James Kenney’s Stunning Images of Congo

james_kenney_2016_01When I saw James Kenney’s photograph selected to be included in Creative Quarterly, I decided to check out more of the series and his work at InterStitch. In this stunning series of images taken in the Congolese capital, Jim pushes the limits of color and makes some really interesting effects using RAW processing to accentuate the experience of the city’s density through its muted-yet-vital hues.

For this series he has bordered each photo to frame the considerations of composition, value, and chroma, asking the viewer reflect how it must be to live in a city of over 10 million people.
In a book entitled Searching for Hell, he even wrote a chapter about his time spent in the Congo, writing that in “Kinshasa, the air had mass. Walking under water. But the water was a red-dust dusky human smoke airpool. It had a pungent tang.”

The scenes do a great job of demonstrating the chaotic nature, poverty, and the illnesses which have struck the city through a surprisingly hopeful, feminine palette of tones. He explains that despite their hardship, local citizens have an incredible spirit for life, often expressed through their intriguing and bright clothing choices.

For the photo series, Jim braved the city’s most notorious hospital, which has widely been reported as a key source for the spread of H.I.V. throughout the world, and was one of the sites of the first known outbreak of the infectious disease, ebola. His images pull a sense of desperation from the viewer, while reflecting the reality of this beautiful country despite its tragic history and contemporary struggles.

Jim is widely known as a documentary filmmaker, but his skills span art, writing, and design. He told me that he likes to intersect elements that don’t seem possible to fit together, and to see what they can tell us about our lives. That is no simple task, but he was a professor of design. He also was chosen to complete an esteemed film laboratory course at the film giant, Pixar, where his first documentary was screened. And he worked for a number of years in the film capital of the world, Hollywood. He can even claim to fame that his work was once shown during the Academy Awards.

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