Documenting history, one protest at a time

By Zak Wheeler

From iPod photography with his dad at car shows to some of the largest protests Australia’s ever seen, second year Photography Studies College (PSC), Bachelor of Photography student Jay Kogler’s yearning to document history in the making has led to some breathtaking shots.

At 20 years old, local photographer Jay Kogler takes advantage of the diversity of Melbourne, and as a street photographer, he has experienced some heart-racing action scenes amid wild protests.

In 2017 while still in high school, Jay found himself among activists at a climate protest. But as protestors held signs, he took his camera and began documenting the emotions on display as they marched through Melbourne’s CBD.

It was while racing around the event snapping banners and capturing some momentous scenes when he first considered the prospect of a career in photography. And after graduating from high school in 2019, he realised he wanted to pursue photojournalism.

“2020 was the ‘lockdown pandemic’ and all those lockdown protests started happening, so it was really good timing for me actually,” he said.

As Melbourne became gripped by the coronavirus and its numerous lockdowns, Jay seized the opportunity to document history and began recording the protests.

To keep up with the groups of illegal protestors was one thing, with their main method of communication being secret group chats which Jay and his colleagues successfully penetrated, but his own safety was also constantly in doubt.

“There was a time in Richmond, on that day I got arrested, when I probably got pepper sprayed maybe four separate times that day?” Jay said of the protests which took place in Richmond during September this year.

“It gets in your skin, and it burns, and it got in my hair … after I took off my goggles, a strand of hair got in my eyes and then blinded myself. I had to get home before I could wash all that out.”

These are the sorts of risks he’s weighed up and he said were worth the price of admission for capturing “one-in-a-kind” experiences.

“You’re really just there in the moment and you have to make split-second decisions, and the photos you get from those are incredible,” he said. You know, putting yourself on the line, getting pepper sprayed, being harassed by cops and protestors, it keeps it interesting.”

A pedant for his craft, Jay pushes his body to its limits in the pursuit of that illusive perfect photo, having walked 36 kilometres as protestors mounted the West Gate Bridge this year.

“It was just crazy that we go to walk on the freeway, then walk onto the West Gate Bridge” he said.

“I was standing on top of the bridge with my camera just looking around thinking, ‘this is so surreal.’ Photography can take you to crazy places, and hopefully it also takes me to even more interesting and challenging places in the future.”

One of the next places that photography will take him to is America, to capture the campaign trail during the 2024 Presidential Election. Dedicating six to 12 months to the visit, he will be there with another photographer documenting whatever there is to see, but Jay conceded that he should prepare for the unexpected.

“America in three years … so much could change in a matter of weeks, months. Who knows what we’ll see?”

But first, he remains focused on his education at the PSC – an institution where he’s learnt to improvise and adapt to various climates as schooling has gone virtual.

“So much of this year has been online, which has been an interesting experience, but the lecturers are great with helping and supporting you” Jay said. “It’s a small college, so you get very individual learning experiences.”

Another benefit of PSC lies in its specialty focus on photography, which was a key factor in Jay’s decision to enrol.

“With other universities I noticed you have to do a lot of core electives that I just wasn’t interested in. I wanted to purely do photography, which is why PSC is perfect, it’s 100 per cent focused on photography.” •

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