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Storm, Turkey, Texas, 2009

Kevin Erskine: Super Cell

We meet the man who has been living in the eye of the storm...

In the winter of 1841, landscape painter J.W. Turner had himself tied to the mast of a storm-whipped ship. He didn't know if he would survive, but he felt an unexplainable urge to record the power, beauty and brutality of that harsh act of Mother Nature. As it turned out, that painting, 'Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth', is one of Turner's most celebrated works. Today, somewhere in Tornado Alley, his disciple farmer Kevin Erskine has a camera on hand, also waiting for the perfect storm.

Alien-like, heavenly and apocalyptic, his depictions of cloud giants and shifting monster formations battle in the abyss above, clashing light, colour, terror and wonder. And even though it’s not hard to imagine this hard-working, unsung hero of Americana roaming between the Canadian border and the Rocky Mountains aboard the pick-up truck in which he has been chasing storms since age 19, this great back-story to his mesmerizing body of work is just that - a story! After all, Kevin Eskine is the Dutch photographer Erik Hijweege's American alter ego, tasked with capturing the Super Cell now on display in Erskine's NYC expo...

Dazed Digital: When was your first encounter with a big storm, and why did you become fascinated with them?
Kevin Erskine:
My father was a farmer and my family moved to Hoskins, Nebraska, when I was 10. Two years later (June 5 1986) our city centre was destroyed by an EF4 tornado. That was when the fascination began. The beauty of these monsterclouds combined with the potential danger made the addiction complete.

DD: How did you decide you wanted to photograph storms, and what was your first camera?
Kevin Erskine:
My dad was an aspiring photographer. His Leica m3 was the first camera I used. Processing my own black and white film and printing in my dark room in the barn brings back good memories. Every summer spawned a few beautiful storms. Wandering through the fields they became my main subject matter. I still use a traditional large format panoramic camera.

DD: You don't want to be labelled a storm chaser - why is that? Isn't the thrill part of your pursuit?
Kevin Erskine:
Photography of the aesthetics of big weather is more important to me than chasing tornadoes. However, Richard Hamblyn frames the sensation of my art in the introduction of my book "To stand beneath a super cell structure that extends from one horizon to the other, and to watch as it begins to eerily rotate, is to realise that we live not at the top of the solid earth, but at the bottom of an unfathomable ocean of air."

DD: When you take your photographs, have you ever been in a situation where, like Turner when he was painting that piece, you thought that you wouldn't survive a storm?
Kevin Erskine:
So far the only thing I really fear is lightning as it is very unpredictable. Being out in the open field close to a rotating storm makes you realize that the tripod I use could actually be a great lightning rod.

DD: You've said, "When it's blowin', I'm going" - what motivates you to do it, despite the dangers?
Kevin Erskine:
The sky offers an ever changing array of colors and shapes. The unimprovable beauty of our atmosphere is rooted in its dynamism, in the fact that there is never a moment when anything can be visually predicted.

Kevin Erskine: 'Super Cell' - from the 15th of March trought the 1st of April 2012 at Milk Gallery, 450 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10011, in partnership with Galeria de Babel, São Paulo, Brazil. The expo will be accompained by Kevin Erskine's new book launch