Critique

Portfolio: Kevin Gallagher

Under rubric "Portfolio" young photographers showcase their work and answer our questions. Today's issue is about American photographer Kevin Gallagher.

Under rubric “Portfolio” the Bird In Flight editors showcase images of budding photographers who work in various genres, and ask them to share why they decided to do photography, what goals they try to pursue, who they learn from and why. Today’s edition is featuring portfolio of Kevin Gallagher.

Kevin Gallagher, 32 years old

Freelancer, lives in Richmond, VA (USA). Graduated from the Kinetic Imagery Department of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts. Participated in a photo workshop The Open City in New York this summer. Works on a long form project The North Woods.

When and how did you become a photographer?

I’ve only been focusing on photography for less than a year. Before that, I focused my visual efforts solely on film-making. I studied photography in college but had always seen it as a minor step in the artistic evolution from painting to filmmaking. The mentality I had was that first came painting, then photography, and that film was the next step in the progression of image making. Looking back this seems so dismissive and prejudicial.

Last winter, while collaborating on a video project with a friend, I was lent a medium format camera to experiment with. I’ve taken 35mm snapshots and lots of iPhone photos, but the medium format felt different. It commanded more attention to detail and slowed me down. I was able to focus more on the poetry that lay within the frame and less about the tool that was being used.

What kind of photography do you do?

I find myself less interested in direct storytelling and more focused on a process based in some kind of lyricism. I am not looking to create a factual record of people or events. One of my greatest influences, Werner Herzog calls this mode of working a “search for ecstatic truth”. That’s what I am seeking in all my work, utilizing photography as an intuitive tool.


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I started work on my first long form documentary project called The North Woods. It is an exploration of the balance between public and private space in rural Northern Maine. It focuses on the hopes and efforts of a small town trying to maintain its way of life in the rapidly failing timber economy. The extraction industry has ravaged the land and left the people with nothing now that the timber industry has dwindled. The people of the north woods are facing a radical change to their society and the people I’ve met have been so open. I hope to continue my investigation of our relationship with natural resources and what natural spaces mean to us emotionally.

Why do you think that photography is your thing?

I love meeting people. The camera pushes me to strike up conversations with interesting folks. The desire to take a portrait and get to know them motivates me to start the discussion, but I try to get a sense of the person before I propose taking any photos. Sometimes the camera never comes out but it still made me enter into a discussion that I otherwise might not have pursued. These meetings are thought provoking and a chance for a photographer to construct a larger narrative.

What makes a photograph good?

What makes a photograph good certainly isn’t the technical merit, or what format it was shot on. A photograph is not a stand alone object, a photograph has a context. A blurry, low resolution iphone photo taken during the Arab Spring has as much merit as the mannered control of an Edward Weston. The tools have spread and so many more of us have the ability to engage the medium. There really doesn’t seem to be room for rules on what makes a photo good or bad. The question should be “what makes a photograph relevant?”, or “what makes a photograph speak to a shared human experience?”.

What obstacles in the industry do you face as a photographer?

So far I am just trying to get some exposure, the notion of making my living via photography does feel distant, but the challenges seem approachable.

You fight to get the funding, stay true to your work and be a champion of your own work and the work of those you respect and hopefully good things come from your efforts.

I often find myself wrestling with the dilemma of becoming too engaged in photography, to the extent that my personal life starts to feel over-mediated and commoditized, I think that photography has the power to distance us from experiencing important or even beautifully mundane moments in our lives. There is always a challenge: when do I put the camera away and simply maintain my presence?


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Who inspires you?

This past summer, I attended a workshop with Carolyn Drake & Andres Gonzalez, hosted by Photo Workshop New York. Their work engages the subject with a sort of lyricism that builds a strong emotional context between the individual and the landscape. Their photos pose wonderful questions about the potential for human vibrancy within an isolating environment. I find myself posing similar questions and their guidance has been of immeasurable value.

Also, I’d like to mention the impact Kate Fowler has had on me. Her work is so bold and shows such an engagement with the people she encounters. When I look at her photographs and films and see her process, I feel a call to action.

I also think about the writing of Edward Abbey when photographing. He had this reverence and fear for the landscape and he turned these emotions inwardly to produce these rough but honest sketches of our relationship to the land. I strive to make work that is textural and poetic in its investigation of people and their spaces.

What camera do you use?

I use a Bronica SQ-A. The square format is another nice change from the predominantly 16:9 aspect ratio I encounter with video.

Do you make your living by photography?

Working on it. Right now, I am just focused on making work that I feel proud of.


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What else do you like to do?

I keep myself busy with films but also write poetry. Most creative people have a variety of outlets that they can go to, depending on what they are working on. You just have to find the right tools for the project.

In some projects, I find it essential for the audience to remain with an image for a specific period of time, which makes film my preferred medium of expression. In other situations, the imagery I’m drawn to is more internal and emotional, so I prefer the written word. Moving images are always taking you somewhere; a still photo asks you to stand in its space. This is a powerful position.

What are your goals?

I’d like to finish my project The North Woods and see where it takes me.

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