When Cold War Steve sent through his Birmingham work I was taken aback by this representation of the city’s incredible wide-ranging talent. One of the many familiar faces I was happy to see smiling out from the vast crowd was Dr Pogus Caesar. Pogus is a Birmingham-based photographer of international acclaim with work in the National Portrait Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery among other collections.
Benny's Babbies by Cold War Steve (left) with a close up of Pogus Caesar (right).
On top of photography, Pogus has been a television director and producer and was the first Chairman of Birmingham International Film & Television Festival. He also co-curated a number of seminal exhibitions of black artist’s work with Turner Prize winning artist Lubaina Himid including Into the Open in 1984. Despite Caesar’s extremely wide portfolio, music and black talent have been at the heart of his work. Historian Paul Gilroy explained the importance of this beautifully in his introduction to Caesar’s 2010 Muzik Kinda Sweet exhibition:
“These days it may be difficult for people to understand the power and significance of that music in the sustenance of black life here. The scenes Pogus has documented not only provided a portal for the mainstreaming of a culture that has been judged worthless, criminal, pathological. […] The democratic poetry of solidarity and resistance distributed a political pulse and fed the economic circulation of a new body created against the odds in Britain’s changing cities.” - Paul Gilroy, 2010.
In capturing these socially and artistically significant moments, Pogus has always worked with a Cannon Auto Focus 35mm. A straightforward, unpretentious camera that speaks of the DIY punk ethic of art making in Birmingham in the early 1980s. It also highlights how much of what makes these images remarkable is Pogus himself, in his judgment in finding the perfect moment to take the shot that will encapsulate the talent and significance of the people he studies.
“Pogus has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, with a steely determination and commitment to his art. His ability to get this access means that, fortunately for us, his camera has captured iconic images of some of the key musical heroes of our time.” - Kate Pryor, 2010.
I’ve seen evidence of this ability to be in the right place at the right time when showing a group around the Birmingham Revolutions exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, talking about some of Pogus’s images of artist’s and activists on display, and through the door walks Pogus himself, happy to say hello to our excited visitors. Not just an uncanny ability to know when he’s needed, this speaks of Caesar’s continual, supportive presence in musical and artistic life in the city.
Pogus has selected the following works as highlights of his career as a photographer working in Birmingham, a city ripe for anyone wishing to capture wave after wave of new musical iconography.
Roland Gift of fine Young Cannibals
Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals, London, UK 1986 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2019.
This portrait was taken late at night in Camden, London. I always use a Canon AF film camera, the small flash projected enough light to enhance Gift's striking features.
Jay-Z, Birmingham UK. 2006 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive.
In 2006 he was performing in Birmingham. I knew a few people at the concert venue, they allowed me access to where Jay-Z would be waiting. He saw me but said nothing - however I believe he gave me the shot I was looking for. Using HP5 film allows me to achieve the grain I desire from the print.
Gail Ann Dorsey
Gail Ann Dorsey, Birmingham UK. 1988 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive.
She was a long standing member of Davie Bowie's band, playing bass and providing vocals on "Under Pressure." Dorsey now performs with Lenny Kravitz. In 1988 she was promoting her album on the Central TV' series "Here & Now" I had the opportunity to work with her and asked if I could take a number of photographs, including this beautiful image.
Stevie Wonder, Birmingham, UK 1989 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2019.
In 1989 while working at Central TV, I had the honour of directing inserts for a Stevie Wonder video. Usually filming after midnight over three days, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time in his company. Observing and listening to Wonder, I amazed that this living legend was sitting and drinking tea/coffee a few feet away from me. Oh how his fingers danced over the piano keys!
Lionel Richie, Birmingham, UK 2004 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2019.
When you have the opportunity to meet someone like Lionel Richie, take your film camera and work quick. I also wanted to capture an alternative image of this musical icon!
Grace Jones, Birmingham, UK 2009 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2019.
The photograph was taken during her 2009 Birmingham concert, Jones had the audience mesmerized and in the palm of her hands. At one point she jumped off stage and climbed onto the shoulders of a young man, I took out my camera and watched as she edged closer and closer - she then looked straight into the lens, click and I took one of my favourite images.
Mighty Diamonds, Birmingham, UK 1986 © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive.
One of my favourite reggae groups, their songs entwined sweet harmonies with religious and Rastafarian influences. In 1986 they visited Birmingham and was able to spend a few days in their company. As musicians who have influenced generations, their humble attitude was much to be admired. The allowed me to take a multitude of photographs in a variety of locations including Aston, Handsworth and Birmingham City Centre. When photographing musicians, they usually have an interest in my battered 1980s Canon AF with the tiny flash.