Paul Kenn y

Kenny’s beau­ti­ful ab­stract still-life images are cre­ated us­ing found ob­jects and a dig­i­tal scan­ner. It’s im­por­tant to de­velop new ways of mak­ing images, he tells David Clark

Digital Camera World - - CON­TENTS -

Ab­stract photographer Paul’s pho­tog­ra­phy has evolved to in­clude dif­fer­ent tech­niques and ob­jects over the years – he tells us how

What first sparked your in­ter­est in artis­tic ex­pres­sion? My fa­ther was an en­gi­neer and worked in a fac­tory, but he was al­ways doo­dling. His big am­bi­tion was for me to be­come a draughts­man: from his po­si­tion that was the height of so­phis­ti­ca­tion, so he en­cour­aged me to do a lot of tech­ni­cal draw­ing. It went on from there. I’m prob­a­bly the last per­son left on Earth who’s got an A-level in Geo­met­ric and En­gi­neer­ing Draw­ing.

You stud­ied Fine Art at New­cas­tle upon Tyne Polytech­nic – was

that where you got in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy?

It was prob­a­bly the year be­fore, when I did my foun­da­tion course at Sal­ford Tech­ni­cal Col­lege. You do ev­ery­thing dur­ing that year, in­clud­ing etch­ing, sculp­ture and pho­tog­ra­phy. I went through my Fine Art course as a sort of sculp­tor. I also did some pho­tog­ra­phy on the course. Fan­tas­tic mag­a­zines like

Cre­ative Cam­era used to ar­rive ev­ery month, and I started get­ting in­ter­ested in pho­tog­ra­phy.

When did you start work­ing in the land­scape?

As I was brought up on a coun­cil es­tate in Sal­ford, the land­scape didn’t ex­ist as far as I was con­cerned. But I met Margaret, who later be­came my wife, and she was a ru­ral­ist painter from Kent. She be­gan to in­flu­ence me, and we started to travel to places on the north-east coast, such as Bam­burgh and Al­n­mouth.

Then around 1972, we vis­ited the Isle of Skye. I didn’t know that such vast moun­tains and beau­ti­ful lochs

ex­isted in our coun­try. That one trip to Scot­land re­ally changed the fo­cus of what I was try­ing to do with my work. What sub­jects did you pho­to­graph? In 1973, I vis­ited a wall at Lon­bain on the Ap­ple­cross Penin­sula in the north-west of Scot­land. It was prob­a­bly around 450 years old, and was made of beau­ti­ful round stones. They looked like plan­ets to me, and I started to pho­to­graph them as if they were plan­e­tary ob­jects – a com­plex cir­cle in a black square. I pho­tographed that wall for 23 years, and that mo­tif, a cir­cle in a black square, still re­curs in my most re­cent work.

“One day, on a beach on the west coast of Ire­land, I found a 7-Up bot­tle that had a mes­sage in it…I re­alised it was like a sort of diary, and ev­ery scratch was a record of some­thing”

How did you get es­tab­lished as an artist?

Af­ter I fin­ished my de­gree, I had a strong feel­ing you didn’t need to be an artist full-time, so I trained as a so­cial worker and took a job near Pre­ston. I ended up work­ing in lo­cal gov­ern­ment for 20 years. I re­ally only took pho­to­graphs dur­ing an­nual trips to Scot­land, then would spend the rest of the year pro­cess­ing and print­ing those rolls of film dur­ing evenings and week­ends.

Af­ter a while, I started to get some quite big ex­hi­bi­tions and peo­ple be­gan writ­ing about my work. In the end, I thought it might be pos­si­ble to make a liv­ing out of it, and left my job.

What equip­ment did you use in those early years?

I started off with a Rollei­flex twin­lens re­flex, then got a Bron­ica 2 1/4 square cam­era, then later I moved to an MPP 5x4. I’ve al­ways shot some pic­tures on lo­ca­tion and oth­ers at my house, but never used hi-tech equip­ment. For ex­am­ple, in the mid-1990s I did a series on fallen leaves, which I called Leav­ing. I shot the leaves on a sheet of black vel­vet, us­ing nat­u­ral light from pa­tio doors. I also used a cou­ple of spot­lights from Ikea for about £3.50 each.

In your on­go­ing Sea­works series, how do you choose which ob­jects to pho­to­graph?

I started by bring­ing back the most beau­ti­ful peb­bles or shells and pho­tograph­ing them. Later, I brought back more ap­par­ently in­signif­i­cant and un­pre­pos­sess­ing ma­te­rial. I’d walk along a beach, and at the end I’d just put two or three hand­fuls of what was at my feet in a car­rier bag and try to make some­thing out of it.

What was the most in­ter­est­ing thing you found?

One day, on a beach on the west coast of Ire­land, I found a 7-Up bot­tle that had a mes­sage in it. It came from a school project from an is­land off New­found­land, and had been in the sea for seven years. The bot­tle it­self was amaz­ing, cov­ered with thou­sands and thou­sands of scratches. I re­alised it was like a sort of diary, and ev­ery scratch was a record of some­thing – rub­bing against a rock or bar­na­cle or what­ever. I held it up to the light, and won­dered what would hap­pen if I put part of it in an en­larger and made a print. My work un­til then had been

about man’s ef­fect on the land­scape, but this was the land­scape’s ef­fect on some­thing man-made.

How did you start in­cor­po­rat­ing sea­wa­ter into your images?

I started bring­ing back bot­tles of sea­wa­ter back to wet things be­fore I pho­tographed them. Later I started to put it on my neg­a­tives and al­lowed it to dry so that crys­tals formed. I moved on to make con­struc­tions out of sea­weed and dried sea­wa­ter, and even­tu­ally plas­tic and other things I found on the beach. I put these con­struc­tions on a neg­a­tive in the en­larger, shone a light through them and made prints.

What made you start mak­ing images with a dig­i­tal scan­ner?

I did a year as an artist-in-res­i­dence at Lan­caster Univer­sity, and a sci­en­tist there said I’d get a bet­ter re­sult if I scanned the ob­jects. I had al­ways been sus­pi­cious of dig­i­tal. Ev­ery­thing I’d seen at that point was a bit dis­pos­able, and I wanted my prints to be pre­cious and beau­ti­ful.

The film and de­vel­oper I liked were dis­con­tin­ued and high-qual­ity dig­i­tal scan­ning came along, so I de­cided to aban­don ana­logue pho­tog­ra­phy and use a scan­ner.

How do you use your scan­ner?

I have an Ep­son V700, which has a light in the lid so you can scan as a neg­a­tive or a pos­i­tive and make

a dig­i­tal file. I can con­trol quite a lot to do with the look of the sub­ject, us­ing the Ep­son soft­ware, and pro­gramme that in be­fore the scan takes place. I use the scan­ner in a very cre­ative way. I might light an ob­ject from the top as well as un­derneath, or light things in a rak­ing way with torches ly­ing on their side. I also some­times make a reser­voir on the scan­ner with bath sealant, fill it with sea­wa­ter, then scan ob­jects in the wa­ter. I treat the scan­ners re­ally badly and put huge stone or metal ob­jects on them. I’ve been through four of them.

How do you se­lect the ob­jects you use in your images?

My favourite thing is to walk along the high tide line on the beach, which has all sorts of things in it: sea­weed, old fish­er­man’s rope, bits of plas­tic and metal. I walk along and some things stand out more than oth­ers. I have boxes of things I’ve picked up. Later, I might com­bine them in an im­age or add sea wa­ter to change their colour or tex­ture. Some pic­tures can take months to make and some­times things just don’t work.

Have you done any re­cent work not con­nected with the sea?

In 2010, I went to Ja­pan and saw the cherry blos­som fes­ti­val called O Hanami. The po­etic trans­la­tion of that term is ‘the cel­e­bra­tion of tran­sient beauty’. When I got back, I did a series ti­tled O Hanami, cel­e­brat­ing things that are beau­ti­ful for a few mo­ments or days like hawthorns, snake’s head frit­il­lar­ies and fox­gloves. I used the same tech­niques as my other stuff. I did it for a year and it was great. I still make them some­times.

Is it im­por­tant for you to keep do­ing new things in your work?

In the pho­tog­ra­phy world, there’s a ten­dency for peo­ple to achieve some­thing and then carry on mak­ing the same im­age. I think of my work as a kind of rope. In the early days the threads were thin and fi­brous, and I had some ideas about land­scape and beauty and na­ture.

Over the years other ideas have been added, so the rope has be­come quite thick, but you can still trace the threads of early pho­to­graphs in my new work. I’ve prided my­self on mov­ing on and de­vel­op­ing dif­fer­ent ways of mak­ing images.

“I have boxes of things I’ve picked up. Later, I might com­bine them in an im­age or add sea wa­ter to change their colour or tex­ture”

Op­po­site Iona Sun, 2010 Paul cre­ated this im­age us­ing a jar lid and sea­wa­ter col­lected on a beach on the Isle of Iona, Scot­land.

Op­po­site Belderg Beach No. 7, Mayo, 2002 Made with sea­wa­ter crys­tallised on a glass plate.

Above Har­vest Moon Over Mayo, 2008 One of Paul’s ear­lier ex­per­i­ments in dig­i­tal print­ing.

Left Map­ping the Stran­d­line, Sea, Metal, Plas­tic, 2016 From Paul’s Sea Works 5 series.

Top left Lon­bain Wall 4, 1994 Paul re­turned to pho­to­graph the round stones in this an­cient wall over a 23-year pe­riod.

Left 7-Up No 2, Mayo, 2007 Paul cre­ated this im­age us­ing a soft drink bot­tle that had been in the sea for seven years.

Above In a Silent Way No.3, El­gol, Isle of Skye, 1998 From the series Wa­ter, Stone and Light.

Right Sil­ver Leaf, Af­ter the Snow No 1, 2011 An im­age from Paul’s series O Hanami, in­spired by the Ja­panese cherry blos­som fes­ti­val.

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