Interview with Kip Harris

– Please introduce yourself

“To live within limits, to want one thing, or a very few things, very much and love them dearly, cling to them, survey them from every angle, become one with them — that is what makes the poet, the artist, the human being.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My name is Kip Harris. I’m a retired architect now living on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. I was born in Sheridan, Wyoming but spent most of my youth in a small Idaho farming community on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. Our house was on the river and I watched the water everyday. Since then I have lived in a number of locations but always wanted to return to water.

When you live at the edge of a continent, the elemental powers of weather, wind, and wave strip away your sentimentality for nature. Here you feel the force of the ocean at night as it grinds the granite boulders into sand. After storms, whole chucks of shore will have disappeared. Hurricanes rip away wharves and deposit sofas on the beach. Since moving to Nova Scotia in 2004, I have walked along the Atlantic shoreline near my house almost every day and have learned to follow the changing light. There is a special quality of light here. It sinks into your soul and becomes part of how you view the world. I roam this shore with my dog as a flâneur of light marking the protean edge of the horizon. My “Horizon Series” is a distillations of many walks when the wind blew almost everything away except for the transcendent light. I’m a street photographer by inclination. The shoreline has become the street where I now most frequently wander.

– How did you get interested in photography?

In the late 1980s, I had just completed a very difficult architectural project and needed time away from the office. I took a year’s sabbatical and spent one month traveling with a backpack through England, Scotland, and Ireland. My wife had a camera that she seldom used and I borrowed it for the trip with some hesitation. I was afraid that I’d end up looking for things to photograph rather than seeing what was in front of me. I was wrong. I found that looking through a lens made me a more careful and accurate watcher. I’ve been a serious photographer ever since.


– Do you have an artistic/photographic background?

Architectural school is great visual and composition training particularly the basic design classes. It helped me think abstractly about space, color, rhythm, movement. My only training in photography was two darkroom classes at the University of Utah when I got back from my sabbatical travels. Since that time, I have done a number of photographic workshops with Harvey Stein, Adam Weintraub, and David Samuel Robbins. Because photography is a solitary pursuit, it has been helpful for me to be around others who are shooting more or less the same thing at the same time and to be able to watch master photographers at work.

– Which artist/photographer inspired your art?

I have two different portfolios of work and each has been influenced by different people. The way in which I do seascapes reflects the formal composition and minimalism of Hiroshi Sugimoto, my interest in light comes, in part, from the work of American Luminists such as Fitz Henry Lane and Frederic Edwin Church (to whom I was introduced in an art history course at Dartmouth College taught by John Wilmerding), my color sense has been affected by the works of Mark Rothko, and my preference for tumultuous skies probably comes from J.M.W. Turner

In my street photography and environmental portraiture, you will find echoes of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Elliot Erwitt, and Walker Evans. I guess you can’t be deaf to important voices of your era.

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– How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph?

Other than taking care of my equipment, I don’t preplan my actual shooting. I take what I need in a very small, over the shoulder, bag. The biggest decision is what to wear and that is determined by weather. Since I shoot everyday, my preparation is to be awake to what I see and ready to capture it.

– Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?

For the “Horizon Series,” I have used a series of Sony full frame mirrorless cameras: a7s, a7r2, and a7r4. Because I’m out in very difficult weather, part of the reason for the number of cameras is that I get them very wet, covered with snow, and sometimes frozen. When I started doing seascapes, I played around with the aspect ratio for some time. I tried 12 x 6, 16 x 6, the Fibonacci ratio of 1.618 to 1. I ended up settling on 9 x 4. This was the cropping that seemed to reach a maintain balance while still stressing the horizontal. I know landscape photographers are encouraged to capture something to ground the image and give it scale but I was more interested in foregrounding the water and disconnecting from realistic scale. I liked this cropping because it often eliminated the foreground rocks and the sky where it loses cloud texture. It also matched the limits of my printer and the size of standard mat board. I now print these works at 36” x 16” and use 40” x 30” mat board. The cropping that I do is reflected in my movement toward cameras with higher resolution sensors.

Many but not all of the works are made from three bracketed exposures with a one stop difference. These exposures are exported from Lightroom into Photomatix Pro where a very small amount of HDR is applied. The primary reason for using merged bracketed images, however, is to capture the movement of the water — to be able to give it a softer, more painterly character while still suggesting its movement. I use the Sony: Zeiss 24 – 70 mm / 4.0 lens. Depending upon how much distortion there is of the horizon, I might use Photoshop to flatten out that line. Very little color manipulation is done although I might remove a rock or two or perhaps a lobster boat that will be blurry because of the bracketing.

To maintain consistency from image to image in this series, I have opted to place the horizon at the bottom third line of the rule of thirds. This allows for a series to be lined up and hung so that the horizon line continues across an entire room or from page to page. I print using an old Epson Stylus Pro 4800 on Epson Hot Press Natural paper. I like the visual softness of matte paper and this paper’s wide dynamic range. The weight of the paper gives the prints a pleasant density and feels good in the hand.

– What do you do in your life besides photography?

I spend a good deal of time working on our property. I’ve built a number of stone walls and regraded portions of the landscaping. For a number of years, I would cut down awkwardly placed spruces for our Christmas trees. Our sequential dogs are big on gardening and demand that I spend as much time as possible with them outside. I built an auxiliary building near our 1823 cottage for a garage / storage / studio. From my studio, I can watch the storms move in.

My wife and I, along with two former professional dancers, now living in Vermont, formed Company X Puppets (a highly portable puppet, dance, theater group established to present intimate mixed media theater works). Company X has performed in Nova Scotia, Vermont, Cape Cod, and Pittsburgh.

I travel or used to travel frequently before Covid 19, read, and watch movies / TV series at night.

– What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?

I would like to find high quality gallery representation and a publisher interested in my two different portfolios.


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