Category Archives: Blog

David Zimmerman focuses on Tibetans in exile

We first met David in Cannes in 2009 at the Sony World Photography awards.  He and his wife, Marilyn, were such charming people that we spent much of the week with them, eating drinking and of course talking photography.  David has an amazing passion for the image and believes deeply in its power to influence.  His Desert series won him both the professional Landscape award and the L’Iris D’Or (the overall award) that week.  His evocative images of light playing on the dunes of the US southwest simply astounded the judging panel.

David’s photographs are beautiful.  The way he captures light, his compositions and technical ability are phenomenal.   However his images are subtly realised and riven with a deeper meaning inspired by his deep concern for environments and people.  The Desert series were as much about the fragility of the ecosystem as its beauty, subsequent projects focused on individuals affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the eerily degraded landscape of the Salton Sea.  His present project, to examine the experience of exiled Tibetans living in northern India, will I am sure reflect his sensitive eye, but also convey the troubling times these exiles are living through.

David Zimmerman

David anticipates making 500 portraits ranging from the Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) to the lay people of Ladakh.  This aim has greatly benefitted from the personal support from HH The Dalai Lama and the CTA (an organization based in India with the stated goals of “rehabilitating Tibetan refugees and restoring freedom and happiness in Tibet“).

David Zimmerman


As well as carrying out his own work, David is collaborating with Exile Lens – a group of Tibetan photographers dedicated to preserving a visual legacy of Tibet.   This has involved running photography workshops in Dharamsala, India, to improve people’s basic skills, as well as demonstrating the storytelling and creative potential of photographs.  David has been overwhelmed by his pupils’ enthusiasm, so much so that it crossed is mind to give up photography and become a teacher instead!

David frequently writes about the warmth and generosity of the people he is with.  I imagine that he makes friends quickly and this desire to get to know his subject only enhances the sensitivity of his portraits.    On one occasion, in Ladakh, he tells me that he, a complete stranger, asked a mother if he could take away her children for an hour or so to take their photographs.  She replied with “Yes, but would you like to have some tea first?”.  A level of trust that I, as a mother in the UK, find difficult to imagine but it is perhaps indicative of both him and Ladakhi society.

This is an exciting and important long-term project, I look forward to seeing the results and sharing them with you.

Art For Africa – James Sparshatt and John Kenny exhibit at Sothebys, New York City

The second Art for Africa auction was held on 17th November in New York (the first auction, held in London in 2009, raised $750,000).

Art For Africa benefits the Africa Foundation, which was set up 20 years ago, working in partnership with the eco-tourism industry in Africa to empower rural African communities through sustainable development projects.

Art for Africa

Capital Culture’s James Sparshatt with Soweto Strings (palladium platinum print) and John Kenny with Lines that Lead to Perfection (at an impressive 56 X 38 inches) were exhibiting alongside U.S. artists Warhol, Peter Beard, Alex Katz, Nick Cave, Ross Bleckner, Matt Magee and Jeff Sonhous.   African artists Mary Sibande, Sue Williamson, Dylan Lewis, Peterson Kamwathi, Beezy Bailey, Creative Block, Mikhael Subotzky were also auctioned.

The Gala dinner and Auction Preview was held at Sotheby’s in New York City on the 12th October.   Guests included Archie Panjabi, Matt Czuchry, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and his wife Mary, Lola Ogunnaike, Nina Griscom, Cristina Cuomo, Enyinne Onwunwanne, Mia Morgan, Jennifer Creel, CEO Teresa Clarke, and artists Peter Beard, Kehinde Wiley, Andres Serrano, Julian Lethbridge, Nan Goldin, Hunt Slonem, Caio Fonseca, E.V. Day, Mary Sibande, Shinique Smith.

“The first highly successful sale in London saw enormous enthusiasm from collectors for works by some of the rising stars of African and international contemporary art,” said Scott Nussbaum, contemporary art specialist at Sotheby’s.

John Kenny on Facing Uncertainty with a large format camera

“My work in Africa attempts to capture tangible aspects of tradition in particular the details of personal attire and expression.  I often feel that I can see a whole way of life etched in a face.  A life inextricably linked to the rigours of both terrain and climate. Seeing, and feeling this is vitally important to my passion in making each one of my pictures.On my recent journey to Northern Kenya I took a Chamonix 10×8 large format film camera, in addition to my digital equipment.  I wanted to experience the craft of photography in a far more involved way and shooting on to a sheet of film about the size of an A4 piece of paper (8×10 in the US) certainly provides this.  It is not cheap (each shot costs £3 – £10) and the equipment is very cumbersome but when the Gods are favourable then the quality of one of these images remains unparalelled, even in this age of digital technology.  Many of my photographic heroes used this format – including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Richard Avedon.


Chamonix 10x8

I spent February and March experimenting in London slowly learning the constraints of the equipment.  I had a number of maddening light leaks that forced me to re-examine every step of film handling and picture taking – even the slightest leak will make a picture unusable.  By late March I decided that despite the difficulties I would take the camera, 15 boxes of film and five film holders to the extreme heat and dust of northern Kenya.  It was only in the final days before my departure that I narrowed the light leak problem down to the supposedly “light tight” slit of my filmholder and worked out a solution. 

I would be hitching through this harsh, rugged environment and risked all the time, money and sheer physical exertion being wasted if my fix didn’t work.  I could feasibly return to find all of the film  fogged, so I was glad to have the added insurance of my digital camera.   

It turned out to be an amazing, if challenging, experience for me and my subjects.  At times I had large crowds watching the mad Englishmen working his big contraption.  It may not be a direct equivalent of their lengthy traditional lineage, but the interest and laughter it created could certainly be classed as a cultural exchange. Certainly it provided a meeting point given the prolonged period of interaction required between photographer and subject, particularly when I showed them the equipment and tried to explain – ‘It has nothing inside…it’s….it’s just a box!’

Compared with the digital world every aspect of photography is more complicated.   This was compounded by my choice of film –  Provia 100 pushed to 200.  I shoot in the shade to reduce the extreme effects of light which meant either my shutter speed was very slow or my aperture very wide, resulting in a narrow depth of field.  Everything had to be set manually, and often reset multiple times, as the light or subject’s position changed.   Focusing is checked by examining an inverted image on a plate at the rear of the camera,  the film holder is then inserted and a dark slide removed before the shutter is released.  Even a small adjustment in the subject’s posture in the time between the original focusing and releasing the shutter could result in an image lacking sharpness. And of course you can’t see the picture composition when you actually press the shutter release cable. Pray that the person doesn’t blink! Without an assistant these challenges are very tricky even without the windy, dusty, baking Kenyan desert to contend with. 

Chamonix 10x8

I started the trip aware of all these problems and did my best to adapt my working practices to give me a chance of success. So I am amazing pleased with the results of my efforts.”

                                                                                                                                    courtesy of John KennyJohn’s work can be seen at Capial Culture Gallery from September 21st – October 2nd 2011.

James Sparshatt explains the story behind El Ensayo – the rehearsal

El Ensayo

“I was wandering through Holguin in eastern Cuba when I heard the drum.  The rhythm was familiar but I wasn’t enough of an expert to recognise which santo it represented.  Perhaps it was the warrior god Chango but it could just as easily have been Oshun the water goddess. 

The rhythms floated in the sultry afternoon balm, bouncing from crumbling edifice to paint peeled door, their source disguised.   A second drum took up the beat and then I heard the haunting lament of an Afro-Cuban voice. 

On the corner there was an old colonial building its doors and windows boarded up with sheets of corrugated iron.  As I wandered towards it the music grew in intensity and it was obvious that this beautiful edifice was not as abandoned as it appeared.  The music stopped as suddenly as it had begun and all that remained was the echo of memory and a sole dog yapping in the distance. 

I found what appeared to be a door in the iron cladding and rapped loudly.   A bolt was pulled back, the door thrown open, and I was confronted by a huge, bare-chested, sweat soaked Rastafarian.  His gaze moved from me to my camera to the bottle of rum poking its head out of my camera bag.  He stepped aside to let me pass.

Inside I found a troupe of dancers preparing for a festival.  I greeted the drummers and dancers who returned my smiles and happily accepted the gift of rum to soothe the throat and free the rhythm.  I chose a spot to watch the rehearsal and prepared my Mamiya7ii camera.

I love the Mamiya for work like this.  Its rangefinder focusing presents challenges for pure street photography but when you have time to compose an image, to place yourself in position and wait for the image to unfold – it is wonderful.  The limit of 12 shots per role to slow the process, a fixed focal length and the promise of a beautiful 7×6 medium format negative.

I spent the next hour or so soaking up the atmosphere, taking the occasional shot and slowly blending into the scene, becoming a part of the rhythms of the day.  And then it happened.  There was a lull in the rehearsal, the closest of the dancers adopted a proud pose, the afternoon light spilled through a doorway to sculpt her figure and that of her fellow performers, I raised my camera checked the focus and aperture and with a barely perceptible click released the shutter.”

                                                                                                                                                           courtesy of James Sparshatt

Barry Cawston explains the story behind ‘The Coat Napoli’

‘Coat Napoli’ was taken during a week spent photographing an old Palazza in Fisciano near Napoli.
Forty years before the house had been left empty by a family of coat makers when they moved to Naples.  The family gave me permission to photograph the interior before it was converted into an arts centre, but only if I would also take a picture of one of their coats in the space.

This beautiful coat was made from the finest leather I’ve ever felt.  Not wanting to use a model I walked every room in the house searching for a way to photograph it.

One of the rooms had an old chandelier chain which I used as a hanger.  The coat however looked heavy and bleak, far from the impression I was trying to give.  I was using a bellows plate camera, so I swiveled the focal plains and with a change of focus the coat seemed to magically float in the room. It was as though it was lifted from the floor which added a surreal quality.

The family asked me to do a 5ft 4ft print and much to my pleasure they hung it in their shop window in Napoli…’