself.

 My personal opinion on art is that it’s something made, that it involves a process.

DIY: Working mainly in the ‘3rd’ world, you often seem to be surrounded by abject poverty, victims of natural disasters, refugees with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the sorts of things that can quite easily affect a person’s mental state. How do you stop those situations from affecting you? Is it difficult to always remain ‘the viewer’ and not think of the moral implications of you possibly profiting off another’s misery?

Gareth: Ooof, tough one! I find the best way of dealing with most things is sitting in a darkroom with loud music on and my mouth at the end of a bottle. Just joking. It is quite the opposite in fact I have wonderful parents and dear friends who I can talk it out with, and do. I also understand that when I have seen things or been in places that upset me, or made me angry, I have chosen to be there and that I am there to contribute positively to creating awareness or making an impact and losing my head and getting all upset is for when I get home and I can ring my Mom. In saying that I do believe the days of being an “observer” in a lot of places, yes I have just observed, are over. For me personally I would like to see photographers and journalists and artists etc. being more involved than just bearing witness, and this is happening more and more often and it pleases me. I would like to find myself or create more projects like this to work on in the future. I think you also have to understand this is an age-old question though, one that could be argued constructively from a few different view points, and I think it is something that has to be asked and answered honestly to one’s self, and if you can’t internalise that and process it truthfully you shouldn’t be doing it.

The other coping mechanism for me is also the wonderful memories I have collected. People have an incredible resilience, and it’s often a cup of tea shared or a cigarette smoked with a stranger who has nothing, that can completely alter the mood of a situation. To know that you can make a friend in bad times, well, that’s always the game changer on a bad day, and an important memory and lesson to reflect upon afterwards. Regardless of language or any other factors that contribute to confusion in dialogue, a good laugh or gentle hand always, always leaves a much longer lasting impression than “the bad stuff”.

DIY: How hard is it for you to observe your surroundings without constantly imagining them through a viewfinder? Do you think that because of the way you photograph, and the subject matter that you’re interested in, you are always Gareth Bright: Photographer as opposed to just being Gareth Bright? Is it unhealthy to let what you do completely and absolutely define you?

Gareth: I think because of the subject matter, and the way I photograph and the fact that photography opened my eyes, and that I have really started to look and see has, especially in the last 18 months, made me far more Gareth Bright than I ever was before. Like I mentioned previously it has really helped me to learn things about myself and I do believe they might have taken me a lot longer to figure out without it. Yes, it’s a pain walking down the street and seeing something I can’t shoot, but that only happens when I don’t have my camera on me. That is something I worry about far more than imagining everything through a viewfinder. Do I think it’s unhealthy? No, I think anything that contributes to you and adds to your life in more good ways than bad, is never a bad thing. Before photography I was a lot of things, now I am Gareth Bright, a photographer, a friend, a son and sometimes a lover, and like any normal person I am just someone who is trying to figure out what is going on outside of that. I just am blessed that I am starting to see it from so many different angles.

DIY: Have you ever been thrown in a scenario where you have feared for your life? Did you put yourself in that position or did it occur by happenstance?

Gareth: Yes, when I was arrested in the Thai/Burma border town of Mae Sot trying to photograph illegal Burmese refugees who worked in a bra factory. They worked there in shifts as seamstresses and table cutters by day, and then at night they “worked” for the local male and (s)expat community. I was arrested for unauthorized entry. I feared for my life, but because I would live, when would I see my friends, my family, those were my fears, not my death. That’s an inescapable fate I have recently made peace with. Yes I chose to be there.

DIY: A lot of people move to South East Asia to teach English. Did you also have to do some teaching to get your foot in the door, or have you always managed to survive off your photography? If you did teach, are there any lessons you learnt from teaching that have helped with the way you photograph or approach your photography?

Gareth: Yup…I did my stint as an English Teacher in Asia. I learnt how to make a lot of hand signs and weird body movements that have helped me communicate things I am not able to because of language barriers. It was also a reinforcement of how much I love kids and how much I hate 9 to 5s. It was a positive experience for sure, and has perhaps helped me with my approach to people, and of course that speaking in public problem I had.

DIY: You are exhibiting with Kevin Goss-Ross and Caitlin Fay Smith this coming Thursday at The Factory Cafe. Is there an underlying connection with all the works or are the three stories completely different?

Gareth: Firstly I AM SO EXCITED about this show. Kevin and Caitlin are both great Photographers I respect, so showing with them is tip top. This show was a ton of brain farts sent about in emails for quite a while. Realising we had all been chasing light in India within 8 months of each of other, I think sparked it. Then more emails and now the show, Life and Death between Chai. You can’t tell a story of India, you can only interpret her and I think that is the beauty of the show. Three Photographers with three very, very different shooting styles trying to interpret something of India. Kev’s stuff is gorgeous and colourful like India. All portraits and in true Goss – Ross style lit to perfection. Caity’s stuff is so obvious of her, a wonderful gentle soul who really seeks beauty and care in moments, but with the intelligence of an old well-written book. My work is a bit more hard hitting, it is all shot in Varanasi the holy city on the river Ganges. It was shot in stay of well over a month where I was trying to contrast Life and Death, in a city where life and death happen in front of your eyes, everyday, out in the open for everyone to see. It’s quite a magical place in that sense. The show is entitled Life and Death Between Chai because we tried to come up with something “fancy” but in reality this is what India is; a place that happens between your first and next cup of tea, and in our cases what we shot between one cup of chai and the next.



DIY: What’s your most poignant memory from India? Photographers often bemoan the moments they missed or didn’t capture quite right. Did anything like that happen in India?

Gareth: I think my most touching memory is in fact a realisation from a conversation I had with an old man on the steps that overlook Manikarnika, the famous burning Ghat. I was asking him about India and as you do in Varanasi, Life and Death. He, after a while into the conversation paused and, asked me if I was afraid of shitting. I, of course, replied no. He then reminded me that Death was the same as shitting; it was just something that is going to happen. He also reminded me that Life was like shitting as well, in the sense that what you put in is what you get out. This was about 3 weeks into the trip, and I guess when I realised that death is just biological, and something that everyone is going to have to do, and you get to see it in front of you and it’s not that scary, and that it doesn’t come with a thunder and lightning, and a reaper with a scythe, life most certainly becomes the spectacle. Varanasi is like Nepenthe and a place I think anybody who has the fortune of travel should visit. The entire city and time spent there bore many wonderful and welcome revelations in my own personal life as well as photographically. Yeah, I missed moments in India, or didn’t shoot them as intelligently as I would like to have, but hell there is no use in harping on it… I shot some really good stuff as well.


DIY: What subject matter interests you the most when looking at other photographer’s work? Does content trump style and technical prowess? Or is a combination of all three that really makes the difference?

Gareth: I think with the kind of photography I find myself interested in more and more it is definitely the combination because of my growing fondness for process. That doesn’t mean to say if I see an image that is good, I won’t say it’s a good image. For me personally though when I look at someone like Robert Frank’s work, I see style and I know there is technical knowledge behind it to capture things like Frank did, especially in his book The Americans. With him as well there is the visual literacy to find a subject matter and intelligently shoot the “anti – postcard” I love so much. Subject matter I like to look at changes for me a lot, but the intelligence, which was used to shoot it, becomes more and more important. Lately I have been really into photographs shot with large format cameras using the old wetplate collodion process, the body of work What Remains – by Sally Mann is something I am looking at most days and thriving off inspirationally. I have also found a website that has incredibly “beautiful” images shot of shoulders wounds during the American Civil War. These and Sally Mann’s work all carry the combo factor and, if anything, it’s going to get harder and harder for me to look at the new digital stuff and try and compare it to that, even if the subject matter is great and all the technical aspects are taken care of. In saying all that if you get a chance to go and see my work in the show, it will be no secret that my biggest inspirations of late have been The End of the Game – Peter Beard and the direct influence from my mentor Philip Blenkinsop.

DIY: For better or worse, there is constantly new photographic technologies available to the professional, hobbyist and average consumer. In your opinion, how much have these new technologies helped the art of photography, if at all?

Gareth: I will try and keep this simple; do I think modern technology has helped the art of Photography? No, I don’t. Do I think it’s made it more accessible and easier for everyone to enjoy? Yes. My personal opinion on art is that it’s something made, that it involves a process. Others would argue that if you have a good eye, and you can capture the moment and transport the viewer there through your eyes, the rest doesn’t matter. It’s about more than that for me, it always will be. I do think other kinds of photography have been born out of the digital age, and yes there is certainly process but I think there is a fine line between digital art and what I consider Photography. I guess my personal feeling on art in general is that I like art that has been made and that the end result is something I can physically touch and see where the artist has used his/her hands and there is the possibility of slight human error in it, which makes it real and unique. So for me, and the Photography I like and will continue to like I don’t think the new technologies have contributed to the art of photography at all. There will always be this argument in art, and the beauty of art and the most important part about it for me is how it impacts on people individually and personally, the glory of that is that one photograph, or one painting could be viewed by the entire population and could create 7 billion different opinions and that’s exciting.

DIY: Where can we follow your journeys online?

Gareth: Haha – This is probably why I hate the New Technology question the most, because I started a blog and got bored, I called a million people about making me a website, they could never make it a virtual book that did amazing flash things…so for now, my website is my portfolio book I carry around, and my blog is my journal. If you want to see what I have been up to lately, come down to the Factory Café on Thursday the 5th and you can see some works up on the wall rather than floating around in the virtual world.

DIY:And lastly, any shout outs?

Yes of course, firstly Mom and Dad. I tattooed your names on my arms so I could take you everywhere with me, because without you guys I would never be anywhere, and I would never understand balancing passion and patience. Jamie – for living with me, and loving me like a brother you are the closest thing I will ever have. Philip and Yonola for being my Rocks in Bangkok, for pepper bottom lunches, and for being the reason I WILL KEEP MOVING and FIGHTING. Brie for teaching me it doesn’t always have to be serious, and playing mother Teresa during the floods. I miss you. To Leigh for always being an ear, for cyber plotting and forever being on my side. To my “always there” amigos, Tyson, Brett, Andre(so much), Grant and Warren, you dudes know. To Kev and Caity for pulling arse back home and making the show a reality,much love. And last but not least Kudos to you peeps at Durban Is Yours for an awesome set of questions and opportunity to flap my lips virtually.

3 Responses to “Gareth Bright”
  1. Bob says:

    It is, shot for picking up the mistake.

  2. Gigantic Faggot says:

    Man, if I was an old Indian dude I would spend literally ALL my time telling spooky stories to bewildered westerners. Good interview, great photographs btw.

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