News Column

Photographer stretches medium

June 22, 2014

By Richard Carter, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas

June 22--Bill Kennedy first discovered photography as an architecture student at the University of Texas at Austin.

"My father sent me a 35 mm camera when he was in Vietnam, and the only way you could do photography at UT at the time was to take a photojournalism course in the journalism department.

"About two weeks into the course, I found what I was looking for, and I changed my major and graduated with a degree in photojournalism."

Kennedy's latest exhibit of 30 of his most recent photographic images, called "Illuminations," opened Friday at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at Midwestern State University. The show runs through September.

A professional still-life and documentary photographer, Kennedy also is professor of photocommunications at St. Edwards University in Austin, where he teaches photography and digital imaging

He said his work has become increasingly more abstract since his original grounding in the classic American documentary work of '30s Farm Security Administration photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.

His first job after college was at a daily newspaper.

"I really hated it," he said. "It was not the photography -- I was just trying to figure things out. I was trying to find my voice."

It took Kennedy years to discover his place and his own intelligence about photography, he said.

"It's a process actually that's still ongoing. It never stops."

After leaving the newspaper, he went into landscape photography. He also did social documentary projects that spanned from 4-10 years.

"Over the last 15 years, my work has become increasingly my own, and that has driven me slowly, but surely, into producing work that is increasingly abstract.

"All of the work for this Wichita Falls project has been made in the last 18 months. I work almost every day, and I think it will remain fairly abstract for a good while."

Kennedy's show features 30 images, 24 of which are 26 inches by 20 inches and are printed with pigment ink on BFK Rives paper (a printmaking paper). The remaining six images are larger. All works are untitled.

"Illuminations" reflects the idea, Kennedy said, that there is an inner structure in a photographic image that can be revealed and illuminated.

His process is to take a digital photographic image he has shot and then use digital imaging, or what most people refer to as Photoshop and/or Lightroom.

Each of his 30 images began as a digital capture (a photograph of an object) from his digital camera.

He and his wife collect those raw objects -- things that can be as simple as a bottle cap -- and he then takes them to their cabin in northern New Mexico to photograph.

"I have solitude there, and the light is beautiful."

Once he has an image in the form of a digital file, he imports the file into Photoshop and begins his discovery of the image.

"In essence, what I do is take the image apart and strip information out of the image and then play with the information that stays -- that I keep."

His work is about the process of discovery.

His original photograph of the object, and the object itself, are simply starting points, and neither are objectively recognizable after his digital imaging.

When Kennedy first began working in this manner, he said he simply followed his instincts.

"But as you do it, as you work the process a couple hundred times, then certain things start to make sense. At some point, when I see the (original) photograph, I will sometimes have a general idea, like a circle versus a square. It really is that basic."

He has no idea what the final image will be when he first starts working with the original photographic file. And he also cannot replicate the process once it's done.

"If I took any one of the images from the show and went back to the original image I started with, I would not be able to get back to the (final) image. It (the original image) would take me somewhere else."

Kennedy said while digital imaging can be tedious, the discoveries are very enjoyable.

"I am driven by the process of discovery. I am looking for the moment for when the image is finished -- that it is interesting to me. I want to share that with people.

His final art piece and the original image (from which it came) may be related, he said, but the viewer would not be able to recognize the original object in the finished image.

"I may someday show the original and finished image together," he said, "but it's inevitable when someone looks at a photograph -- even if it's abstract -- that they do a process where they identify and catalog the content.

"I know that it will happen, but I don't want to encourage it. I want them to look at the image, see it for what it is and decide if it's worthy of their investigation."

His process has its roots in when he made the transition from using photographic film to employing digital photography. He noticed two significant differences in the mediums: how the light was being recorded by both mediums, and that a digital image had so much creative potential, because of the way it is created, he said, and because of the advances in digital imaging.

"Not everyone is interested in doing what I am doing with a digital image file. I am just trying to illuminate a difference between the old chemical film base photography and the new digital imaging photography. They're fundamentally and radically different."

And so, too, are the photographic images Kennedy is creating.


(c)2014 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)

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Source: Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX)

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