Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Diving into "Float"

“Float” is an upcoming exhibit of photographs in Winter Haven by one of my favorite emerging Florida artists, my brother James Kilby. I admit I am biased, but I truly believe he is extremely talented and I am excited to see him finally get this show of his fine art off the ground. James has taught me a great deal about photography and I am better at what I do because of his patient teaching.

Slide of young James at Silver Springs

James, an Aquarian, has always loved the water. I have early memories of him taking swimming lessons in Gainesville, the kind where they take toddlers and simply throw them in the water. In high school he made the the trek from Gainesville to the Atlantic to surf and as an adult in Central Florida he took up wake boarding and later wake skating. He moved to Winter Haven from Orlando to live in a community surrounded by a chain of lakes. It seems natural that his first body of solo work prominently features water. The meaning of "Float" is not superficial and to understand the statement the artist is making, takes delving below the surface a bit. That was my intent with this Q&A:

Q: I remember dad taking a photography class and turning our bathroom into a darkroom. The black and white images he took are some of my favorite family photos. Do you think his interest in photography had anything to do with you becoming a photographer?

A: Dad’s interest in photography certainly shaped mine. I was told as a child not to play with his darkroom equipment hidden in the bathroom, so of course I’d lock the door and pull it all out. I was also very interested in projecting slides and the impact an image could have when it was magnified and projected – most everyone did it at the time. As well the parents sent me as a child to a summer class at the museum where I did very well. But it was a teacher in high school who really taught me the core foundations.

Even in land-locked Gainesville, James found water.
Photo from our father's "Black and White" photography period.

Q: When did you first decide to go back to school to photography full time? Not many people have the guts to quit a good job with full benefits to become a full-time student - were you nervous going back to school at an older age?

A: I had seen “American Beauty", "Office Space", and "True Stories” in the span of one week and realized how discontent I was with corporate America and that I had no real excuse not to pursue photography. Truth be told, I was more nervous about having to retake the math classes more than anything else.

Q: Where else has your work been shown?

A: My work has been shown: Southeast Museum of Photography (Daytona), Gallery 17 (Daytona), Ormond Museum and Memorial Gardens (Ormond), Stetson Fine Arts Gallery (Deland), Art Haus (Port Orange), Nude Nite (Orlando), and several now defunct galleries in metro Orlando.

Q: I know that the work in this show is a reaction to the growth going on in Winter Haven and how it effects the lakes there, could you elaborate on this?

A: All my friends swim and recreate in Lake Summit in Winter Haven. It’s where we gather and it is the starting point for many long wonderful days up and down the Winter Haven Chain of lakes. The water quality has become bad just three lakes up on Lake Shipp. They have posted no swimming signs due to run-off entering the lake. The next lake over (Lake Lulu) is the only buffer right now between Lake Shipp and Lake Summitt and it is the site of the new mega strip mall which will have a huge impact on Lake Lulu. After that is Lake Eloise and then Lake Summit – so what is going to stop the spoilage? Are we going to be the change that saves these lakes or is Winter Haven doomed to be the next Leesburg?
(Note the Harris chain of Lakes in Leesburg has been contaminated from Lake Apopka.)

Before and after: Winter Haven's iconic Citrus Showcase
building is demolished to build a shopping plaza
Top image from State Archives of Florida. Bottom image courtesy of Stacey Reid.

Q: I know that my perspective about the environment has been strongly shaped by living on a lake, in fact I consider myself a tree-hugging environmentalist from my own lakefront living experience. What do you think shaped your view of the environment?

A: My view of the environment was shaped by growing up near the woods, spending my childhood along the St Johns River, and a desire to always reside near water. Currently I reside on Lake Ned which is a body of work I continue to work on. Sadly it too is now in trouble as aquatic weeds like hydrilla have changed the lake’s fragile balance.

Lake Ned

Q: What is your favorite place in Florida?

A: My favorite stretch of Florida is A1A from Ormond Beach to St. Augustine. My favorite town is St. Augustine but I have favorite spots all over – with such a diverse state, it is hard to pick.

Q: How did you select the models in “Float”?

A: I pulled my models from all over the place. I did a casting, I used friends of friends, and relied on some old favorites that I thought were right for the project.

Q: Some of the images have a gracefulness to them, while others are more gritty. Was that deliberate or just something that occurred organically?

A: Before I shot each model I asked them all the same question. “If you could change one thing in your life and not resist that change but float gracefully towards it – what would that look like?” Now the great thing about this project is that once they were in the water they could not hear anything but the sound of their own thoughts – they were never directed so what you get is their response to that question. I would show them the work prior to committing to it so they knew what they were in for.

Q: Most of the work is processed in cool, de-saturated tones that give the models a surreal almost ghastly appearance. Others are processed in warmer tones that make the water look almost muddy. What determined how you processed the images?

A: The images were processed by mood. I would take my experience of shooting them and process the images on how I felt they would do with the impermanence in their lives. I did however take total artistic license in this selection.

Q: I know you have been working on this collection of images for some time, what inspired you?

A: “Float” like many projects was born out of another one – a mixed media piece I did called “Swing Set Release” in which I attached a vintage slip to balloons and let it float away. I shot that at the same spot where I did all of the shooting for float. In the back of my mind were some images I had seen by an illustrator/painter that I liked named Jeannie Maddox… though my work is in no way like hers.

Q: If there is one impression or feeling you wanted the audience to come away with from the show, what would it be?

A: If you walk away feeling anything from looking at this work, then I did my job. That to me is art – anything that makes you feel something. No matter what!

Q: Do you have a favorite image?

A: My favorite shot is of my ballet dancer friend Becky and it is just a simple shot of her head breaking the surface of the water. When I saw that image it looked to me what I had been after all along.

Q: Who are your favorite artists/influences?

A: The big influences in my life are Steve Beaudet, Shayne Soderstrom, and Freddie Dejesus. Famous artists I admire include David Lynch, David Byrne, Gregory Crewdson, Robert Rauschenburg, and Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper 1882-1967, New York Interior, ca. 1921.

Q: What are you going to do next?

A: My next body of work is currently evolving but it will again be very Polk County. I had done a shoot with a band at night in the orange grooves and loved the studio look that the nighttime gave me – mixed with the organic feel of the trees. Here’s a hint – “Tomato Workers Fasting in Front of Publix Headquarters”…

From the Float press release:
Tapping the Vine
of Winter Haven is proud to feature the first solo show of Florida artist James Grant Kilby. The exhibit, featuring emotive fine art photography, will run from 20 April until 20 July 2012. A free reception will be held with the artist on 20 April 2012 at seven PM. The opening will feature live entertainment and food.

Float is Kilby’s new body of work shot on Winter Haven’s Lake Summit in the shadow of the newly opened theme park, Legoland Florida. Kilby uses this backdrop to represent the precarious balance of the lake’s eco-system and foreshadow the detrimental environmental impact of development being made on this historic chain of lakes. Themes of impermanence and its effect on the human condition runs as a common thread through out the work. The concept of how we all deal with change as humans is a central theme.

James Grant Kilby is an industrious commercial photographer/artist that relocated to Winter Haven in 2005. A graduate of the Southeastern Center for Photographic Studies and former employee of the Southeastern Museum of Photography, Kilby has exhibited in galleries and museums in Central Florida and the East Coast.

Unless noted, all work © 2012 James Grant Kilby

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