Posted by: Tony – Dec 17, 2010
Girls falling from the sky, women towering over a landscape, guys cutting through time with knives... Ken gets paid to push you outside the everyday, disrupt your train of thought, and even scare you sometimes. For this reason, I wanted to sit down and ask him about his roots, photography and fighting the mainstream.
PRINTED IN THE NEWEST RVA MAGAZINE. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ISSUE.
ANT: Are you a Richmond native?
KEN: Yes--grew up here, went to Midlothian High School, moved here when I was 12 from Lynchburg, Virginia where I was born.
ANT: I heard you were in some local bands when you were younger, can you talk about that?
KEN: I was. I still love bands. I did a reunion show two weeks ago, believe it or not. The most notable band was called Grip, which was a hardcore band from the Fan, VCU area. We later changed our name to Dayspring--the same band, just went a little more melodical. Actually, we had to change our name because a metal band in Boston showed us a cease and desist. (laughter)
ANT: About what year(s) was that really active?
KEN: Probably 92-94. By the end, we did a whole US tour and everything. It was pretty awesome.
ANT: Were you taking pictures while you were in the band, or is that something that came after?
KEN: I’ve been taking pictures since high school. In the early years I shot bands--mostly bands that I liked, hardcore bands, punk bands--at the old Metro/Rockitz club downtown, Twisters, and throughout the years [of] being in bands. Also, I would shoot, but I didn’t shoot as much as I would now, because I would enjoy being in the pit and stuff, too. So that was fun. I didnít get into subject matter like models and everything until maybe 2003. After that I started focusing on the fashion aspects of things, and different kinds of artistic styles.
ANT: Is that when you went to being a professional photographer - trying to make it your living?
KEN: Yeah, exactly. I started to study, and the main thing I tried to focus on is lights. Getting different feelings through dramatic light, making the light help you tell the story. That’s when I started to seriously focus on it. It always ends up [being about] how much you focus and how much you want to get better at your craft, really.
ANT: I noticed, and I might be off, but it seems like you are inspired at least a little bit in your high fashion work by Dave LaChappelle. It’s a little more fantastical -seems like there are similar elements- the beautiful women and imaginary narratives. Can you talk a little bit about that, where that might come from?
KEN: Every now and then people say that to me, and I take that as a big compliment. I like his work a lot. I don’t look at it as far as trying to follow his style or anything. I don’t look at myself as having a style. I try to do things that will leave a lasting impression. You can take a picture with just a person standing in a room. Someone might remember it more if you have something unusual or contrasting in the photo. If they like it or hate it, they’ll remember that’s why they hated it, or that’s why they liked it. Because its something off, a little more unique about a photo. That’s what I try to do. Sometimes it’s a little more outlandish. I’ve tried to calm down on my photoshop editing, because I used to get crazy with that. But now Iím trying to do the same craziness, but shooting it all at once. So it’s more thought out, more planned, and just keeping it interesting.
ANT: So your past work has been band photography. You are working currently with more high fashion, Betsey Johnson being an example of that. But you also do some fringe work. What’s the range of stuff that you like to do?
KEN: There’s nothing I wouldn’t say no to doing, but I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t just do anything for money. I’m at an advantage [because] I do web design also. I’ve had a good life, I’m not at a point where I have to do everything that’s set in front of me. It’s hard to say. If someone comes up to me with a interesting project or if they have a general idea that they want me to develop into something bigger, I’m all about it. No matter what it is.
ANT: Fetish photography?
KEN: I wouldn’t say no to it, but itís funny you say that. In Philadelphia, I shot a lot of higher end latex designers. They pretty much are at the borderline of fetish. I’ve been in one of the biggest fetish magazines in Europe for the past three years from that kind of photography. I’m not shooting people having sex and stuff, which I’m not really into... but if I can get my art in the same genre it’s fine with me.
ANT: So you are back in Richmond and you are still working with your connections in Philadelphia. What is the next step for you, and why did you move back here? I mean, coming back from a larger market to a smaller market. Is it just because you love Richmond? Or does it matter anymore? You can get work wherever after you made the connections. Can you speak a little more on that for a second?
KEN: Well the main reason, my wife and I just had a baby girl a year ago. She’s turning one this Friday. My wife is a doctor and has been training for the past 9 to 12 years or so. We decided that we would move back here if she found a position here. As far as I look at it, like I said, I aways take myself worldwide. If someone wants to take me to Europe, to China, to Hawaii, I’m all about it. With the internet I can make contacts everyday. It doesnít really matter. It’s just pushing my art, and getting people to see me. Taking it bigger every time is what I want to do.
ANT: So you’re not limited by the city, and I donít think most creative people are anymore. Let’s talk about your models for a second. It seems like you have a fondness for tattooed women and men. Can you speak a little bit on how you choose your models and why you stick with alternative lifestyles? It doesn’t look like your work will ever go mainstream.
KEN: I think it all revolves around to what I said before, keeping the interest in a photo. It’s not really trying to pick certain people or certain things, but I think I’m drawn to subcultures. Things are really bold and in your face, and that leaves lasting impressions on people. With the contacts I’ve made, time and time again people in that network, whether it be models or fashion designers, seem to tie back. One of my favorite makeup artists that I use from New York was the hairstylist and make up artist for Katy Perry, who’s as mainstream as you can get right now. But if you look at Katy Perryís past work she’s kind of alternative herself. It’s not mainstream until everybody sees it. So once everyone sees me, I’ll be mainstream.
ANT: I guess mainstream is very subjective now. The old fringe stuff is mainstream, and the stuff thatís on the fringe is too scary for everybody.
KEN: I think there’s a difference. I’d like to be mainstream, but I don’t want to be cheesy. It is what it is, I guess.
ANT: Absolutely. Where do you see your work going from here? You’re working in high fashion, you’re still doing the more artsy stuff that you love... Do you have any immediate goals?
KEN: I’m trying to round myself out as far as subject matter goes. I’ve dabbled in a little bit of everything, and I want to take all of that to the next level. I’m looking at doing a high fashion wedding scheme this year. I’m looking at pitching to Vans Media for national campaigns--taking it back to my skateboarding roots. It usually goes back to stuff I love, you know--I love beautiful women, I love skateboarding, I love music... That’s what I shoot.