Andrew & Kevin: Roomates, Photographers, Gallerists
October 13th, 2010
Kevin Kunstadt and Andrew Kenney are the founders of K&K, a photography gallery in Brooklyn. The two friends are both commercial and fine art photographers and their gallery promotes and sells affordable prints of the work of talented, young photographers. K&K is wonderfully free of the pretense and insanity of the Art World in New York and beyond. Everything these two do is a bit different and for that very reason they are an awesome inspiration for the rest of us to remember to think outside the box.
You shoot both commercial and fine art photography. What does it mean to do both? Are they totally isolated from each other or is there cross-over of ideas, approaches, etc.?
KK: there is definitely cross-over in the sense that you learn things while doing one which can be applied to the other; for example, being pushed outside of your comfort zone in order to meet the demands of a client can teach you new things which then might make you more perceptive, and ultimately a better photographer whether you are approaching a commercial or personal project. however, i would stress the importance (to me) of keeping the two realms separate monetarily, or more bluntly that the personal work is for personal reasons and not for money. money really just ruins everything when you are pursuing something for the sake of pursuing it. i think that’s one of the guiding principles behind the gallery as well– that it’s free from financial pressures is very important.
AK: psychologically i keep personal work separate from commercial. there are many different aspects of photography, and you can decide which parts you want to keep “pure” and which parts you want to make money from.
What’s your mission behind K&K? How is it different from other contemporary photography galleries?
AK: the purpose was to make a space for photography to show our own work, the work of our friends, and hopefully the work of people that we’d meet through having the gallery. an outlet with no financial responsibility where we could do and show whatever we wanted to.
KK: our purpose is to see beautiful and moving work and to share it with other people. after all, the exhibitions are in our house– we have to look at them everyday so we had better like them, a lot!
Was there a particular influence or moment in time that prompted you and Andrew to take the plunge and start your own gallery?
AK: it was a moment of opportunity. we were looking for a place to live and found the space, which at the time was a poorly constructed, unfinished loft space. it took a lot of imagination and even more rationalization to convince ourselves to just go for it. if we had any idea how much work it was going to be, we probably still would have done it. but it was a lot of work.
KK: originally the space had a storefront with a single 8′x8′x8′ room. we just intended to use that as a gallery, we didn’t necessarily anticipate tearing it all down and building the space as it is now– with a kinetic gallery that is 3 times that size and which folds up into our living room.
What kind of photography does K&K show? How do you find and select work?
KK: we definitely have a bias towards showing ‘straight’ photography. conceptual grounding is important to us, as is craft and technical perfection, but neither really holds water for us without an equally compelling aesthetic. If you aren’t drawn into the image, then the concept behind it is really lost anyway. I’d say that’s our main criteria. We find work a lot of different ways and we try to be as open as possible about looking at new work. The internet is certainly the best medium for that right now– whether it’s a an artists website, pdf, or just an email we will take a look.
AK: and we tend to shy away from trendy stuff.
We all know that opening a gallery (like any new business) entails making a lot of sacrifices, but for you and Andrew that sacrifice is also physical (i.e. your living space). Tell us about the space.
KK: This is so true– sometimes we really miss having a living room with a couch! when we have an exhibition up, the size of our living space is effectively cut in half. but on the other hand, the space really functions well in the way that it was designed to do– the walls slide out to create a well lit gallery space, or open up to create a large space which we use alternately as a living space, photo studio (for commercial shoots), or work space for any number of other projects. and the fact that this crazy scheme actually worked is still pretty gratifying.
AK: the space has been a great success- as we have our own studio and work spaces when we need them. that said, when you live where you work, there is little separation of living and working and it definitely feels more like a studio than a home. it’s a small price to pay for the chance to get to do what we do. one day i’ll live in another apartment and devote the entirety of the space to photo work, but that day won’t be here for a while still…
There’s a lot of regurgitation and “been there, seen that” in contemporary photography. What inspires you to continue to work with and promote the medium?
KK: our drive in this regard is probably a little different than most gallery owners in the sense that we are both photographers first and foremost. we are personally very invested in the medium and the fact that the contemporary photography dialogue might seem regurgitated or played out is immensely personally troubling. “what does one do as a photographer in this day and age that’s new and original?” this is not an historical or intellectual question for us so much as it’s an existential crisis demanding resolution. for us, having the gallery is a means of approaching and dealing with this question and trying to sort if out for ourselves with everyones help in a more public forum.
AK: i think you could say that about anything in the world in 2010. everything has already been done and then done again. the only “new” things are hybrids or re-inventions. what matters to me, what is inspiring, is good work. photography of a certain quality. it’s not about if something is new or not. is it good? there’s something i like about the work of photographers who acknowledge that they’re not doing something brand new and crazy, but who simply, oftentimes subtly or quietly, articulate a moment in time through a photograph. there’s a transparency about the work- i was here and i took this image, i’m good with a camera, and this is the result. it’s not trying to be anything. it just is. of course functioning on an aesthetic level and having some interesting subject matter is also essential.
photography is also an amazingly social thing to me. i like to hear about work, why someone made it, or how they did it. the chance to connect with others over something i hold truly dear- is amazing. i think that’s really why i do it.
If you could change one thing about the art world, what would it be?
AK: well, the thing that had always really bothered me was that it was very rare that i could go somewhere and see photography that i really enjoyed. so the one thing that i wanted to change, that i did change, was that there is a now a gallery which shows work that i like and think is relevant.
KK: another reason that we started this space was so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the art world — or at least the segment of it that demands so much change. i don’t even really want to begin to think about changing it since that just seems like an exercise in frustration. it’s much easier to operate completely independent of it on your own terms. or maybe not that much easier…but more personally satisfying.