Friday, January 20, 2012

5 Minutes With Johnnie Shand Kydd

Tracy Emin-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

Johnnie Shand Kydd is the youngest son of Peter Shand Kydd and Janet Munro Kerr. He is an internationally exhibited photographer some of his portraits have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery.

Shand Kydd studied Art and English at university, but said that, by then, he had done enough painting to know that he did not want to pursue it, "There's so much crap art around and what's the point of being a mediocre artist?"

After working at a Bond Street art gallery selling 19th Century paintings for a number of years Shand Kydd began taking photographs of his artist friends and those in his social sphere, using an Instamatic camera.

Tilda Swinton-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

As a participant rather than solely an observer he captured the community of the Young British Artists before they became household names. As an emerging photographer, Shand Kydd served as the silent chronicler of the movement by capturing his friends, including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, on film. That work was soon collected into the book Spit Fire. The collection was featured in the Sensation show at the Royal Academy in 1997. From this portfolio the National Portrait Gallery acquired 42 prints.

Sam Taylor-Wood-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

His second book, Crash, documented the progress of his friends. About 200 exposures in strict black-and-white capture art-society luminaries like Gilbert & George, Sam Taylor-Wood, Nan Goldin, Richard Prince, Juergen Teller, Maurizio Cattelan and Tracey Emin.

Soldiers outside Cafe Gambinus, Naples-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

His most recent publication and photographic exhibition, Siren City, is the result of eight years of photographic research in Naples, a place defined by Shand Kidd as one of the most radical cities in Europe

Q1. What was the first record you bought that really had a big influence on you?

The first single I ever bought was Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys which I think displays exquisite taste ! Just the right combination of great musical sophistication and utter banality

Bert Clark, World War One Veteran. Born November 20, 1899-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

Q2. Your series of portraits of World War 1 veterans is an incredible document. When did you photograph the veterans and what was the motivation behind this project?

JSK: I was approached by Max Arthur who was interviewing the veterans for his book 'Last Post'. When he told me about the project, my first reaction was that the combined age of these twenty one men amounted to over 2,000 years which would take you back to before the birth of Christ. It was an extraordinary experience. All were so humble and none thought they had done anything exceptional or more than ther job. So different to the self obsession so prevalent today. Something happened during the project that I still think one of the most moving moments of my professional life. We had traveled to Wales to photograph John Oborne who at 104 was no spring chicken. The weather was atrocious with skate grey skies and horizontal rain so I had no alternative but to try and photograph him in the conservatory of the residential home where he was seeing out his days. It was pretty obvious that the pictures were going nowhere when suddenly the rain stopped allowing me to ask the nurse if we could park Mr Obourne under a blasted tree in the garden outside. He was duly wheeled out as I set up my camera. Whilst I was doing this I became aware of something moving in the corner of my eye. A magnificent white stallion in the adjoining field, about 500 yards away started to walk towards us and finally stopped by the barbed wire fence. He stretched his neck and nuzzled the sleeping veteran who in turn awoke and raised his hand as if in benediction. I took the picture and returned to London where I listened to one of those late Johnny Cash albums. I'll paraphrase, but Cash mentions a white horse who's name is Death. John Obourne died a couple of days later.

John Osbourne, World War One Veteran. Born May 11, 1900-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

George Rice, World War One Veteran. Born June 18, 1897--Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

Q3. In complete contrast I really enjoyed your portraits of young club kids in the BoomBox book. Were you a BoomBox regular and who was your favorite subject?

JSK: No, My clubbing days are well and truly over. I was asked to take those pictures for a book on BoomBox. It was a blast. So many people today moan about photographers invading their space or privacy. The BoomBox bunch were gagging to have everything invaded ! Nothing off limits

BoomBox Nightclub-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

Q4. You obviously have a strong affinity with the YBA's. Are your subjects often people you have a relationship with already and does that matter?

JSK: I love photographing people who I know. For some reason, an existing relationship with your subject allows you to simplify your approach. I try to avoid tricks and gimmicks in my portraiture but sometimes when the sitter is a complete stranger and is hell bent on contributing nothing, then you do have to fall back on a little extra something to give the picture a bit of oomph. With people you know and understand, you can pare away to achieve something minimal and perhaps more honest. I am a huge fan of John Deakin and this mix of objectivity and subjectivity is an essential ingredient to the spirit of his work

Damian Hirst-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

Q5. In an age where everything is digital it seems that your black and white photography harks back to a classic age in that medium. How do you feel about the disposable nature of digital photography?

JSK: If digital photography is used intelligently then I have no problems with it whatsoever. However ............ I find a lot of the results pretty underwhelming. I admit to being a Luddite but I do love the element of alchemy and magic in using film. I also enjoy the drawn out anticipation and ritual of the process. But, what I hate most about digital is the way people now look at the world not through their eyes but through the view finder of their digital camera. It depresses me only a little less than how staggering boring people become when they bang on about digital. You can change this, you can intensify that, move this, substitute that. Verbal diarrhea justifying visual diarrhea.

BoomBox Nightclub-Photo: Johnnie Shand Kydd.

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