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Shoot The Moon

The American photographer Mikael Kennedy returns to New York City after spending ten years shooting life on the road

Mikael Kennedy is a Brooklyn-based photographer whose wanderlust led him to hit the road for over a decade. Taking part-time jobs, sleeping at gas stations and occasionally even selling his blood for enough cash to buy film, he has always stayed on the move, documenting his Kerouac-esque tour of the America's cities, deserts and hinterlands via his favourite medium – the polaroid camera. Tonight, he opens Shoot The Moon at the legendary Chelsea Hotel – an exhibition of 500 of his all-time favourite polaroids, which marks something of a symbolic homecoming for the snap-happy American prodigal and puts him in the company of Chelsea-haunting ghosts such as Mapplethorpe and Burroughs. When he called Dazed to tell us about the show, we just had to know more... 

Dazed Digital: What interests you most about photography?
Mikael Kennedy: I tend to think of photography as storytelling. I'd probably rather be a folk singer, it's just that I can't play guitar or sing all that well, so this is what I do. I'm really less interested in photography as a medium than I am in life, which is much more interesting and exciting to me than any form of art. I am really interested in work that builds a story or a world, one that portrays a life. The single photograph doesn't often do that much for me, I like series work, all the more so if that series covers a lifetime. When I was young I became fixated with the idea that this was it, the only time I had, and that I knew I'd die some day. So life became like a countdown of packing in as much as I could, like a kid counting down the days of summer vacation, each one more important than the last.

DD: What would you say you have learned about humanity via your ten year wanderlust? What's the most interesting story you have from the road?
Mikael Kennedy: Well the wanderlust hasn't stopped, so it's not a contained experiment yet. I can't say that I have come any conclusions about the world or about humanity. To me, life is so unbelievably beautiful that I just am constantly in wonder and awe at the things around me. As for stories, that is all these are. I don't even know where to begin with the most interesting, spending 40 days driving around the country just for the hell of it; moving to Seattle on a whim; moving to Serbia on a whim and just wandering around for three months; almost getting killed by a crazy guy in a rest stop in Nevada who kept asking me who was the toughest guy I'd ever met; sleeping under a lighthouse on the Hudson river; meeting 14 strangers in Texas and going on a three day vision quest with them in a place called Hondo; driving up the 101 in California; breaking into old coal powered power plants in north Carolina... all of it, it's all interesting to me. Hell, I even love the bad stuff that happens, like having to sell my blood in seattle to buy film. It's an experience, it's real, and in that it becomes beautiful.

DD: Which photographers have most influenced you?
Mikael Kennedy: Probably the biggest influence on me would be the photography of Allen Ginsberg. He has a book published called Snapshot Poetics, which is just black and white portraits of his friends and companions during his travels. In the end it is just the summation of a life. Daido Moriyama's book Memoirs Of A Dog is another favorite. I feel like  I can begin to see a person in there, as if by piecing together all these visions he has I can understand him a little. Larry Clark's Tulsa was one of the first photo books I picked up and still one of my favorites. Then is this guy named Johhny Dark who was old friends with Sam Sheperd who just released a book of his photographs. They are just snap shots of their lives – his girlfriends, his son growing up, a picture of the books on his shelf or of his gun. It's one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen.

DD: What would you say drives you as an artist? 
Mikael Kennedy: Life is what is important to me. Specifically living mine. So, these moments are just that, they are moments in that life. Moments that catch my eye, maybe I hope that when someone looks through all of this they can get a sense of the vision I am seeing. I just recently referred to this work in a lecture I was giving as 'life propaganda' showing that there is a way to live more richly and have a life more full of experience, rather than just wasting away at a desk in an office, or sitting at home watching TV. It seems a tragedy to me to waste the days you are alive in that manner. I often refer this Ginsberg poem called  Footnote To Howl where he just keeps yelling 'Holy' this and 'Holy' that, a listing off of all things Holy, that all things are holy. Every moment, every coffee cup, if looked at in the right way are incredible.

DD: Do you think Polaroid represents a sort of tangible beauty that we have lost in the digital age?
Mikael Kennedy: Yeah, I remember a few years back when my grandfather died, cleaning out his basement and finding these boxes of old photos of him going to yearly fishing derby in New Hampshire before I was born. That moment is something that we have now lost, all these digital photos we are taking, the majority of them will be lost, corrupted files or failed hardrives and they will just disappear. So that history will disappear with them. I think we react very differently to a polaroid than we do to other kinds of photography. It's interesting that police and insurance companies used to use them as evidence, they were considered the truth of what had happened. I think that is why this documentation of a life with polaroids somehow rings true with folks. With a Polaroid the image is just there, it is what happened, there is no option to alter the image, there are no zoom lenses, so not only was it what happened but it means that the person taking the picture was right there. It's a small photo too, so you have to get close to see it, everything about them is intimate.

DD: What attracted you to exhibiting in the Chelsea Hotel?
Mikael Kennedy: I have always played around with the idea of doing a show in a hotel room, it seemed fitting to me to do something of a traveler's installation with the work that I do. When my gallery suggested we do the show in a room at the Chelsea it seemed perfect, and kind of an honor to be showing there. The history of artists who have passed through there –Mapplethorpe doing his first show there, all these travellers passing though. I like the idea that places and objects hold onto some of the history of where they have been and who has been through them. I couldn't think of a better space to do this show.

500 Polaroids is at The Chelsea Hotel from April 14
PHH Fine Art
Down Or Out