This month’s Olaf Willoughby interview is with Glen McKenna, a UK based photographer. We all take pictures of our families and we know it is anything but ‘child’s play’. Glen takes a fine art approach, telling the stories of childhood: “In my footsteps.”
Can you give me an overview of your project, its title and its main theme?
‘In my foot steps’ is a continuing project about family life. It’s main theme, covering childhood adventure, the laughter, the love and the tears.
How does the theme develop as a story throughout the project.
The theme really creates it’s own storyline chronologically, but this story has a deeper significance to me because there are no pictures of me under the age of five or six! Due to the missing piece in the picture jigsaw, I guess I’m compensating, living through our own children’s childhoods.
The story’s evolution is simple. It’s about capturing our here and now, living moments with that added dimension of retracing places from my own childhood, using my own children as the subjects, a ‘shared’ story if you like.
I’m trying to immortalise the growing up part that took place in the 70’s. This was a fantastic era, filled with simplicity, love and great adventures, but not without it’s hardships.
Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause-related end in mind.
I’ve currently no commercial intent, but owing to the nature of the ‘family connectivity’ theme, the project is slightly diversifying and I’ll be covering a family coping with Cystic Fibrosis.
If I can portray the everyday connections between family members battling this disease, I can only hope this will help towards raising awareness!
What photographic choices have you made: colour palette, composition, use of flash etc.
I occasionally go through phases with colour, but mainly I’ve developed a feeling for the black and white image. I try to keep lighting natural, although that’s not always practical. So when the window light or daylight isn’t quite enough I carry a small reflector or Rotolight (small LED panel) in my bag.
The Rotolight’s are perfect for that extra bit of fill rather than controlling the image as a key light. So that the light is off camera and directed at exactly the angle I want, I work with the light two-three feet behind me on a tripod, at the ready in case I need it. Having the LED’s also aids depth of field if I need more. Opening wide on the aperture is not always appealing or applicable.
I believe light is an important element of an image, equal to the subject itself. Like music is to our ears, different amounts and types of light are food to our sight. Light has a profound effect on our visual mood and I try to widen the spectrum of light and emotion in my work.
Composition I feel is important. To me when the viewfinder covers my eye, it’s my canvas to fill, a virtual room. With careful consideration, objects in the room or landscape can begin to compliment your subjects as ‘guides; they make the frame geometry more interesting. I really do enjoy including all that is present at the given moment.
Another factor in my composition, is my point of view when framing, I seem to instinctively shoot from a low angle quite a lot! Maybe this is the sub consciousness of my own childhood at work?
What is your vision for the project, and how will you judge if you’ve been successful?
My vision is about storytelling the essence of child’s play. I’m trying to re-create what I feel we had in our own younger years. So measuring my success is modest, if my audience can appreciate my work, then I feel I’ve achieved something.
Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?
Who inspires me? Well a lot of people, from classic masters like Henri Carter Bresson on timing a moment to the wise words of Mary Ellen Mark ‘You must crop in your camera, not afterwards’. I try to practice this and it helps with my work.
There are modern day artists that also inspire, including Alain Laboile. How this father captures the essence of playtime is incredible. Above all, social media groups play a big role and The Leica Meet is certainly full of inspiration. Each member uniquely educating others through their different styles.
Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what are your learnings?
A difficulty in retracing my own footsteps and photographing certain locations is redevelopment. A lot of buildings/places I’d like to revisit simply don’t exist anymore!
Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?
Technically I struggle with focussing at times. Quick moving children are a real challenge to manual focus. It would be easy to switch to fully auto, but then I’d feel disconnected with the moment! It’s all about observing what is happening in front of me and anticipating, controlling and connecting at just the right moment!
What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?
At the moment all of my Leica equipment is M based. I started out with the M3 nearly 2 years ago and the passion for film has grown tenfold from there. Shortly thereafter, I expanded the equipment to digital with a M240 to give me the best of both worlds.
I initially aspired to acquiring the Mono CCD, so I first purchased the M8 as a step towards progressing onto the Mono itself. The smaller formats of CCD images, seem to give a unique silvery, creamy essence to their Mono images. This is something I’m always trying to emulate in post-production on their CMOS file counterparts.
With regards to lenses, I mainly use the 35mm Summilux, it’s wide enough on the 240 to cover the scene, yet intimate enough on the M8. If I’ve got to be honest, my photography revolves around that lens, whether film or digital. Camera bodies will come and go but that lens will always stay with me, it’s my vision!
I also have a 1957, 50mm Rigid Summicron, with its beautiful soft aberrations it gives a timeless quality to the images – definitely a keeper as well!
Please list any links to your work you’d like to see included with the blog post.
About Glen McKenna
Glen McKenna is a design engineer by profession, something he maintains, gives him the discipline and dedication towards appreciating fine art photography.
His family give him the inspiration and there’s no shortage of subject matter. Glen & his wife Debbie are proud parents to seven children (with twins chucked in there somewhere for good measure) & they recently became grandparents too for the first time.
They brought up their family in rural Queensland, Australia, which initially inspired them to document their family story involving the simplicities of growing up. They are currently residing in the UK, but are due to return to Queensland later this year.
He is a keen participant in the Leica Meet page and is featured in both the 2014 & 2015 Leica Meet Selection of Excellence Book’.
Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to almost 10,000 members. Olaf co-teaches workshops with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College, Leica New York and London plus Brooklyn.
If you have an intriguing project or body of work that we might feature, completed or in progress, contact Olaf at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.olafwilloughby.com