THE JOY IN A SNAPSHOT

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By Eisha Gupta

 

Of all the 151 black and white photos in Ian Kenins’ latest photography book, A Snapshot of Melbourne, he has a firm favourite.

 

It’s a photo of a boy and his dog jumping the Elwood canal, a photo that evokes the joy of childhood and friendship. The image perfectly symbolises Ian’s style: cinematic, poignant and guaranteed to make you smile. He admits he had a little bit of help from the boy’s mother in capturing the scene.

 

Elwood Canal

Elwood Canal (©Ian Kenins 1989–2015)

 

“I used to go for a walk after dinner and it was getting late. I was coming back home and saw the boy jumping across the canal,” Ian explains.

 

“His mum had said to him, ‘C’mon hurry up, let’s go’. I just held my camera up to her and put my finger to my mouth and she said [to her son], ‘You can do a couple more’. And I got four frames.

 

“It’s one of those images [that] could have been taken a hundred years ago, it could be taken in a 1000 years’ time and it will still be the same. The fact that his dog’s with him, it’s this lovely bond of boy and his pet and they are both reflected in the water. I couldn’t have wished for anything better.”

 

For Ian, Melbourne is a beautiful city, and A Snapshot of Melbourne captures the spirit of the places he has lived in, such as Fitzroy and Brunswick.

 

Ian has been practising his craft since the early 1980s when he became a photographer for the Collingwood Football Club, whom he supports. He shortly left his primary school teacher job to work full-time at The Sunday Age, where he rubbed shoulders with photographers who owned expensive Leica cameras and worshipped famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

 

St Kilda

St Kilda (©Ian Kenins 1989–2015)

 

Today Ian sees himself as a photojournalist and carries his camera with him at all times. In addition to using a shorter lens to photograph street life, he says that having a smile on your face is indispensable.

 

“I think almost everybody I have photographed knows I’m only never more than a few metres away and sometimes even closer with something like a 35 – 80 mm lens only. So that means I’m fairly close,” he says.

 

“I learnt to shoot in that old American Western kind of thing – shoot first and explain later. I have learnt to say to people, ‘Look, just go and do what you are doing. I will explain in a minute,’ just to get the image.

 

“If you see somebody doing something unusual, funny or whatever, if you approach them with a smile on your face I think that goes a long way towards breaking down any kind of barrier, any kind of resistance there might be to somebody having a camera pointed at them.”

 

Princes Park, Carlton

Princes Park, Carlton (©Ian Kenins 1989–2015)

 

The content of his images is very different from photographers who publish books that only capture the poverty of developing countries, which he compares to “shooting fish in a barrel.”

 

“For our Western sensibility it’s exotic, it’s different, but to me I think that’s easy. I’d rather like to think that it is more difficult, but what I found more enjoyable is photographing the more humorous, offbeat moments in life. They are a lot harder to capture,” Ian says.

 

“That’s what I’ve honed, I think. It’s a way of seeing and it is seeing something unusual, seeing the absurdity of a situation, the humour in a situation and then reacting very quickly to it.”

 

The selection process came down to how well the photos worked on the page and the corresponding images, as well as practical considerations like page limits. The photos are in black and white because of a deliberate attempt to cut out the noise and distraction of colour images.

 

Centre Place, Melbourne

Centre Place, Melbourne (©Ian Kenins 1989–2015)

 

“A good photography book is a joyous thing to hold. I like the idea that this is a book that makes you feel good after you have looked at 151 photos,” Ian says.

 

“Look at the picture of the two girls dancing with the busker. They are probably on their way somewhere but then they like this guy’s music, they start dancing to him and I like the joy that obviously brings to the busker.

 

“I think busking must be such a nerve-wracking thing to do. To have two people get up and dance I think that would make your day more than a couple of dollars dropped in your hat. Even if you are feeling down you flick through the page and go, ‘Yeah, life’s pretty good.’

 

“Life can be fun no matter what it is we are doing or where we might happen to be.”

 

A Snapshot of Melbourne is out now in bookstores and libraries. You can order prints of Ian’s photographs from his website. For more information about the publisher, check out The Worldwide Publishing Empire.

 

 

 

 

Eisha Gupta is a journalist who is curious about almost everything in life, with the exception of golf. She spends most of her time reading books, watching dog videos and scrolling through her Twitter feed.

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