When David Michael Kennedy tells you he’s old school, you believe him.
The New Mexico-based photographer, who looks more than a little like a cowboy hat-sporting Iggy Pop with a fondness for turquoise, comes across as someone who’d find virtue in the older, more laborious ways of printing a photograph.
“I’m totally old school,” Kennedy told the Capital City Weekly in a Thursday interview. “I love vinyl. I live in a 250-year-old house. We heat with wood. We go out and get our eggs every morning from the chickens. I’m definitely old school, analog. I drive a 1998 Dodge diesel with 459,000 miles on it.”
Kennedy, who is acclaimed in his field and has photographed Western landscapes, Debbie Harry and American Indian Ceremonial Dancers among other subjects was in town this week to serve as a guest juror for the “Alaska Positive” photography exhibition that will open in Juneau for Gallery Walk, and for a lecture and workshop at the museum.
He took some time to talk to the Capital City Weekly about why he’s drawn to old methods and equipment, not treating Bob Dylan with kid gloves and the direction of photography in general.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
At this stage, you’re reviewing the “Alaska Positive” photos in person, what advantage does that have over seeing them in the digital form?
Huge. Huge. When you see digitized images, you really don’t know what the images look like. There’s so much you can do now on your computer to change them. To get JPEGs up on the internet is a completely different thing than seeing a physical print. Being able to see a physical print is very, very special.
It seems like you push for more analog equipment in general, is there any reason in particular?
Because I’m old school, I guess.
I’m a record collector, if someone asked me why, I could talk THEIR ear off. What is it you like?
I’m very much about process. I question at times, once a picture is on the wall, does it really matter how it was made? If it speaks to someone, if it touches someone, if it makes someone feel something, is the process important? But, to me somehow, the process really is important.
Obviously, there’s a lot of different of different processes that could lead to images. What’s your favorite?
My favorite is platinum and palladium. It’s the hands-on approach to it, it’s the tactfulness of it, it has amazing tonal range, and it has amazing depth to it.
Are you big on old school tech in other areas? I’m selective about my records and audio equipment, but I think nothing of streaming something that was almost certainly shot on a particular type of film and may have been massacred in the digitization process.
What digital has done to music, it’s basically done to photography, too. One of the things that bothers me about it is it’s made it so accessible. Anyone can produce an album now and make it sound good, and pretty much anybody can produce a photograph and make it look good, and somehow, to me, it should be harder.
It has something to do with your dedication to what you’re doing and being willing to work and suffer and learn for years to get to a point where you’re producing really special stuff.
You’re photography has intersected with music quite often, do you have any favorite subjects to shoot from that world.
Oh yeah (laughs).
You’re laughing, there must be something good.
Some of the obvious ones like Dylan. That was probably the only time I was intimidated. Photographing Bob Dylan. It doesn’t get much better.
Seems like he could be pretty particular about how he looks, or maybe not care at all. How was he?
You want the Dylan story?
Hit me with the Dylan story.
When I got the job, the art director of the magazine called me up and said, “David, this is kind of weird,” because he talked to Dylan, and he didn’t want chichi, fancy fashion photographers coming to shoot them. So, I thought about that, and I’m obviously not that person. We flew from New York out to L.A., and we loaded up all the equipment, and then I gave my assistant the day off. He (Dylan) came walking out barefoot with two beers and said “Hi, I’m Bob Dylan,” and I say, “Oh, yeah really?” I kind of cringed. I said, “I’ve got all this heavy equipment in the trunk, and I just had back surgery, can you help me unload everything?” And he kind of looked at me for a minute, and he said, “Yeah, OK.”
It just became two people making pictures, just hanging out. I think he really appreciated that.
Do you prefer to shoot a human subject or a landscape?
I like making photographs. To me, it’s like every time you push the button you’re saying yes to life. You’re affirming life. It’s kind of weird because people scare the hell out of me.
Any advice for people in their personal photography?
That’s a hard question right now, because I’m going through a confused place about where photography is, where it fits into my life because it’s changing so much. First off, you need to find things you feel something for and you want to express and talk about, and then really learn your craft. Don’t rely on the apps and the easy answers.
Know & Go
What: David Michael Kennedy lecture and workshop
When: The lecture is 7 p.m. Friday, the workshop is 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum, 395 Whittier St.
Admission: The lecture is free, the workshop costs $220. To register for the workshop call 465-2901.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.