Jonny Cohen has a keen eye for events around him and through his visual storytelling tries to bring these to broader attention. We chatted to him about his involvement with boxing, his favourite gear and upcoming projects.
How did you start off in photography?
My father was a doctor in public service but passionate about photography and film. He bought me a film camera when I was 13. I started developing my own film and have been busy with cameras ever since
What do you believe is the role of photographic reportage?
Reportage is the art of using real life images to construct a compelling story. I look for positive uplifting stories in Africa, even when the external view is not so pretty.
Tell us more about your work with the Sisonke Boxing Club.
I grew up with a decent education, a roof over my head and food in my stomach, which is much more than the majority of the population ever had. So, I have always accepted my responsibility to give back to communities less privileged.
Boxing is also something I loved from a young age, so when I met Bongile, the coach of Sisonke Club and he asked for help, I could not say no. That was five years ago. I train and help with club, but I have also been documenting the club as a project since for four years now.
Tell us about the camera gear you use.
I had always shot with bigger full-frame systems. It took me a few years after initially starting with the X100 to make the full leap to Fujifilm. The X-T3 and now the X-T4 with IBIS, are very competent cameras and allow me to switch effortlessly between stills and video. I also like the traditional form factor and tactile experience, and of course the lighter weight compared to traditional DSLRs since I travel a lot.
Do you have a favourite shot?
“I am a boxer”- a young boy in the corner of a ring, about to go into battle. The images shows vulnerability and softness, merged with a warrior spirit.
Last year the image was auctioned for R10,000 to raise funds for the club, and is now being used to raise funds for Covid-19 relief.
Favourite photographers right now?
Brent Stirton, a South African photographer who is a senior photographer at Getty Images in NYC. His work covering conflicts and environmental issues is deeply moving and inspiring.
And then Fujifilm X-Photographer Jens Krauer from Switzerland, whose monochromatic work cuts to the heart of subject and composition.
From the past, Vivian Maier – such an incredible story.
Do you have any new projects you want to start on?
Everything is on hold now with Covid. But I’ve been documenting humanitarian projects around Cape Town the past few weeks, which tells me that we as a nation will get through this.
Short term project:
I have been promoting Shona stone sculptors from Zimbabwe for many years, who are some of the best global sculptors alive. I recently came across an incredible project promoting a functional village art. The villagers are incentivised with prizes like a plough, a water tank, even a cow, to beautify their villages and homes. And the results are really quite beautiful. I would love to document that with a GFX.
Long term project:
“Bright Lights”. This documents the journey of Xhosa men from the Eastern Cape to urban cities in a bid to find work and money, and how life has turned out for them. It looks at what they miss about their villages and the impact on their culture. I feel this is an important body of work, so hoping for funding to support this initiative.