Geoff Brokate

Five questions with Geoff Brokate

Photographer Geoff Brokate tells stories of people on the edges of society, from Mumbai slums to Pakistani child wrestlers.

His exhibition with Kaye Martindale, Beyond the Binary, is currently on at Belfast Photo Festival.

You have worked in countries around the world, which has inspired you the most creatively?

There is no other experience like India, the variety between each state is so dramatic.

Coming from Australia, where the entire continent is the same with minor variations, the ethnic diversity India offers doesn’t compare to anywhere else I have visited.

The tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, the monks in Ladakh or the Christians in Odisha. You don’t choose India, India chooses you.

It was my first overseas travel and I ended up staying five years. It forced me to confront my fears and insecurities as I began photographing away from the tourist traps.

A story that sums up my Indian experience was when I was travelling on a local train to Bihar. I had to stand as the the train was full, it was so busy people were on the roof. A kind Indian man stood up and offered me his seat. As I sat down he then sat on my knee for the whole of the six-hour trip. Personal space does not exist there and it is a great lesson for a photographer to be comfortable in that environment.

Your Pakistani women series was thrust into the international spotlight after the shooting of Malala Yousafezi. How did this change perception of the series?

It is a fact that a celebrity can help promote your work, we see it in advertising all the time.

Unfortunately, it took the shooting of a teenage girl for the world to take notice of the situation in Pakistan and as a result our project began to be seen as work that was carrying a serious and important message.

© Geoff Brokate
Jamie and Tom © Geoff Brokate

You’ve spoken about your preference for 35mm film. Why is this?

The main difference between film and digital is the editing process that occurs in the mind immediately after you have shot a photograph.

With digital you look at the shot and you start judging the result, whether it is the composition, the light, the countenance of your subject.

With film the process that occurs after a shot is totally different.

You have to go onto the next photograph, you can’t look back at it and judge it. The result is that you are forced to stay in the moment and to be with your subject, this often allows you to see photographs that you would have missed if you were looking at your digital camera screen.

They are two different ways of working but I appreciate the skill that using film nurtures, where the judging mind doesn’t interfere with the process until after the shoot.

Can you tell us more about Beyond the Binary?

The exhibition is a project that focuses on non traditional families.

Increasingly our modern society is embracing difference and accepting sexual and gender identities that don’t conform to traditional binary stereotypes.

We asked each family for a situation that best depicts a typical activity for them.

We wanted to create an aesthetic that didn’t hyper-sexualise their identity, so we created series that pointed to the similarities of family life rather than the differences.

© Geoff Brokate
Jenny Anne © Geoff Brokate

You often work with your partner Kaye Martindale, how does this compare with other collaborations?

Our motto is that ‘things are better when we’re together’.

Being in a relationship we need to be more aware of how we speak to each other, to ensure it remains professional and not personal.

In collaboration with others your language is naturally attuned to being polite and considered.

We have a young family and our children come to most projects we work on, this creates a whole other dynamic.

When you turn up to a shoot and you have two children under your arm the whole environment changes, people put their guards down and everyone is more personable. People respect our decision to include our children in a our work, even if it makes the job harder.

Geoff Brokate

Beyond The Binary is on at Ulster University Art Gallery until June 30 as part of the Belfast Photo Festival.

To find out more about Geoff, visit geoffbrokate.com.

All images © Geoff Brokate.

Copy editing by Sheena Campbell.