Kory Jean Kingsley

Kory Jean Kingsley (b. 1993) is an emerging artist currently living and working in southern Vermont.  Kory received her B.F.A. from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015.  Using medium and large format film, she is most attracted to the ephemeral aspects of light.  She is an editor for Aint-Bad Magazine and this Fall she will intern at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon.  Today we take a look at her newest series titled, To Be Here.

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To Be Here

“During my time in Georgia, I developed a connection with the local people and culture of the Southeast. Soon after I started living in Savannah I became more aware of the fact that the community that I was apart of was deeply rooted in African American history. From there I began exploring my relationship with the surrounding residents (usually men) by taking their photographs. I found that the photos came more naturally with men because often women wanted their portraits to be staged and anticipated. I quickly befriended these men and gained their trust by explaining my motives as a photographer. When photographing for the series, I would visit the local basketball court and stay after dark to photograph the players and share some laughs when they joked around. Just around the corner from my apartment there was a house where groups of families would sit outside and visit with one another, warmly welcoming me as I passed by. Occasionally, I would stop by the local barber shop “Jazzy Cutz,” and exchange stories with the barbers, or step out my front door and see smiling children playing near the street. These places are where I found companionship and trust when I was taking photos. After leaving Georgia, I feel fulfilled knowing that I created these bonds with many people for whom Savannah is home. 

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Hey Kory! How did you become interested in photography?
In 2008, my friend’s mom enrolled her into a summer program at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. She encouraged me to come along because I had more interest in photography than she did. I then finished the two-week program having developed a love for the medium, more than I ever imagined I would, and my love for photography took off from there.

How has living in the South affected your work?
Having grown up in very conservative areas in New England, such as Long Island and Southern Vermont, I had no experience with living in a city. Savannah was a culture shock to me. There was maybe one or two non-white students where I went to high school, but soon after moving to Savannah I was able to become familiar with the experience of being the only white person in a room or building. After opening up to such diversity I saw a richness of life that wasn’t available in New England, and cultures that were hidden from view. Living in Savannah and being surrounded by the culture of the area had a huge impact on me and my perspective of the South, especially my appreciation and respect for the people who live there.

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In this series you discuss stereotypes extensively. While shooting, how did you break them down? Was there ever an open acknowledgement or discussion about these issues with your subject, or was it something felt and worked through naturally but not physically discussed?
Often times I would approach these men to ask them if they minded having their picture taken, and they’d ask why. I’d explain to them that I was exploring my presence in their community and hoped they’d let me take their portrait. Some asked me if I was the police, or a private investigator of some sorts or what my motive was in general. But regardless of who they thought I was, after I began to talk with them and introduce myself on a personal level, they were all welcoming and friendly. That being said, I think the process of my photographs worked naturally. I would walk around my neighborhood, or others nearby, and pass a family sitting on their porch, or groups of boys playing basketball in the yard, or men getting buzz cuts—all of which are images that are a rarity in New England.

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Are most of the subjects in these photos people you developed relationships with over a longer period of time, or was it usually a one time occurrence?
Most of the males included in my series were a one-time occurrence. I would take down their email so I could send them their portrait but the relationship didn’t continue further from there. The place I spent the most time was at the basketball court in a park nearby from my neighborhood. I would often visit the courts and as soon as I got there I’d hear them say “She’s here again with her camera!” “Get my photo!” “Watch me shoot this three!” The men there welcomed my presence and often encouraged me to take more photos.

You recently just sold your only digital camera (to me!) in order to opt for all film. I don’t want to rehash the whole film vs digital question, I just want to know – how does that feel?
Although I do appreciate how rewarding shooting digitally can be, I feel as though I’m never satisfied until it’s on film. Shooting with film allows me to slow down and be patient with my subjects. I feel as though my photographs are more honest this way, and I love the way that film is able to capture light.

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In your work you use light to really communicate an air of tenderness. How important of a role do you think this played in the current series?
There is such an importance when it comes to the use of light in photography. I’ve noticed overtime that some of my favorite photographers use light in their images to communicate emotions and narratives. I think this idea has carried onto my work and I have come to view light as one of the core emotive elements in this series.

How did you become involved with Aint-Bad?
During my first few months of college I would hear about Aint-Bad Magazine in passing. I would see their stickers on the back of signs behind Bergen (the photo building) and eventually, I went to an Aint-Bad event that was held at a gallery near my apartment. After that I became really attached to their love for contemporary photography and knew I wanted to be more involved. It helped that the people behind it were photographers, so I soon befriended two founding members—Taylor Curry and Carson Sanders—and quickly expressed my interest in being part of the magazine. Soon after I joined their team, and I’ve been happily working with the publication since the spring of 2014.

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What is your favorite memory or experience from working with Aint-Bad and why?
While working with Aint-Bad I have developed countless relationships with photographers world-wide. Last spring the members of Aint-Bad packed up a mini-van and drove from Savannah to New Orleans for the annual SPE event. While we were there I met countless photographers that I had only until then met online. It was great to put faces to all the names and photographs I had seen displayed in the magazine or on the website.

How has Aint-Bad changed your perspective on contemporary photography and how has it affected you as an artist?
Meeting and working with so many great photographers has given me an extensive knowledge of contemporary photography. While my college education was largely based around an understanding of photography until the year 2000, Aint-Bad has allowed me to have a first hand experience of how the medium has evolved in the last 15 years and has given me insight as to where it might grow in the future. Most importantly, all of this knowledge, and constantly being involved in the evolution of photography, has allowed me to better grasp my own position in the world of contemporary photography, and allowed me to hone in on how I want my own work to look.

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Most Aint-Bad members are in a time of transition, what’s next for you and your work?
It’s funny to think that not too long ago the Aint-Bad members were all in Savannah working on the magazine and as of lately we’re scattered in different areas. Although I miss those days and being in the South, I’m happy to share that I’ll be interning with Blue Sky Gallery and moving to Portland, Oregon this September to contribute my time with exhibitions and other events held at the gallery.

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To view more of Kory’s work please visit her website.



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