From Fashion to the American Landscape: Talking Photography With Mikael KennedyAll photographs courtesy of Mikael Kennedy Design Features
It doesn’t matter if Mikael Kennedy is shooting an advertisement for J. Crew, Burton or New Balance, gathering material for one of his self-released photography books such as California, New Mexico or Days in the Desert or shooting Polaroids of friends as he did in his retired book series Passport to Trespass. There’s a similar narrative found in all of his work—that of a restless traveler who after many miles is still in love with the American Landscape.
Paste: Since retiring your “Passport to Trespass” blog, which chronicled a decade or so of travels with friends, your personal work has become increasingly void of people and has focused more on landscapes. Was that a conscious decision or have you just been traveling solo?
Mikael Kennedy: I’d say it’s a bit of both, several factors probably came into play in this one. We’ve lost some people, and I think that had an affect on me, made me turn inward a little more, but I think that what it really comes down to is just life changing (I guess you could say the first reason is somehow part of that). Art comes from life, it comes from my life, and the experiences of it. It’s not a cerebral thing to me, and I’ve always felt that it was important to allow your art to change with your life, to not hold on to it too hard in any way, to allow it to grow as you grow. So, as I’ve gotten older, I probably choose to spend more time alone. I am no longer that 25-year-old kid bumming around city to city, I didn’t find it as interesting as I used to. In fact, most times now, I try to avoid cities and just head out into the wild as much as I can when I travel.
Paste: The narrative of the American road trip is as present in your personal work as it is in your professional work. Is there an attempt to weave a narrative between both bodies of work, or are these themes just simply where your interests lie?
Kennedy: My first gallery in NYC and art dealer told me that he thinks all photographers deal with one subject their entire lives in different incarnations. In terms of my personal work, I have come to realize over the years that subject was “home” often expressed in the absence of it: i.e. being on the road. In terms of my commercial and personal work, there is absolutely an attempt to weave a narrative between the two. If I can edit a sequence of images between commissioned work and personal work, and have it flow seamlessly between the two, I think that’s the goal. This is about a vision to me, not cameras or anything else, it’s just creating a vision of the world around me (or one might say the world I choose to exist in). But I love moving around, seeing new things, and I’ve tried to build a world of photography around that love. Waking up in a new place is a wonderful feeling.
Paste: Your imagery seems so based in American culture, are you interested in shooting in other parts of the world? If so, where?
Kennedy: Absolutely. I have embraced certain aspects of the culture I grew up in—cars are a big part of my work, the road, the promise of the wild open west, all these are recurring. There’s a hand painted sign hanging in our house a friend made for me that says “Everywhere is the goal.” Apparently, I said it once in an interview a few years back, and it’s kind of stuck as the driving idea behind my life and work. Really EVERYWHERE is the goal. I am very conscious of the fact that I have a limited time on this earth and would like to see and do as much as I can before that comes to any end. When I travel outside of the United States, my work is a very different thing, though. It’s not mine anymore, not the work, but the place and the culture, I am just a visitor, and I am conscious of that in my work. America is mine. I have no problem sculpting and shaping a vision of it, I feel like I have carte blanche to do what ever I want with my vision of America. But everywhere else I am just a tourist no matter how long I stay, so it’s a different style of work. The short list right now? Vietnam, Peru, Morocco, Romania, I’ve still got time.
Paste: What are your non photography influences and how have they made their way into your work?
Kennedy: Music is a big part of it, I spent years traveling with a man named David Lamb—he was a songwriter who passed away last year, but our work was very intertwined. In the early days of Passport to Trespass, he was just starting to write and release his first albums, and we would travel together and work on our projects together. I thought of his songs as a soundtrack to what I was seeing. My wife is a musician, and we work very closely together as well. I think I always wanted to be a musician instead of a photographer. In the end, I think I’m basically creating songs with images, short stories or threads of ideas that piece together to form a whole or an album. Maybe each book is a song and the collection is the album. I look at a lot of painting as well, photography really doesn’t interest me all that much.
You can check out Kennedy’s work here.