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Work by Artist Paul Kenny

I recently stumbled across the work of artist Paul Kenny. I found his photography work fascinating and was keen to share it with Walking Photographer readers. After getting in touch, he kindly agreed to an interview…

Artist Profile: Paul Kenny

Paul Kenny completed a Fine Art Degree at Newcastle in 1975. In 2004 he returned to Northumberland where he now lives and works. He has work in some major public and private collections including Deutche Bank, Goldman Sachs, the National Photography Collection, Bradford and the National Gallery of Scotland.


How would you describe your relationship with the landscape you represent in your art?

The landscape is fundamental to my work. Walking on beaches feeling the power of the ocean, making links between things i see and things I’m thinking about are where the work comes from. I think that being out in the landscape, particularly on a beach, we can feel our own insignificance in terms of time and place in the universe.

There is a quote from The Shipping News that I use a lot to describe those feelings.

…small figures against the vast rock with the sea behind. All the complex wires of life were stripped out and he could see the structure of life. Nothing but rock and sea, the tiny figures of humans and animals against them for a brief time

E. Annie Proulx — from “The Shipping News”


There remains an air of unpredictability around the final results of your work, yet there does appear to be a very formulaic approach in their creation. From being outdoors and collecting artefacts to the hanging of a finish print, is there a particular part of the process that you favour over others?

I’ve always felt that photography was two distinct processes. The capturing of an image, and the making of a print. The two activities can take place months or years apart and are very distinct. Now I have stopped using a camera to make a negative capture and I make a plate I still call a negative, using material gathered in the landscape. I tend to draw images first and construct them in my head so the whole process of making, printing etc is leading to an object in a frame on a wall. So there is no favourite part – its all an activity towards creating a beautiful thought provoking object.

A big part of your process is creating negatives / glass plates from the items you have collected. These negatives seem to vary in shape, noticably from square to circle, is this variation a conscious decision? If so, what informs such decisions?

I have been making photographic images for about 44 years. I see it as one long process which along the way has invented its own shorthand. so themes and motifs have found there way into the work circles in squares can be traced back to my obsessive photographing of a lichen covered sheepfold in North West Scotland that I photographed annually for over 20 years. Other motifs are a line that could be a horizon or a rectangle which to me represents man imposing shapes or scratching at the edges of wilderness.

paul kenny circle neg

Looking at your works collectively, there seems to be some photographs that are quite abstract while others have an almost graphic and design quality about them and look quite deliberate in composition. Do you have an exact idea that strive for from concept or are some elements left to chance?

One of the elements of my work is this knife edge battle between my will and the will of nature. I want seawater to dry in a perfect circle – it doesn’t often want to. all sorts of things come into play – the most difficult is ambient humidity – on a really humid day – a months work can just revert to liquid on the plate. I generally have a clear image in my head of the finished piece and I try to get as close as possible to it.

You say that you were forced into using digital processes after your prefered wet process (traditional) materials were no longer available. What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital in your own work and if these wet process materials were to become readily available again would you return and abandon digital?

As a wet process photographer you create a tight sequence of processes to achieve consistency. Same film, same developer, same temperatures, same fix, same timings, same print paper, same print developer, same temps, same toner, same drying process. I used to refer to it as a sequence as rigid and complex as a Japanese tea ceremony. In the mid 2000s as the digital world became overwhelming, bits just started to drop out. For example when Agfa stopped making Record Rapid paper, or when Ilford stopped making Pan F in 5”x4″ sheet form, when Agfa changed the formula for Neutol Warm Tone Developer or the most devastating, in 2007, when the Forte factory in Hungary closed ceasing the supply of my beloved Fortenzo Museum paper. Its easy to blame outside circumstances but by then I was becoming dissatisfied with monochrome and the restrictions of making images only up to 20” x 24” . By 2007 I was playing around with trying to get colour into the work – Prussian Blue and Sepia toning, and making work that was two or three images combined in the same frame i.e. Thinking of Belderg

My problem was that I had never seen a digital print that was a beautiful object, all I had seen had a synthetic washed out “disposable” feel to them. It was only when I was introduced to Jack Lowe in Newcastle ( that I saw digital prints that were sublime, crafted and beautiful and we can make really large prints. We have worked together now for 7 years and I can see no reason to change. Bringing colour and scale to my work has been liberating but its not set in stone, if i wanted to make a different kind of image I would seek out the best method for achieving the results I require.

paul kenny fine art photography

You can explore more of Paul Kenny’s compelling photography and find out more about his practice at

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