Nathan: If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose?
Kevin: My vision is to have a quiet discussion of light’s interaction with line and shape, along with the whispers of negative space.
Nathan: Why are you so drawn to long exposure photography?
Kevin: I suppose in the beginning I was drawn to it just like most anyone else was … it simply looked cool. However, it was only after producing a few simple images that I realized it was the FINAL thing that had been missing from me being able to fully achieve my current VISION; the first thing was learning how to process the light (as I discuss later). It is the stillness, the quiet comfort of the imagery coming from long exposure captures that had been missing all along. The beautiful negative space that a long exposure capture creates– whether it is in water or the sky– allows me to have a place to rest my eyes when viewing my own work, and I hope it does the same for other viewers as well. A Zen-like place of comfort, if you will. It also allows me to tell a story of time in my imagery– to build a deeper vision of what is AND what has been.
I find myself drawn to capture images in the ballpark of 5 minutes (and longer) nearly always. It has truly slowed me down in the field and allowed me to dig deep into my own soul, reconnect with the outdoors and have peace. It is the love of the outdoors that got me involved in photography in the first place, but somewhere along the line of slinging a camera up from the hip, I got away from that love affair and more into trying to produce a massive amount of images in a short amount of time. This is NOT the way I want to go about it … and thus is no longer how I approach my work!
Nathan: Why do you prefer black and white photography?
Kevin: Let me start by saying I love color … I love it on my clothes, on my walls, and even in other people’s photographs. Heck, I even love it in my own graphic design work! That being said, I find color to be overly distracting for my own photographic vision. Stemming from my graphic design inclination to focus on simple small elements, leading lines, and most importantly, negative space, B&W enables me to drive the viewers eye throughout the imagery in a manner that would not be possible in a color image. Furthermore, B&W enables me to have more freedom as to the removal of realism and a connection to a surreal world of “impossible light”.
A B&W image can get away with the removal of reality much easier than a color image can … why? … because it is in and of itself removed from reality. If I were to place the light in a color photograph the same way that I do in my B&W works, I would be constantly challenged on it. Oddly, in B&W work the “impossible light” is hardly ever questioned. In the past 15 years I have only produced a small handful of color images and it is my guess that in the following 15 it will be no different.
Nathan: Where do you think long exposure photography is going? Has it become a cliché?
Kevin: To some extent I do believe that long exposure photography has become a bit of a cliché. However, I also believe that this trend will subside simply because the masses don’t have the patience for the time it takes for ONE capture. It will be those that are like me and use long exposure to fulfill a VISION that will continue on with it. If a vision is driving one to do something, they will do all it takes to achieve that vision. This is exactly where I land, and I believe that many of my long exposure peers do as well… including you, Nathan.
Nathan: Describe your connection(s) to the subject matter(s) you photograph? For example, if you are drawn to landscapes, what about the landscape, or nature, draws you to photograph it?
Kevin: When I look at architecture, I see shapes: basic, simple, minimal shapes. These shapes form together to create one larger completed structure. My connection to architecture is strong and one that stems primarily from my graphic design background. In graphic design, designers create a bunch of small shapes to make one larger completed piece; the same is true for architecture and architects.
When it comes to landscape/seascape, it is an entirely different connection and one that focuses more on a minimalistic approach of silence, a dark surrealism, if you will. Dark in the amount of light, not dark in mood necessarily (although sometimes it’s dark in that way too). While I see shapes here as well, it is really more about the play of light and how it falls across the subject matter to create an otherworldly atmosphere. It is this “otherworldly” atmosphere that has to be CREATED rather than captured.
Lastly, there is the minimalism, which can contain pretty much anything for a subject. Here it is all about the negative space and the allowance of the viewer to create their own story. My connection here is also deep in that I find it highly important to allow others to see what they will, but with a tad bit of “guidance of light”; hence the reason I use that term as a slogan for my works.
Nathan: Photography is many things … but one of its most important facets is the connection between what a photographer sees and how he or she chooses to capture it. This relationship typically changes over time— so much so, in fact, that many photographers feel it changes how they see. What are your thoughts about this?
Kevin: I whole heartily agree with this statement. However, I must be honest here in that it was graphic design that taught me more of how I see things now than what photography has ever done. During the 15+ years as a graphic designer, I put my camera aside. When I decided it was time to focus more on my fine art rather than doing graphics to fulfill someone else’s vision, I was shocked at what I was driven to capture when I picked my camera back up.
Graphic design not only taught me the proper use of negative space and how shapes interact with one another… it taught me that it’s OKAY to create something from nothing. Think about this for a moment, in graphic design we are creating our finished product from blank white paper. While in photography we may not be doing exactly that, per se, we can and SHOULD process the imagery to be different than exactly how it was upon capture. If we are to show others our vision, just capturing the light will not do that. We must control the light in postproduction in order to achieve this goal. So now when I capture an image I have already begun the process of postproduction (in my mind) prior to pressing the shutter button.
Nathan: Do you (a) pre-visualize what your photograph is going to look like, (b) discover what you wish to create as you create, or (c) engage a little of both?
Kevin: Yes, as just mentioned, I am pre-visualizing the processed image 99% of the time. There are certainly times when I subconsciously know there is something there and capture it allowing the vision to hit me later. For this, I would show you an image from the series titled “Guiding Light”. I was out working on another series of bridges and saw a lamp pole that intrigued me. I knew something was there, but just didn’t yet know what it was. It was when I began processing it that it hit me as to what my subconscious was telling me in the field. The long exposure movement of the sky represents that while all things change in our lives and move forward, we each have a constant, if you will … a “Guiding Light,” represented by the lamp pole, of course.
This rarely happens though and I have normally already processed the light in my mind, and that is how I am able to compose the image properly. If you were to look at some of my compositions straight out of the camera, they look terrible. It is ONLY after the light has been properly placed that the composition, AND VISION, come together. I would never be able to do this without the ability to pre-visualize.
Nathan: When you process your photos, do you listen to music? If yes, what music do you prefer to listen to and do you think that music influences how you process your images?
Kevin: Absolutely! In fact, I need my music to put me in the proper mindset. What is strange though is that the music I listen to is not even close to what I would listen to when hanging out on the patio or driving my car. I need what I call my Art Gallery music. That is to say it is music that is more of the Acid-Jazz and Urban Club genre. Very uplifting, electronic in nature, and very repetitive beats. This enables me to get into a groove during the long hours of processing one image. I can envision being in an upscale urban gallery with my work hanging on the walls during the Opening Night … with wine and cheese, of course!
Nathan: Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
Kevin: Wow, that’s a tough question and one that I almost hesitate to answer. But if I must, I would say that it is Joel Tjintjelaar, Michael Kenna, and of course, Ansel Adams. I would have to say that these are all quite different photographic artists, but all share the fact that they have mastered their own unique style in a very inspirational way.
Lets be honest here, I don’t think there is a photographer alive that does not admire what Ansel was able to do and what he did for the advent of photography itself. I fully believe that if he were alive today, he would embrace the digital darkroom. He loved to manipulate his imagery so much so that he never stopped making small tweaks to even one of his most popular images, “Moonrise”. When I’m teaching on the subject of post-processing images, I always end my presentation with a before and after of the aforementioned “Moonrise”, as it is remarkable to see just how far it was pushed. He was the epitome of my belief: “We have the ability to alter our imagery… embrace it!”
Michael Kenna is a modern day master utilizing not-so-modern methods. However, what I love most about his approach is that he uses capture times that are in the hours, not minutes. Using film is the ONLY way to achieve this type of capture. What he brings to the table is not only a mastery of film, but also a mastery of light! He uses the light to create a suggestive interpretation rather than a straight-to-the-point statement, and this is something that I try to embrace in my own works as well. Rather than telling the full story in one image, he uses either a multiple image series (something I strive for), or a minimalistic single image capture that let’s the viewer put their own ending on the story (also something I strive for). Kenna’s works are what I imagine would happen to light if it were to shine through a stained glass window and land on black and white photo paper in the form of a landscape.
Last, but far from least, is Joel. He has started a revolution, of sorts, and one that I am 100% on-board with. In this digital day and age we are afforded a never-ending ability to do things to our works that simply could not be achieved in the past. The level of precision in processing is one that he has mastered and I strive to reach. His use of light and shadow to reach his overall vision is simply superb! If I were to say that there is only ONE artist that inspires me most, it would have to be Joel Tjintjelaar, hands down. While the previous two I mentioned were/are film artists, it is the digital realm I live in, and I will continue to aspire to the levels that Joel has reached. It is what he does AFTER the capture that truly enables his vision to come to life … a mindset that I embrace as well.
Nathan: Select a single photograph by another artist that inspires you. Explain why you are drawn to it and how it has inspired you.
Kevin: Sometime back in 2013 I saw something that would forever change the course of my art. It was an image that had been processed in such a way that I thought was impossible. Not yet being overly proficient in Photoshop and only doing my processing in Lightroom up until that point, I was absolutely floored by what I was seeing. How was it possible for light to be placed on an image like this? I knew that it was not the natural light, but rather it was just how precisely the “burning and dodging” (for lack of a better term) had been controlled in postproduction; BUT HOW?
This is when my whole photographic world shifted and landed on the path it resides on to this very day. I had finally seen the light, so to speak, and it was bright. I had finally realized a way to achieve my vision, my methods of driving the viewers eye to the parts of the image that I wanted, and away from the parts I didn’t. I realized that an image could be captured in midday and processed to look like night. Or better yet, processed to appear otherworldly! I realized that by simply controlling, precisely controlling the light in postproduction opened up an endless world of possibilities for me. My photography shifted dramatically and I was now looking at things in a completely different way when out in the field. My approach to this very day is based on this one eye-opening moment… this ONE image!
The image is none other than the award-winning “Visual Acoustics II – Silence and Light” of La Grande Arche de la Défense by Joel Tjintjelaar. Wow… what an image and what an inspiration! Thank you, Joel. [Editor’s Note: Read an interview I did with Joel –> here]
Nathan: What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
Kevin: I would say that music has played an enormous roll in my life as a whole, but oddly I don’t think it’s as big an influence on me artistically as other things are. I think it’s the Sci-Fi film genre that really hits home with how I see the world, or how I would like to see the world perhaps. The brilliance of George Lucas with the Star Wars saga, or the other masterminds such as J.J. Abrams, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron come to mind. It is how they bring to life a world that doesn’t exist which is exactly what I try to do in my works as well.
To be honest, I don’t really find myself studying any other type of art such as paintings, sculpture, or otherwise. It’s really only moving pictures or still pictures that capture my attention. Well, aside from that…. NOTHING really gets me going as much as an amazing piece of Graphic Design!
Nathan: What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
Kevin: In our line of work, gear is an absolute must. With that said, I feel that far too many photographers out there (especially those just beginning) put entirely too much weight on gear. I believe there is a thought process (perhaps driven by the camera companies) that if you get the latest and greatest camera you will all of a sudden have your imagery on the cover of National Geographic. It simply doesn’t work that way. Yes, having gear that suits your needs is of the utmost importance; and that is the key phrase … “that suits your needs”. Our cameras are just tools to capture light and carry data from the field to the darkroom … this is where the magic happens. Having the most expensive camera does not teach one how to see and capture light. Give me a shoebox with a pinhole in it and I will return you a piece of art … that’s what I say.
Nathan: How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
Kevin: Oh no, it’s not just a label at all! Art is both a skill (as in artistry) AND a feeling. I’ve heard many definitions over my years, but I feel that art is and outward display of an inner emotion or feeling in such a way as to encompass your viewer (or listener) in the same feeling. This is why not all people will understand all art… it is simply impossible to have your emotions encompass everyone. Art collectors have spent years learning how to allow those feelings to emerge, how to take the needed time to let the art speak to them on the same level as it did to the maker. Once a collector has learned this skill, they become more and more encapsulated by each piece they see. In fact, I would go so far as to say that art collectors understand all art as a whole, better than the makers themselves that only produce one type of art.
Nathan: If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
Kevin: Patience! Digital photography has done everything right except one thing … it does not hold one accountable for the amount of images they capture. There is no cost to click the shutter anymore, so therefore far too many people just click away without a care in the world. Slow down and see the light with your own eyes first. I feel that every photographer should answer one question in his or her mind before each capture … “Why are you taking this photograph and what do you want me to see”. Just because it costs nothing to press the shutter button does not mean that you should. What ends up happening is that they go home and become overwhelmed with the amount of captures they have and never get around to processing ANY of them. Just slow down, see the light, and tell me a story.
Keep in mind that this really relates more to fine art photography than it does to sports shooters on the sideline, for example. That’s a whole different animal.
Nathan: What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing? Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
Kevin: I think that online sharing is a great way to get your work out there, but it is certainly not the end-all in regards to selling fine art prints, far from it, in fact. Truth be told, most of the people that see my work on social media sites are also photographers and we tend to look at each other’s works for things like inspiration, locations to go, etc. It’s kind of a “pat on the back” type of thing, I guess.
I tend to gravitate towards Facebook as I feel it is the strongest platform for interaction and communication. I’m also on Instagram and Flickr, but find them both to be of much less use. The groups that I’m in on Facebook are wonderful as well. Playing the roll of an Admin for the “Being Published Matters” group has been a huge part of my international exposure amongst other artists. Am I selling any more prints because of it … no, but I love it regardless.
The bottom line is that we, as artists, cannot ignore the importance of any kind of exposure we are afforded. Social media provides some, but not all, of this exposure, so we must embrace it before we get left behind.
Nathan: What are your thoughts about photography contests? Do you think they are (a) a true measure of artistic success or value, (b) just an opportunity for a business to make money off photographers looking for exposure and validation, or (c) something in-between a and b?
Kevin: I believe it is a bit of a mix between A and B. Yes, there are some (or even many) out there that I feel are just trying to make some money, but there are also others that are very reputable and highly esteemed. I believe that contests of the international variety are almost a dime-a-dozen these days and weeding out which ones to submit to can be a daunting task. What I feel that competition does better than anything else, however, is it helps the maker to step back and look at his or her own work with a more critical eye. For this very reason, I feel that competition is a wonderful way to learn and improve on one’s skill set. Before I entered into any competition, my work was of much less quality. Has the quality of my work now grown because of the time I’ve spent working on improvement regardless of competition, or was it because of competition? I feel it’s a bit of both; BUT, competition has certainly helped me to be much more critical of my work than I would have been otherwise. The feedback from the judges is a great thing, and just as important is the recognition; even receiving an “Honorable Mention” is a huge boost to the confidence of those in the early stages of their photography. I also love local competition at the state level here in the US. I really enjoy the camaraderie and networking aspect of it; I have met some of my dearest friends by attending these events.
The bottom line, though, is one has to remember that art is highly subjective; don’t allow it to get you down if the image does not do well. This is why I feel it is not really a true measure of success. The REAL judges are those that buy your works to hang on their walls for a lifetime.
Nathan: What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most (e.g. did you use Photoshop or is straight out of the camera)?
Kevin: I try not to let any of the clichés bother me too much, actually. The question “did you Photoshop that” really stems from a lack of education on the matter of how photographic images are created. I will normally answer it first with a resounding, “Hell yes I Photoshopped it!” If that leaves them still needing an explanation as to why I would do such a thing, this is when I will have to dig a little deeper and educate them a tad on how photographic images have been manipulated since the birth of photography. I let them know that I’m not out to capture reality and present it as such, but rather that my goal is to CREATE imagery that is based on a VISION. I’m not trying to hide behind it and play it off as “real” either. I use the word “image” rather than “picture” or “photograph” because it more closely relates to something that has been created. It stems from an image that I have in my mind and now show the world in a print, in other words.
Still sometimes they may be hung up on it and think that photography should exactly represent the scene that was there upon capture. This will be when I have to bring out the big guns and take it one step further. I will ask them if they liked the new Star Wars movie (for example), to which they will likely answer yes. I will THEN ask them why it’s okay for moving pictures to be manipulated but not for still pictures. Typically that will stump them and the case is closed. Let’s face it; there is NOTHING that goes un-manipulated in motion pictures. We have entire award ceremonies that reward major motion pictures for such things as: cinematography, lighting, and special effects (among many others). Why is it somehow okay for moving pictures but not for still pictures?
The bottom line is that we have the ability to alter our imagery and create a world that doesn’t necessarily exist. I say … EMBRACE IT! Does this mean that I don’t appreciate someone climbing to the far reaches of a mountain and capturing and presenting a photograph of exactly how it was… nope! I like and respect those images too, but that is just not how I approach my own work is all.
Nathan: If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CDs, what would they be and why?
Kevin: Well, you didn’t mention that I would have a computer, and since we just discussed that image manipulation is a HUGE part of what I do, I would not need a camera at all unless I had a computer. SO, lets assume that a computer has been added to the mix for the sake of argument.
My favorite camera from the digital era is the Nikon Dƒ, as it reminds me so much of the older Nikon FM2. All the dials are where they should be and it’s just a lovely piece of equipment to work with. I’d mount a 24-70 ƒ2.8 on it with a 16-stop Neutral Density filter. This would sit on top of a Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head. I think this set-up could take care of most all my needs. Sure, it’s “only” 16mp … so what!
My books would be something of the mystery and adventure genre. Perhaps Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Both of these stories get my creative wheels spinning (in different ways) like no other and I think could hold me over for a bit. The Da Vinci Code would be there to provide me with the deep thought process that’s needed sometimes for building a vision, while The Lord of the Rings would provide the visuals to aid in creating a world that does not exist.
The choice of CD’s is a tough one. So, in no particular order, here goes:
1) The Allman Brothers Band – Live at Fillmore East
2) Bob Marley – Legend
3) Chicago – Greatest Hits (you have to allow greatest hits, right)
4) Grateful Dead – Dick’s Picks (any live show)
5) Led Zeppelin – IV
6) Pearl Jam – Ten
7) Widespread Panic – (any live show)
8) Nightmares on Wax – Smoker’s Delight
9) J.J. Cale – Any Way the Wind Blows
10) Sade – Best of
Music is so difficult to choose because it is so closely related to one’s current mood. Sometimes I like smooth jazz (even though none was listed) and other times I need to have very upbeat music. Lets just say that having ONLY 10 CD’s would likely be the end of my sanity. Haha.
Nathan: Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
Kevin: I’m not sure I’d change my photographic direction, per se, as I quite like the imagery I am currently producing; so really no alteration needed there at this time. What I would like, however, would be to get to a point of making a comfortable living at selling fine art. Get to the point to where my beautiful wife and I could travel together for photography and not be strapped by the daily grind. There is money to be made in this industry; it’s just a matter of finding the right collectors, the right niche of people that see in my vision. Is it easy … no! Just like anything else, one must work hard to find the rewards. It is that last statement that I am basing my goals on.
Nathan: Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos?
Kevin: Yes, but I suppose it depends on WHAT I want to photograph. For architecture work I would love to visit and spend time in some of the more modern locations in Europe where the buildings are funky and unique. Sure, there are great buildings in the US as well, but all those great images I see from Germany (especially) have me desiring to go there.
That being said, I have really begun to fall in love with seascape and for that I believe the northwest coast of the US is calling my name. I love the sea stacks there and the minimalism possibilities they present. There is just something remarkable about a giant rock protruding from calm waters; well, calm once it has been smoothed by the long exposure capture, that is.
Nathan: Is there anything else you wish to add?
Kevin: Yes, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to dig deep into my soul and really think about where it is that I’m headed, where it is that I’ve been, and where my art stands in the whole scheme of things in my life. The answers I have given were not easy to come by, but they truly helped me to stop and make sure my focus is where it should be. The answer to that is … yep, I’m doing EXACTLY what I should be at this time in my life. For that, I thank you, Nathan!
Elevated Illusions – no.1
A surrealistic series of bridges and overpasses depicted in an impossible light, “Elevated Illusions” reveals a more futuristic time and place that we can only dream of. Inspired by the simplicity of lines and shapes, I was quickly transported to another dimension in time when I peered through the viewfinder. The word “elevated” has two meanings in the title…the first and most obvious is the fact the these structures are indeed above our heads; however, the second and less obvious meaning is that our senses themselves become heightened by the manner in which the light has landed upon each surface throughout the image. In photography, we have two choices (for the most part), and that is to depict reality or to create illusions. I tend to gravitate towards the latter quite frequently in much of my work.My vision in this series is to create a world that simply does not exist…an almost Gotham-like state of emptiness and ruin, in which there is no traffic, no people, and only structures of concrete and metal spanning the landscape. The softening of the sky, created by long exposure techniques, provides a sense of tranquility in an otherwise rigid environment. Both inviting and uninviting at the same time, the images in this series represent a feeling of confusion that many of us face on a daily basis.
For my processing of this image, I would invite you to see my methods I have written about on the Camerapixo website. This method holds true for nearly ALL of my works, including landscape. However, in landscape I am having to freehand the edges much more so than in architecture where I can be more precise. Other than that, I treat even my landscape and seascape work just the same. You can see the process here: http://camerapixo.com/resources/elevated-illusions
Fourth Rok – Turret
Once many years ago, I had driven through Utah on a long road-trip home and can remember being breath taken at the time. However, it was not until my recent photographic trip to Moab that I could really dive into the landscape and create an artistic vision that I present to you in this body of work. One cannot help but to think about how similar this landscape must be to that of another planet, specifically the fourth one from the Sun in our own solar system. “Fourth Rok” arose out of this vision of how it would be to walk along the Martian landscape. Not the Martian landscape as it exists today, but how it might exist thousands of years in the future after man has been terraforming the planet for centuries. An atmosphere with skies and clouds will have formed, plant life has begun to grab hold, and the environment will slowly become more forgiving to the human race.What I believe would be most fascinating, would be the extraordinary way the light lands on the surface of the planet; it can’t possibly look the same as it does here on Earth. So, from the small details to the vast landscape, I invite you to take a stroll with me into another world. I invite you to visit… the “Fourth Rok”!
Guiding Light – no.1
I have set forth, in this series, to depict a metaphor of our steadfast guidance of light over the course of time. By placing street lamps against a moving sky, created with long-exposure techniques, I am simply revealing that while circumstances may change, time may pass and we continue to move forward, there is an ever-present constant for each of us. This constant, depicted by a simple street lamp, may be different for us all, but it is there nonetheless. If you simply replace the lamp pole in each of these images with a visualization of your own constant, you will be comforted in knowing that no matter the storm or no matter how dark the skies may be, your “Guiding Light” will hold strong.It is paramount that each of these images remain as simplistic as possible in order to emphasize that what guides us is much simpler than we tend to make it out to be. All too often we stray from this guidance because we believe that it is too difficult to follow. Trust your instincts, and trust in that which leads the way… you will make your destination safely in doing so.
This is the image I mentioned earlier that I had captured during my outing for the bridges series; the one that I was not sure what the vision was until I began to process it. As you can see, this is the same lamp pole from the bridge in “Elevated Illusions – no.1”
A Few More Images