Ken Smith Photo Journal

revealed flower

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revealed flower 4

A new series is taking shape – Revealed Flower series.

Revealed Flower 4. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper. 20″ x 20″.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

April 7th, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Flora,Still Life

35th anniversary

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reverie 14

Olson-Larsen Galleries, in West Des Moines, Iowa, is celebrating their 35th Anniversary! I am proud to be represented by this fine gallery. All gallery artists will be exhibiting one piece in the show, and I have chosen, reverie 14, from my new series. The show opening reception is April 11, and the show runs till June 7.

reverie 14. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper. 26-5/8″ x 20″.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

March 4th, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Flora,News,Still Life


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queen of flowers

nude with spheres

I am proud to be invited to participate in a group show at Confluence Gallery in Twisp, Washington. The show is titled, “Woman: Lady. Girl. Female. Chick. Dame. Broad. Lassie. Wench. Maiden. An Artist’s Interpretation.” I am exhibiting four pieces in the show, two shown here. The show opens on International Woman’s Day, March 8, and runs thru April 19.

Queen of Flowers. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper on panel, beeswaxed. 20″ x 20″.

Nude with Spheres. Carbon Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper. 8″ x 11-1/2″.

images copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

March 4th, 2014 at 9:20 pm


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reverie 1

As often happens in my creative process, the feeling and the work produced occurs prior to making a title. There are working titles…this series included Flower1, Flower2, etc., just to get the work to a place it may be referred to. I first want to get the work made, and then live with it for a time to know if I even want to keep it. I continued to work on the images in this series, that number 14 so far.

Titles, and especially those for a series, are difficult because they can seem like they are a ‘conclusion’. There was a time when I wanted to not use titles on my work at all…just Untitled 1, Untitled 2, followed by the year created. But galleries did not like the ambiguity, and truthfully I wasn’t sure about that path either. What I was afraid of in making a title that encouraged or suggested ‘feeling’ was that the title could convert the visual art experience, into a literary one. Meaning, with enough words, one could explain what the viewer ‘should feel’, instead of the work taking that role. The title, if wrong, can send the viewer to another place entirely. The title summarizes and puts into a word, what one is essentially saying is wordless – the visual art. So no wonder there is trepidation in deciding on a title, and I know other artists deal with the same quandary.

I would love to have each and every viewer ‘get’ what I am trying to express in my work, but it does not seem correct to suggest an aesthetic place the viewer should go to after reading the label below the artwork. Is it ‘impure’ to use words in a visual art piece at all? A good question, I say to myself.

But over time, I’ve come around to accepting that the title of the work, is descriptive of the state of mind I was in when I thought about the work in progress, or what I felt when I first saw the completed work. Sometimes I still title work clinically, such as, Standing Nude, or Winter Aspens. But when I have a series in mind, and images have a continuity of style coming from the beginning, I am hard pressed to simply call them Flower 1, Flower 2…

So, when I came to a pause in making this latest series, I struggled to find words that would surpass my uncertainties about titles, not be trite, or plain. One that could live up to what I hoped the finished work would aspire to. I wrote down lots of titles, but none survived my scrutiny. Finally, I asked a friend who knows me well, even to knowing my struggles during the last year with personal loss. For all that had come about in my life, was sure to be there in the work. He knew my state of being, and he had seen some of the images I had made so far. I also explained my difficulties with titles, though I know he has heard it before. I described as I might in an artist statement, what I was putting into the work, what I was feeling about this series. I told him some of my ideas and that the words were either cliches, or had the wrong poetics. Such is the dilemna, in what might seem to be a simple part of making the work.

The next day, he sent me an email with a word that was perfect. He had the distance, and yet the familiarity with my work and me, to give me the ideal title. The new series, reverie, lower-case with airy syllables that breeze off the lips, and a meaning that says it all. “Diffuse and dreamy character; a dreamlike state of mind.” The title suggests where I am in my work, in this time in my life, without divulging too much. I can leave it up to the viewers to each find their own feelings and personal connections when they encounter the visual work that waits in front of them.

reverie 1. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper. 26″ x 20″.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

February 17th, 2014 at 10:45 pm

cyano- and other types

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aspen row

During the winter last, I began collecting materials and information to begin making cyanotypes. But one crucial element in the process was the necessity for full sunlight. The paper coated with chemicals is exposed to the UV light from the sun, thru a negative that is laid on top, a piece of glass over it all.

When the sun was finally reliable in May, I began my experiments. First, I had to learn to make enlarged negatives, printing them out on transparency film on my inkjet printer. Then, I needed to learn how to coat the paper; various papers for some would not coat properly, or reacted to the chemicals. Then, I needed to experiment with how much time to expose the sandwich of negative and coated paper, glass, to the sun.

It can be a frustrating process to master, and I am still a student. But the process is gratifying in that it is totally hands-on. A chance to ‘put into’ the work one’s self. I look at it that way, when I am making what I hope crosses into the level of art. Not only must the work be well crafted so there is no distraction, but it must express what some have called an ‘otherness’. It transcends the ordinary and exudes a heart. Sounds metaphysical, but isn’t that what is expected of art? Is not art supposed to transcend everyday life, so that we come away with questions, new experiences, insights? I believe it is so. Starting work in a new medium such as cyanotype, causes not only a journey into new materials, techniques, and processes; but it is also a waundering into the reasons one works in any medium at all – the purposes of making art.

So I practice making cyanotypes, and toning them in tea or coffee, or other types of tannic acid. These toners change the original blue color of the cyanotype into slightly maroon brown, or various shades of brown or grey that are difficult to reproduce from one print to the next. This alternative process is fickle and filled with ambiguity. There is science involved, but it is not exact science. Learning to go with that is part of the process I enjoy practicing.

I am just beginning to exhibit my cyanotypes. I am also renewing my familiarity with my darkroom. Seasons pass. The sun is used for some processes, and the darkness for others. Inkjet for printing on interesting papers. I am having fun with all of it.

Aspen Row. Cyanotype toned in tannic acid. 6″ x 9″ image on Weston’s Diploma Parchment paper.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2013 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

August 13th, 2013 at 9:34 pm

delaware art museum

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Wild Rose, seen in the post below, is included in an exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware, from March 9 to May 26.

Written by Ken Smith

March 28th, 2013 at 10:20 am

Posted in News

new show opening

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wild rose

A new show with 20 of my latest works will open February 15 at Olson-Larsen Galleries in West Des Moines, Iowa. The show will continue thru April 6.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2013 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

February 15th, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Posted in News

time and value

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winter hill

There are several AT&T tv ads currently playing that grabbed my attention. They show an adult male in a suit, sitting at what looks like a kindergarten classroom table, with four elementary school age children.

He asks, “What is better, Bigger or Smaller?” Simply that. The children all scream, “Bigger!!” That is the real message of the ad, which we find out at the last is about the biggest 4G network the company has.

There are other ads. “What is better, Faster or Slower?” Of course we know the childrens’ answers.

And finally, in the same setting, the question becomes, “What is better doing two things at once, or just one thing at once?” The more the better….

I wonder the message being sent, not to those shopping for a fast phone, but to children sitting in front of a tv. And to us adults, who like me have been grabbed by the initial humor, but also question the values expressed? What do these values mean to all of us in our daily lives? What does it mean to me as an artist?

Last autumn I began shooting film again. Black & white film loaded in old cameras, and newer cameras. All medium format 120 size film. I got out the handheld light meter, the tripod, and it felt great. In the late afternoon, I once again was in the darkroom souping film in chemicals measured in beakers. A thermometer is now very important. It was heaven, and simple. I was doing one thing carefully at once. The medium required I slow down to develop my 12 shots made that day.

I am still scanning my negs and printing with a black & white inkset, and I haven’t given up my digital cameras, but now I feel more connected to this new work. It is curious what real hands-on involvement in each image can do to the art psyche. My darkroom still has the ancient Beseler 23c enlarger sitting, waiting for my attention, and it may be rewarded soon. I have stacks of badly outdated printing paper, long obsolete, that want to show me about time and most likely fog. But they might teach me something new along the path.

Digital or film, one is not better than the other, but very different. My rediscovery of film, I know isn’t a unique ephiphany, or an earth-shattering renaissance that will change the world, but for my world it is revealing. It reminds me of the value of meditative work, where film is expensive and limited, not throwaway pixels where the goal feels more important than the journey. The tools of the process bring me back down to earth, instead of me creeping in the ether of an lcd screen. I agitate the film to the cadence of the timer, and dry my hands on a clean towel. Simply that, while I await the mystery that is on the film inside the tank. There is the gamble, the sacrifice, the possibility of something good to come, and I enjoy that suspense.

It is sort of shameful that children cannot hear a message by the big corporations that it is ok to slow down, to be spare, to be contemplative instead of the revered multitasking. Unfortunately, I expect there will be no turning back.

Unless…they pick up an old argus off ebay, buy some film from Europe or Asia, and take a deep breath.

“What is better, a Tweet or a Haiku?” I know the answer to that one.

(Image info: A recent winter day in the woods. Made with a 1950s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash with the lens reversed, on Kodak Tri-X 120 film.)

image copyright © Ken Smith 2013 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

January 23rd, 2013 at 2:11 pm

vertical grass

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vertical grass

This is another of the new grasses I’ve been working with. I have images, sketches, to create a new series.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2012 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

August 16th, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Flora,Still Life

ray bradbury

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I had driven my orange volkswagon bus from Michigan to Los Angeles the autumn of 1975. I wanted to finally visit the offices of Plane & Pilot magazine that I had been writing for. I was just a kid, but had already been writing for six years about my youthful flying experiences.

I had spent a few days in LA, had written a few articles for the magazine while I was there, on the typewriter I had brought with me. I had even interviewed for a flight instructor job at Santa Monica airport, and taught for a couple days. But the rattletrap Cessna 150 and the airport surrounded by endless city and the Pacific Ocean to the west, just didn’t feel right to my midwestern upbringing. I got paid on the spot for the articles I wrote instead of on publication. Checks in hand was a great feeling, and I knew somehow I was a writer.

I had been staying at various magazine staff homes, sleeping on couches or in spare rooms. That afternoon, at the little house over in the valley, in Reseda, my host was an editor at the magazine. There was a family dinner coming, and then, to my surprise there was the evening meeting of a writer’s group the lady belonged to. With joy, I heard that Ray Bradbury was one of the writers in the group. I had been reading Bradbury for many years. He, along with Ernest Gann, St. Exupery, and others, had been previously suggested to me, by my Iowa friends Richard Bach and Bette Bach.

I ran up the street to a used bookstore and bought copies of The Illustrated Man, and Twice 22, so I would have them on hand in case I could ask Mr. Bradbury to autograph them.

The four or five writers began to appear. Before long, Ray Bradbury, arrived by taxi, since he never drove. With introductions, also meeting the author of Flower Drum Song, I sat in the circle while these writers read from their latest work.

Mr. Bradbury read a short story about a steam locomotive pulling a train across the sahara desert. Only as Bradbury could write it, the train chugged thru the hot night….soon running low on fuel that kept the boiler going. The engineers sent men to raid tombs, and put the wrapped mummies in the fire to make steam, and went on their way through the night. Soon, they had to stop again on the tracks, repeating their search for the eerie fuel. I remember one short scene, described in his own voice, of the spirits of the long dead, curling up into the desert night out of the locomotive’s smoke stack.

When the meeting was over, and the taxi called, Bradbury signed my books kindly. He encouraged me to keep writing. As he was leaving he came to me with arms out-stretched, and I was taken aback. To be hugged by another man…I was an Iowa boy in the big city of LA? He said, “It’s ok!”, and gave me a hug goodbye.

Later, when I looked at the autographs in the two books, I found his self-portrait in The Illustrated Man, and more encouragements for my writing in Twice 22.

We never met again, but I read all his books, and only recently had looked him up on the internet, happy to see that he was still alive.

Today, I woke to find that Ray Bradbury had died June 5. I was instantly saddened. After reading the news about his life, I pulled down the two books from the shelf. I read the prologue to The Illustrated Man, then read The Veldt. A smile was back on my face. His writing will always be with me.

I suddenly felt that the slow June 5 transit of Venus across the face of the sun, was a tribute to the writer of The Golden Apples of the Sun, and many other books. Or maybe, with a feeling of sweet wonder, I imagined Venus cradling the traveling spirit of the man himself.

copyright © Ken Smith 2012 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

June 6th, 2012 at 11:34 am

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