A talk with... KAY ROSS

Karim Rosati has moved to Romania from Rome around 11 years ago. What might come as a surprise, he never studied photography, although these artistic endeavours were cultivated since childhood, when he used to travel a lot and developed photographs in his grandmother’s dark chamber alongside his father. His highschool friends were mostly from artist-oriented families, so those years were full of exploration, traveling, vernissages, arts and cinema, most of them being translated into black and white film photography. His dream was interrupted by studies and his family’s pragmatism, ending up by going to a private catholic school and graduating law studies.

When he had the opportunity to choose a career again, he picked up his camera and started from zero with lots of love and respect for photography, in a manner that doesn't need to become very commercial, but it intends to illustrate a clear visual identity. Since then, Kay Ross had self-taught his way to becoming one of Romania’s best afterhours photographers for his evocative shots, portraiture and his trademark perspective. His contemporary approach comes from the necessity and responsibility of telling a story - it’s mostly about the people who attend this movement and gather around the music. Here’s a candid interview with Kay discussing his aesthetics of clubbing and festival photography.

What made you to get involved into clubbing photography?

When I started to photograph again, I was already living in Romania, around 2008-2009. My close friends were club owners in Cluj and Bucharest, so things linked and I challenged myself to define this type of photography. I quickly understood that here tech-minimal underground is becoming a strong movement and I wanted to integrate my photography in a non-disturbing or offensive way. Since then, I’ve pushed my skills and knowledge into improving this segment of photography without using flash, which I find invasive and inappropriate for this context.
I think it’s truly interesting to manage to illustrate a rich moment in just one shot: you have to reduce everything to the essence and to reveal the subject as authentic as possible, in a very spontaneous way.

How has music impacted you and your pursuits as a photographer?

I’ve listened to a lot of American folk, blues, jazz, reggae. Back then, I used to make mixtapes for friends. Also, I was very passionate about rock - from Queen, Pink Floyd, and all the stars covering that era. A key moment for me was Massive Attack around ‘93-’94 - it created the link to electronic music.
Coming to Romania, I understood that this minimalist electronic movement has an interesting cultural foundation. I met teenagers who came to parties just for the sake of music, not for the event itself and I understood that it was something relevant and worthy of further exploration.
It came with a sensitive approach and technical challenge - to be able to represent this without the right tools for the work, but I saw that my way of storytelling was fitting perfectly the context. I can say that the music brought me back to photography.

Some artists embrace the unknown. Others try to control for it. Which are you? Why?

I prefer to jump. I am convinced that who has the courage to jump has a great self-mastery. If you take the risk, you can change something, without always being safely anchored. I pay often due to this approach, falling down is in the menu too, but if you succeed you get to the top. I think you can get where others are limiting themselves, I think we should all try and help each other when we get down. It would help us reach a higher level in profession and passion.

Portraits are a key part of your work. Why have you remained focused on people?

This is a very good question. I think it’s related to describing a context and an event through a face, expression, emotion. You have an answer right away. If you have to read a frame with 20 people, you can feel that they are happy, they dance - that’s ok, but I can give you that perspective also through the smile of a fine girl. It’s a different approach of the same situation, with a different impact. I often have this problem with the promoters - “it was a good party but we didn't see the party” - but you have to feel it. The context pictures don't interest me, but the feeling of people who enjoy themselves, focusing more on their eyes and smile. In this way you also leave room for imagination to contribute and build like a mental puzzle with the whole party after watching a full gallery. I find very important to give back the energy I receive. There are parties that I attend where I get home and I start editing the pictures to send them right away to the people who have contributed to my mood and state of mind - and that is exactly why I do this job.

What’s different in today’s parties compared to the scene you were a part of in 2009, right after your relocation to Romania?
I'm probably feeling more distanced from the current generation. It's a different way of having fun at the club - it's a different atmosphere. The current clubbers identify with a status, with the ocassional use of neurotic substances: let's just say that speed is different than LSD, ragazzi. Since this is the trend, it is logical that the parties are not as associative as they were before.  
I’ve noticed that abroad, especially in big cities, techno and electronic music is a niche, it's a closed circle of just a few people.  Outside the clubs close very early, the fines are stingy, there are harsh sound restrictions and so on. In Romania the phenomena is transversal: before people were listening to house and commercial everywhere, be it a restaurant, bar or at the disco. Now it's minimal techno - almost all clubs come with a program for electronic music also. It’s not surprising to rent places in villages around the cities to party with a big line-up. This is good. Even the taxi driver knows who [ar:pia:r] is. In the end, this is the reason why so many people come to Romania, for the spirit of tolerance and relaxation.

What professional photographers have influenced your work, and how do you incorporate their techniques into your photographs?
I wouldn’t necessarily mention photographers, but the films I saw from Federico Fellini, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson - if you have an eye for this you absorb information observed in the movies and insert them in your work, it is a type of mimicry. I was lucky to be with this group of artists and filmmakers in high school, and I had developed a critical sense at 16-17 years old, because we went to many international film festivals. My approach was directed towards the production - to understand the frames; now I realize how influential those times were for my development.

Also what I read notably influenced me. At one point you would like to re-enact a paragraph by Gabriel García Márquez - with all the descriptivism. Obviously, it impacts the way you take pictures.
If I have chosen this job at 40, I have it viscerally in me. If it gets tough, my relationship with work is wrong. The path to artistic creation is clear in my mind. My approach is as poetic as possible.

How do you think your personality shapes your photography?
The difference between the artists is the cultural baggage and the amount of experience. We are the catalyst for the whole experience, which we give back and morph with the aim of a constructive output. I'm happy to notice that this process educates the younger people that I'm in contact with.
Much of your work relishes in a sense of soul-touching highly-concentrated moments — what drives your values when displaying your subject behind the frame?
Being honest and humble - values ​​are directly linked to my character.
I would never use an image to get famous or have a great reach if it does not represent me.

What kind of beauty are you looking for?
Ah.. I would be a hypocrite to say that when you take pictures at a party you are not looking for beautiful people from the aesthetic point of view. I have a pattern of pure aesthetics that I like and that I always seek to represent the best. I have my key to read and find. But I increasingly appreciate radiant people - someone told me that I can see the auras - well, something like that. Especially at the parties there are people who are not necessarily very harmonious, aesthetically speaking, but they are extremely energetic - this is a new aesthetic channel that goes into my pictures. I would always choose to party with imperfect but super fun people than a backstage of frigid supermodels.

What selectors have you enjoyed photographing and in what kind of atmosphere?
Normally I prefer to capture artists in situations when they are not in the DJ booth. There is a distance between the public and the artists, and it is the photographer's responsibility to shorten it, to become friendly and personal with the artist. I like to show the human side, I prefer to present them in simple moments, laughing, smiling, in a conversation, with a cute mimic.
I have good relationships with many DJs, also some of them who were reluctant changed their perception with time. I believe that the photographer does not go to the party for a fee and comes home with the pictures, but is an active part of the party. As a character, as a DJ. When you're a DJ it's nice when you've finished the set to go dance and have fun with the people. In the electronic music scene in Romania I think we are a big family and we don’t have to differentiate ourselves by profession or fame - when we have fun together, we have fun together.
I get along with many DJs, but one of the most special relationships I have is with Herodot. We did hundreds of parties together and although we didn't necessarily came close on a personal level, still we connect. I recently discussed with a DJ about how important is the relationship you establish with a photographer: the difference between a straight face DJ or an involved DJ. I was explaining to him how important is to trust the photographer, to smile, to make a nice face, a special expression - that could generate a picture that sums up the whole party. There’s no need for DJs to stay serious or for me to go 10 times to catch a little smile, just because you're at an underground party. It is not the case anymore - this is not Berghain. We’re part of the entertainment industry. For a photographer is much easier to explain who the DJ is if they express themselves beyond the music they play. Until 4-5 years ago, everyone was in the booth without interacting with the public, without moving - looking upset. Why are you upset bro? Smile!

What are you hoping to show people through your images?
I think all people need to leave some sort of inheritance - at least that's what I understood so far. We are part of a society in which we cooperate and leave historical memories about our lives and experiences and this will help those who come after us. This sets us apart from the other creatures on the planet. And then the idea of ​​leaving an inheritance associated with an art like photography, which is a pillar of communication, means doing your job as well as possible and spreading the ideals you grew up with and formed throughout the years.
I think it has to be a social purpose in what you do. At 3SOf last year, after the first night of the festival, my new camera was broken. My shutter was blocked, I went crazy, and finally Alex Vlase - another photographer - came and brought me his camera in the evening. On that day, everyone on the island tried to help me. There I decided to do a festival photography workshop: 7 days at Waha and 7 at 3SO. I will teach my philosophy behind photography there.
When people meet me they respect me and listen to what I do, so I have a responsibility. The first thing I look at when I meet an artist is how much responsibility does he have? How's his job done? How much passion does he put in? How serious is he in what he does? I am labeled as absolutely non-serious and non-conformist, but I think I am exactly the opposite. It is very important how consistent you are, what principles you bring to the table.
More and more people come and thank me for the pictures - which means I communicate correctly - the greatest satisfaction in the end is that I have reached people. When you go on the right path from a professional point of view, you should never compromise yourself.

What are your plans for the future?
We will open an agency that deals with communication and media strategy. We want to focus on all kinds of content from video and photography for our clients so that at one point the clients collaborate with our artists by linking customers. We’d like to support the students and professionals from Cluj area. We will do photography and video workshop, and the space where we’ll host this will be a hub where everyone can stop and discuss ideas.

What equipment is a must-have for you no matter where you are going to be working?
The smile.
Written by Bianca Iulia