A driving concern throughout Simon Kennedy's art practice has been to capture a particular quality of light: a light that gleams best in dark places. This light is silvery, almost ultraviolet like the light in the South Island of New Zealand. It is eerie, iridescent and slightly gothic. It is the light that shapes the world of the Dutch Masters, and which helps sculpt the faces of a Man Ray. For the last twenty years Kennedy has pursued this strange quality through painting and drawing. In this current exhibition, he has moved to capture this light in a new medium, using the alchemical processes of photography.
Kennedy manipulates each image in the dark room, borrowing techniques from early 20th century photographer and pictorialist, William Mortinsen. Like Mortensen, Kennedy bleaches, dyes, rubs charcoal and draws directly onto the prints. Kennedy also borrows from others in this tradition of experimental photography, particularly with his use of solarisation, where the image is overexposed to cast a surreal light of extreme brightness and shadow.
Ansel Adams accused Mortinsen of being kitsch, using modernism's new technologies to cheap effect. For Kennedy, however, this kitsch-ness is a part of the attraction to these techniques and early experimental works. There's an unsettling, B-grade film quality to this aesthetic, like an early horror movie. Faces have an expressive, dramatic intensity, and appear to exist in a ghostly realm more real than our own.
Press release courtesy Gallery 9.