Based in Cape Town, photographers Jonathan Kope and Jarred Figgins make up the prolific double-act that is known as KOPE | FIGGINS.
The duo tends to gravitate towards fashion photography and have worked together for about 3 years. In the realm of video KOPE | FIGGINS have shot for David West, Peaches and Moullinex, as well as a soon to be released music video for Beatenberg’s single, Chelsea Blakemore. Here, we chat to them to find out more.
Tell us more about yourselves…
Jonathan Kope: God, I’m awful at this sorta question. My name’s Jonathan Kope. I’m tall. I share a studio with some great people. I’m from Cape Town. I don’t really have any hobbies. I’m really looking forward to it being summer again. Ya know, for the tanning. Sorry, I should have this one waxed but I don’t.
Jarred Figgins: Male. 26. From JHB, living in Cape Town.
What did each of you do before you started working together as Kope l Figgins? How long have you been working together?
JK: I majored in sculpture at Michaelis. I achieved minimal-to-zero success as a model (that’s not a self-deprecating joke). I bartended at the Waiting Room in Long Street for a while. Dear lord. This is not exciting sounding. J and I starting working together round the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. J had access to a badass studio. I knew the guys at Boss Models. So we figured we could combine the two and do tests at the studio. BIG PLANS RIGHT.
JF: We’ve been working together for about three years, however, I’d say we’ve only been taking it seriously for about a year and a half. Before that I was trying really hard to think about making things, and better things.
Why do you prefer working as a duo instead of individually?
JK: For me, it was never really a conscious decision. It just works. There’s a practical side to it, like the division of labour and costs and the doubling of contacts/network (or negatives, like the halving of all profits). But on a creative side and on a friendship side it’s the best. Workshopping ideas together pushes things further than I feel I could myself, and getting to experience together all the cool shit that comes with being in this industry is far better than going it alone. Going to parties together, being on set together, going to meetings together, coming up with stuff together, pushing each other – doing that all on my own would just suck, and it’s fucking great doing it as a team.
JF: I appreciate certain things Jon perhaps doesn’t, and vice versa. The middle ground really. I guess I enjoy that, the involuntary debate, the engagement. Jon’s great too I appreciate him, a real nut.
In what ways are the two of you different, and in what ways are you alike?
JK: Jarred is far cooler than me. Like, in a real way. Also dresses better than me. Has better musical taste (hell, any musical taste is better than mine, I ain’t gonna kid). Has a far more ‘fashion’ and tilted creativity to me. Has a tangible knowledge of cinema. Jarred makes me look like I’m just winging it (that’s ‘cos I am just winging it). I’m obviously better looking. And I can bench more than he can. And I have a fucking driver’s license. And a valid passport.
We laugh at a lot of the same stuff. We’re both pretty rational most of the time. We both work fucking hard. We probably stay up later and drink more than we should. We both have an affinity for sport. We both grew up in suburbia. We’re both stupidly ambitious. Now is never really good enough. We both want more and better. We’re both THE MOST FUN YOU’LL EVER HAVE.
JF: Our individual pasts are severely different; perhaps it’s our willingness to make something interesting that we share. But this may change tomorrow. Yesterday I think we were luckily able to be extremely excited about something, today was different, but I guess we both knew that, which helped take a load off.
Tell us about some of the things that influence and inspire your work…
JK: I’m not really looking at great editorials, or art, or cinema or all the stuff I suppose one is supposed to look at (or at least – not looking at enough of that). I guess I find mediocrity more inspiring in a negative way, something to react against. Like, what not to do. I also find a lot of weird inspiration from archetypal advertising and commercial imagery. Nivea adverts. Omo adverts. The Maq ducks. I mean, that’s genius. Like, watch this. That sorta thing. WHO’S FUCKING MAKING THIS STUFF? IT’S THE BEST. I’ve got this book of German Lifestyle and Advertising photography. I try to not look at it too much. If I can somehow begin to fuse that genre with fashion work and video stuff, shit will be awesome. I guess we’ve slowly started doing that, like with the Beatenberg boys. The stills originally, but now with this video we’re bringing out in a few days.
JF: I think it becomes more difficult to assess as time goes by. You get overwhelmed with things that have made you enjoy what you are now, and other things that you don’t really enjoy about yourself. Then, maybe, you see something you like, but realise that now you’ve seen it you don’t really enjoy it as much anymore, either because you’ve become jealous that you didn’t make it or that it’s just a replica of something you’ve seen before. Or you eat something delicious and then struggle to find something comparable, or you eat too much of it and become ill or underwhelmed. Or you buy a magazine and have already seen most of what’s inside online, but then, collecting is great, but it also takes up space. Then you end up forgetting about things or inevitably having to dispose of things because of storage space, and then the debacle; what to keep and what to discard.
How would you describe your style as photographers?
JK: Inconsistent? Or REALLY GOOD STYLE? Depends on the job really. We take pride in keeping things a bit tilted, and polished and sexy and very very considered. But it’s difficult to pin it down to a specific. As soon as we feel like we’ve done one thing too well for two or three jobs it’s like, fuck it, well, that’s too easy now, it’s getting boring. Let’s move on. If we were shooting big bad production before, let’s simplify. Or if we’ve been doing too much ‘sexy’, let’s go austere. We’re in constant reaction to ourselves, if that makes sense.
JF: I think we’re / I’m still developing that.
What did each of you want to be growing up? Was there ever any indication that you’d end up where you are now?
JK: I have no real recollection of wanting to ever “be” anything in particular. I wanted to be out of the ordinary. And known. And not be in “a job”. The fashion/media world seems a pretty good place to plant narcissism on a grand scale.
JF: No not ever, I really wanted to be a great sportsman. There’s something about the immediacy of competitiveness in sport that’s really precise, something that is perhaps missing in certain spaces because we’re all very consumed in our day to day as individuals, or duos, or collectives, or agencies.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
JK: Dear lord. Um, on a very base sorta baritone level is the oeuvre of work we’re building. That’s pretty rewarding. Over time, to be able to look at the collection of what we’ve done; I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s actually quite a thing for me. I’m pretty cavalier about ‘fashion photography’ and the whole schpiel, so yeah, for me to have a kernel of pride in what we’ve accomplished is pretty cool. But above that, or more immediately, is some awareness of a sort of slow acceptance up the ranks. Like, I’m sitting at a table with who? We’re being booked to shoot what? The budget is HOW MUCH? There’s stuff that I’m complacent with now, that if I’d foreseen two years ago I woulda been over the moon about. The level of production we do now, and the stuff we get up to. I sometimes feel a glimmer of coolness. That’s rewarding. Christ. How shallow.
JF: Making my mum proud.
Who are some of your favourite South African photographers and artists?
JK: Kerry Chaloner. Ben Johnson. Bee Diamondhead. Sam Coleman. Sarah Nankin. Rodan Kane Hart. I’m not necessarily saying I like their work (or that I don’t, mind) – but those are my favourites to be around.
JF: I’m quite fond of the painter Kerry Chaloner. I pretty much like everything at the moment, it either gives me something to appreciate and work towards or from, or something to talk about.
If photography wasn’t an option, what would you do?
JK: I’ve become mildly obsessed lately with business and money and power and ‘the market’. Maybe some sort of master of the universe kinda trader-cum-investment-banker sorta guy. Or else, I’d be back on kibbutz. I liked kibbutz.
JF: If I was better at other things I’m sure this would help, otherwise everything else, would too, be just an option.
Where do you see yourselves 10, maybe 20, years from now?
JK: I have difficulty foreseeing next week. So to ask about 10 or 20 years is nauseating. On a base level, I want to be involved in bigger productions. I want to be able to have more say over the commercial work I do. I want more $. I want to have travelled far more. I want to be involved in more areas of big media in general. I want to do far more video. I want more free shit and invites. Not exactly a lucid plan is it.
JF: Still plugging away. Dealing with technology. Not being too boring.
What are you working on currently, and what do you have planned going forward?
JK: We’re putting finishing touches to our music video for Beatenberg’s single ‘Chelsea Blakemore’. Super excited about that. I’m busy retouching a whole load of stuff which I’ve been putting off forever. We’re gearing up a bit for summer, so that means collating a whole lot of material and plugging gaps. But look, moving forward – more video. Simple as that. SuperSexy. We’re working on this giant plan with Bee for November, which is BAW$. More advertising shizzle. That sorta thing. I wanna do summer in CT, get fuck-off tanned, and then do a few little sojourns up North.
JF: A bunch of things are in the pipeline, speaking about them is quite tiresome. Most of the work is rewarding one way or another, but I think that out of all the things that we’ve worked on recently, the Beatenberg video has been a really enjoyable production, a real highlight. Appreciating and developing the better aspects about it, and learning from the terrible ones is a good place to start. Making more happen with the good people that we work with.