From Rita Ora to Rosie Matheson, London-based filmmaker and photographer Kaj Jefferies has collaborated with an impressive list of brands and artists to create stunning analogue imagery. Shot entirely on film, her videos are beautifully raw and honest. We chatted to Kaj to find out more about shooting on super 8 film, navigating creative collaboration, and what moves her to tell people's stories.
Hello Kaj, and welcome back to the Lomography Magazine! Last time you were here, you were snapping shots with the Lomo’Instant Wide. What have you been up to since then?
Pretty much non-stop work! But I’m in northern Ibiza at the moment, having time out from London and recharging for the busy next few months ahead.
Where did you learn to shoot on Super 8 film? What is it that you love about the medium?
I taught myself! I actually taught myself how to use cameras, to edit — everything I do really. You really don’t need to go to school to learn — it's really a process of trial and error. After that, if you're still stuck, the internet pretty much has all the technical answers. Oh, and reading lots of old camera manuals.
I love shooting on film, you really feel an honest reflection and very personal portrait of the subject. Super 8 reveals an incredibly raw and truthful image — there are imperfections, there is only one take, and there is no hiding. It's such a minimal, frugal set up. I direct campaigns with big crews and lots of kits, and I just love how stripped back it feels in comparison; how easy it is just to hold a camera and run about shooting. It feels really free and primitive, almost. I can just whip it out my bag at any time and shoot. That's why most of my cameras are truly battered — I don’t believe in camera cases. You might miss something whilst faffing around.
How long does it take you to cut together a video shot on Super 8 film? Can you tell us about the process?
It really depends how long it is and what’s involved. But I’m pretty speedy! I edit all my own work. In terms of Super 8, there are two ways you can go about editing. First, you can get it sent to the lab to be processed, then scan it in digitally and edit it normally as you would digital footage. The second method is the old school way — splicing up the film and doing it by hand, which obviously is a much longer process. Each frame is 8 mm, so about as big as your little finger nail, and there’s typically 50 ft on a roll, so it's going to take you a while! You can also find yourself getting tangled in a web of film.
Your campaign for Jigsaw is absolutely beautiful. Why do you think that more and more commercial campaigns are choosing to use film over digital?
Thank you! Cape Town is truly a wonderful city with such great history, beautiful locations and fantastic light, so I really had the odds stacked on my side for this one. I think that a lot of brands understand the beauty of film as a medium and want to be a part of it. I’m glad to be reppin’ the film corner and to be acknowledged for that. It’s something I’m truly passionate about and what I’ve done from day one, so it feels really great for people to recognise that and trust in the process (and in me).
You work with a lot of big brands and artists. What’s the collaboration process like? Do you have a lot of input on the creative process?
I usually I have a lot of creative freedom. They know what my style is or my vision for something, and then let me roll with it. The collaborative process is different with every person, brand and artist, but that's all part of the fun. It's a great thing to really open your mind and listen to someone else's vision and then figure out how you can combine it with your own to create something amazing.
Krung Thep is a moving portrait of a taxi driver you met in Bangkok. What is it about someone that makes you want to tell their story on film?
I pursued filmmaking to tell stories. Stories are formed like patterns, and in patterns we find meaning. We use storytelling to make sense of the world around us and ultimately learn about ourselves. To me, storytelling is at the very core of all human connection and interaction. I want to make people feel something, that's the most important thing.
In terms of subjects of interest, I think you know pretty quickly after meeting someone whether they have a spark, right? They tell you something and then you're just utterly encapsulated by them. I just find honesty and true emotion alluring in people; someone who can speak freely and truthfully is always a great subject.
Your films are quite abstract in style — in Krung Thep, we never actually see the taxi driver’s face. What draws you to the abstract?
I agree that my shots can have an abstract feel, but I still believe I represent external reality in a way that is realistic. But maybe my eyes just see different things... I don’t know, isn’t everything subjective? That’s what’s so great about art, right?
I guess all you can do is what feels right for you and not worry too much about following the rules of conventional storytelling. I’ve purposely ignored books about filmmaking and I didn’t go to film school, so it’s hard to know what the “rules” actually are.
You recently shot a documentary based on Rosie Matheson’s project Boys. What was it like bringing her project to life?
Rosie approached me to make the Boys film with her at the start of the year. Like you said, she wanted me to help her bring her project to life. Boys is a project that's incredibly personal to Rosie as she’s spent so much time over the last few years taking hundreds of beautiful portraits, so her inviting me in and asking to collaborate was an offer I couldn’t refuse. We've spent a lot of time together, and we run all our ideas past one another, but the truth is, we both effortlessly had the same vision for Boys. The whole process was super fluid and easy — we work really well together. We co-directed it, and I shot it and edited it. The end product really is a mixture of both of our styles and we can’t wait to shoot more. We want to make the project global and have been plotting what's to come next.
Your documentary Boys is a beautifully personal depiction of masculinity in Britain, and there’s a certain level of trust required to create such an honest documentary. How do you create an intimate connection on set?
We spent time and hung out with the boys, visiting their hometowns and the areas they hang out in. The film was produced literally just by us, so when we were interviewing the Boys, it would just be them, Rosie and I in a room. We approached the conversations in a very fluid and relaxed manner, so we were all talking very freely and honestly. We wanted the men we interviewed to feel safe with us, and free to open up. I think as far as intimacy on set goes, it just comes from spending time with people and also being a good listener, as you would with any relationship.
What’s next for Kaj Jefferies? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Yep there sure is, I’m directing a short documentary about Lykke Li in Sweden throughout August: we are shooting it all on 16 mm which will be great. I have a book/zine coming out at the end of the year in collaboration with New York based design duo Catalogue. Rosie and I are still expanding Boys. I really love making beautiful visuals but creating deeper stories — films with dialogue and emotion — is where my heart is at, so at the moment I am writing a script for my first short film.