Q&A with Photographer Patrick McKenna

The Groote Schuur #WDC323 Ward upgrade project recently received a generous donation of beautiful framed and unframed prints from Cape Town-based photographer and writer, Patrick McKenna. We asked him about the inspirations, frustrations and aspirations behind his images.

Q: When did your interest in photography begin?

Patrick-McKenna
Photographer Patrick McKenna

We’ve rehearsed this question and answer before and as you know, I am rather embarrassed about admitting the truth. But here goes: as a young boy growing up in Zimbabwe during the 1960s and 1970s, there were only two publications that catered for an adolescent boy’s growing interest in the female form: National Geographic and Amateur Photographer. I consulted them religiously at every opportunity and the brilliance of their images shaped the rest of my life – regardless of whether they featured the female form or not. That’s when I started begging my mother for a camera.

Q: How old were you when she answered your prayers?

About 10 years old. She bought back an Instamatic camera from one of her trips to England. I have always been obsessed by the beauty, colour and power of horses and horse racing. Handily, we lived right behind Borrowdale Park racecourse in Harare and I was up at the crack of dawn next day to photograph the gallops. Sadly, my early attempts at photography failed because of my youthful impatience. Rather than wait for the films to be developed in a professional darkroom, I simply closed the curtains in my bedroom, pulled the film out its canister hoping that my pictures would magically appear before my eyes. Of course, I simply destroyed them.

Q: Have you ever had any formal training in photography?

One or two evening course, but that’s it. I think that formal training is vital when it comes to learning the technical aspects of photography. But I am not convinced that you can be taught to see with a photographer’s eye. That takes time and intensive personal study of the world around you. It means following your interests and developing your own styles and themes. It means trying, failing and trying again. Of course, if you have a natural talent, that always helps.

Q: Which photographers do you admire most?

I was hugely moved by the Magnum masters: Henri Cartier-Bresson and his colleagues. Old school black and white US street photographers like Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand also had a major impact on me. As for colour specialists, though, I hate Steve McCurry. Every picture he publishes is an absolute masterpiece and he makes me want to just give up and stop trying to match him. The list of the other big names I admire goes on and on. Robert Doisneau, Eugene Meatyard, Martin Parr, Lee Friedlander, Don McCullin and South Africa’s own virtuoso, Roger Ballen − among so many others. But I would also point out that the world is full of brilliant unknown photographers whose names you will never know. They are all over the internet. They are in galleries, magazines, books and graduation exhibitions. They are everywhere and you can learn from all of them.

Q: Digital or film?

Both.  I am very grateful that I started taking pictures before the digital age. There is nothing like trying and failing with an old manual SLR film camera. Or spending several hours and lots of money in a darkroom until you have dodged and shaded the perfect picture in a tray of chemicals. But digital photography is a modern miracle that I celebrate every day. Perversely, the possibilities it opens up are so immense that I sometimes feel paralysed by them.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration these days?

Absolutely everywhere and anywhere. From a vast open landscape in the Overberg to the sand beneath my feet on Noordhoek Beach, the world is full of patterns, colours, textures, moments and inspiration.

Last year, I held and exhibition in Cape Town called Sea. Land. City. That just about covers all my strongest sources of inspiration – except for horse racing, which remains one of my obsessions.

That said, photographers are also vulnerable to same obstacles that effect writers suffering from writers’ block. You can visit locations that have inspired other photographers for decades and feel absolutely nothing despite your best intentions. I am Zimbabwean to the core. Ironically, however, I find it very difficult to feel photographically inspired in my own country, which is revered for its natural beauty. Perhaps it’s psychological!

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Never stop looking. Look at the masters. Look at Instagram. Look at the National Geographic and Amateur Photographer. Look at Flickr and Pinterest and random images on Google and in magazines and books. Most of all, look at your own universe. See the colours, textures, shapes all around you. Predict the moments. Learn how to capture them. If your technical skills are limited, enrol in a night class. If you lose hope and inspiration, never stop photographing. If you don’t like what you see, just hit delete and try again. That’s the beauty of digital photography. Two more points: you won’t get the images you want unless you are there to take them. And you can never, ever get too close to your subject.

Q: But with all these resources and sources open to aspiring photographers, isn’t there a danger of inspiration overload?

You have certainly got a point. Accessing raw inspiration is not a problem. The challenge comes with distilling all that raw material into a consistent and recognisable style that is unique to you. That is where practice and hard slog is so important. Eventually, all the fluid sources of inspiration and influence will crystallise into the distinctive shots that will define your style. The perfect image will always be elusive and there will always be an element of luck involved in capturing it. But as Gary Player once said: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”

Q: What next?

To capture the best image that has ever been captured by anyone, ever. I’ve no idea where it is, what it looks like or when I will see it. But I know it’s out there somewhere and I am going to keep looking for it. Meanwhile, if any of my images help a patient in Groote Schuur along  the road to recover, that’s good enough for me.

Want to see more of Patrick’s beautiful work? Be sure to visit his website: here; or check out his Flickr account: here. You can also follow him on his Facebook Page: here.

Pinterest Lovelies

A  happy 2014 to all our friends and readers! I trust you all had very merry new year’s celebrations?

Okay – so I decided that it would be cool to share some our Pinterest pins with you while we take a bit of a break away from our desks this Festive Season.

And in the spirit of just being light-hearted and playful, I decided to share pins that are along the magical and fantasy lines – images that take me to a really happy space.

I have a board that I have called “Lovelies” and onto it I have pinned stuff that evoke the word “lovely” from me. I am a Libra so I like beautiful stuff, pretty stuff, pink stuff and some touching stuff as well.

I hope that in sharing these images with you, it will just bring us a bit closer to each other – with you getting to know me a tad better.

{click on image to enlarge and view source}

Robin Sprong Wallpaper

About two years ago I met Robin Sprong at either Decorex or Design Indaba. Prior to that occasion I had heard of him and had probably ‘met’ him via one of our social media portals. But when Robin shook my hand that day at the Expo, it felt to me that we had been friends for a long time. He greeted me with the ease of familiarity, totally relaxed. I must say that created a lasting impression on me.

I have always been intrigued with his product and service. This custom designed wall treatment came at a time when walls were once again regaining the status of being a ‘room feature’. Over the course of the past few months, we have been able to include Robin’s wallpaper finishes into our interior design projects. And still today, both he and the creatives in his office, are warm and welcoming people to work with. So, without further ado please stop, take a moment to allow Robin Sprong to tell you more about himself, his product and his service…

{To find out more about Robin Sprong and his awesome wallpapers check out his website: here or his Facebook page: here.}

StateoftheArt.co.za Online Art Gallery

Recently I was approached by Jennifer Reynolds from StateoftheArt online art gallery with the view of a meeting. I must say at that point I had never heard of this business venture and my interest was piqued. We met for a coffee and to say that she managed to catch my attention is an understatement. She markets her business with a strong passion for Art, bringing a somewhat unique flavour along with it.

Jennifer Reynolds of StateoftheArt.co.za
Perseverance by Mila Posthumus

Q: Tell us more about the concept of StateoftheArt.co.za…

A: I’m passionate about art and believe that art is an important and fundamental part of our society. Living with art and engaging with artists should be accessible to everyone, no matter what their budget. Physical gallery spaces incur overheads which mean that genuinely talented but undiscovered artists are rarely given a voice. I wanted to create a launch pad for these artists and provide them with a platform from which to earn a living while pursuing their creative vision. We showcase and sell works by fine arts graduates and emerging contemporary artists from around South Africa.  I see StateoftheArt as adding a new dimension to the current art-buying experience, opening the art world to people who in the past may have had limited opportunity to purchase and collect art – and because of our low commission rate, we are able to offer customers the opportunity to buy contemporary art – rather than commercial artwork from decor shops – at affordable prices.

Last year we launched Collectors Resale, an online secondary art market for art enthusiasts wishing to divest works from their private collections.

Conversations With My Dog by Sue Kaplan

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get involved in the art scene?

A: Having spent 18 years working for the number one financial news and information vendor in both South Africa and Europe, I was ready for a new challenge outside of the financial markets, and decided to use my savings to start my own business. Living in London I’d been used to shopping online for all kinds of products, including art.  Research showed that while there are many online art buying sites out there, few have strict quality controls, and none focused on South African fine arts graduates. I saw a gap between consumers’ desire to own affordable contemporary art and the need of local artists to make a living.

Bianca’s Hands III by Mila Posthumus

Q: Explain to us the StateoftheArt selection process and Curatorial Panel…

A: StateoftheArt is the only online gallery in South Africa to have a curatorial panel. The Curatorial Panel comprises six art professionals from around the country. We have a democratic selection process – the panel review the submitted applications then vote for the artists they would like to see represented in the gallery.  The panel carefully research each artist prior to inclusion to maintain a consistently high level of quality. They look for a combination of technical skill and unique style – and of course commitment – that they’re an artist by birth, not by choice.

Carousel of Extinction I by Danelle Malan

Q: What support do you offer the represented fledgling artists?

A: StateoftheArt’s commitment to it’s artists goes beyond simply posting their work online. We promote their work through a service called Art Specifier – an art discovery tool for the hospitality and design industry, as well as the corporate world (we recently completed an artwork refurbishment project for Pricewaterhouse Coopers at Century City placing over 130 works by our artists). We also spend a great deal of time marketing our artists to collectors, as well as through the media. Our recently introduced ‘Guest Curator’ series is an exciting promotional opportunity for the artists whose works are chosen for the curated collection. The series aims to help our customers build and shape their own art collections by exposing them to the insights of top tastemakers; people who have influenced culture through their ideas, words, art or business.

Untitled XIV Sea Point Promenade by Tarjei Langeland

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Nothing beats the excitement of placing an artwork with a novice collector and receiving emails of appreciation from our customers. You CAN buy an original contemporary artwork for less than the cost of a visit to the hairdresser!

Q: What inspires you?

A: The creativity and design coming out of South Africa and local contemporary art – it’s incredibly exciting, it’s intellectual and it’s relevant to our generation.

Q: And your personal taste in Art – is there a certain style or artist you are drawn to?

A: I have a very eclectic taste in art but I like to focus on young talent and emerging local artists. And I’m drawn to the whole graffiti/street art movement – Faith 47 and Freddy Sam – we have an amazing public ‘gallery’ on the streets of Cape Town.

{click on images below to enlarge}

Q: Share with us, in your opinion, a few names of emerging South African artists we should be watching…

A: Adolf Tega, land artist Janet Botes (her nature-inspired Nuances works are sublime), Sophie Peters, Floris van Zyl, recent Michaelis graduate Liffey Speller, Jimmy Law, art photographer Yolanda van der Mescht, the list could go on and on…

Q: What do you have on your bedside table at the moment?

A: A book on the Okovango Delta (Okovango Journey by Robyn Keene-Young) as my partner and I are embarking on a long anticipated holiday to Botswana next month

Wilde Bergroos by Lizelle Kruger

Q:  What is your vision for StateoftheArt going forward?  Kinda like the proverbial ‘5 year plan’!

A: To include a physical space – a working building with a gallery, office space and artist’s studios. To continue to provide an online platform for artists to earn a living and pursue their artistic vision and creative careers without needing to supplement their income via other non-creative avenues. I expect to see a lot more growth on the web and through Tablets and Smartphones from people, especially younger collectors, who historically haven’t purchased from galleries in the past. Today’s collectors can learn about an artwork online or through a social network, see it and then buy it – all with a few flicks of the wrist. I see StateoftheArt Online Gallery becoming a key resource for an art collector beyond the usual venues such as galleries, auctions and art fairs.

Graphic Wallpaper – Bold and Individual!

Although any interior designer or decorator worth his or her salt knows the added value of wallpaper, the last two decades the public perception of wallpaper took a bit of a dive. However, in the past five years (thanks to current trends finally reaching Joe Public) wallpaper is back and back in a big way.

You see it everywhere; you know the wallpaper I’m talking about – bold, stylized, graphic and individual. The current wallpaper trends are all about the “wow” factor – no blending in, we want it to make a statement! The trend also incorporates beautiful whimsical and nostalgic designs, and we see many types of wallpaper with either a very definite illustrative, sketchy quality or otherwise realistic, photographic features.

Digital printing has enabled wallpaper designers to go in newer and bolder directions. Furthermore, with the introduction of custom wallpaper – the sky is the limit. You can have anything printed onto wallpaper … talk about the ultimate individual touch!

The truth is, wallpaper conveys an opulence, luxury, and interest that paint just can’t – it creates that added dimension or layer.

Wallpaper also has that unique ability to be “translated” into any design style or statement – gentle organic lines can have a calm, grounded effect, while bold geometrics add vibrancy and oomph to a drab space.

We often find that our friends and clients are all for the idea of wallpaper but are hesitant to commit to plastering a whole room with it. That is what makes the current graphic wallpaper trend all the more special – you only need to apply it to one focal wall and that’s statement enough! A guest loo is also a perfect spot for a bit of wallpaper, it guarantees “wow!”

South Africa has so many awesome trendy wallpaper designers and suppliers – here is some of our favourites…

All these lovely wallpapers can be order through us!

Just drop is a message!

{click on images to be directed to relevant websites}
Graphic designer Sean Crozier of Design Meets Life designed these adorable children’s wallpapers. Sean’s quirky illustrations are absolutely magical!
The talented ladies from Mitat designed this striking wallpaper for Robin Sprong. Simply gorgeous – I can just imagine it in a woman’s clothing boutique or a opulent boudoir.
Another gorgeous wallpaper available from Robin Sprong – this one designed by Michael of Chandler House. Antiques cutlery – doesn’t it just speak of Michael?!
Love this soft sketchy geo designed by Renee Rossouw – also for Robin Sprong.
Wallpaper by Cara Saven Photography │The Design Tabloid
Just two of our friend, Cara Saven’s new wallpaper designs. Don’t you just adore the Vintage postcards and quirky sceptical designs!
And some beautiful sketchy bicycle and heart designs from our sweethearts at Design Kist.

A bold black and white statement – Rickety House by Unwrapped.
Lovely peachy coloured duotone hearts by Handmade by Me. The design is called “Sweethearts” – cute!
Gorgeous leafy wallpaper from Scion!
Some vintage swimwear by Dupenny.
A bit of typography from Wall & Deco.
And of course we had to include some Design Team into the mix as they are the forerunners of this amazing trend!

Have You Entered Yet?

Just 2 days left to enter our awesome printWild give-away! So if you want to stand a chance to win that super dooper R500 printing / framing voucher be sure to enter before Monday the 6th of August! Need motivation? Check out printWild’s website to see all the awesome things you can order with that 500 bucks voucher!

To enter click: HERE and follow the easy instructions at the bottom of the post!