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April 9, 1992
Press Articles :: Pasatiempo Magazine



Reprinted from Pasatiempo 1992
Cloudscape III © David Michael Kennedy

For the love of Clouds

April 3- April 9, 1992 Pasatiempo
By Pancho Epstein

As April approached New Mexico, so did the clouds. I found myself helpless to look anywhere but up. Unable to perform daily chores, I was drawn morning to nightfall amidst the clouds. Everywhere I looked, the splendor of the New Mexico skies engulfed me. I spent the first two weeks of April obsessed with photographing the flowing forms.
-David Michael Kennedy

Some people are always chasing rainbows. Others, like photographer David Michael Kennedy, pursue billowy New Mexico clouds. The results of his April 1991 two-week photographic adventure are available in the portfolioCloudscapes of New Mexico - Ten Palladium Prints.

"I'd just get up in the morning and follow the clouds," Kennedy said. "There were times I didn't know where I was going or even where I ended up. I'd just boogie out until the dark and then wonder where I was. It was a great catharsis from day-to-day life".

He traveled highways and back roads from Santa Fe to Gallup driving through places he doesn't remember. "The first day I almost got killed," Kennedy said. "I was paying more attention to the sky than the other drivers. I found myself helpless to look anywhere but up. Everywhere I looked, the splendor of the New Mexico skies engulfed me. I obsessed with photographing the flowing forms."

The prints measure five and one-half by seven inches. Each is handprinted by Kennedy and then matted. This edition consists of 20 portfolios.

Once his hiatus was over, he put the project on the back burner. "I had other work to do," he said. "And I find after I finish shooting, I often lose interest. I know what the results will look like. I don't have to make the prints. I find after a few months I then come back to the work with a renewed interest."

Then his 21-year-old daughter, Tymara, was killed in an automobile accident. "When she died, I just felt this would be a present to her," he said. "It became a focal point." In the photographer's statement Kennedy dedicates the work to her: "May she ever be among the clouds."

A barefoot, blue-jeaned Kennedy, relaxing on a five-foot wood bench in the kitchen of his 100-year-old adobe home in Cerrillos, didn't look like an 18-year veteran of the photographic wars of New York City.

There, he snapped advertising and fashion photographs but made his name in album covers.

He had traveled to New York to have back surgery and ended up broke and went to work with the intent of returning to Eureka, Calif., where he could continue photographing landscapes.

During his Big Apple days, his pictures were printed in magazines including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time, Omni and Penthouse.

"In New York, I gained great photographic knowledge," Kennedy said, "I kept working for better and better people all of whom I learned from. Then I began meeting people in the entertainment business and getting assignments from them".

He began shooting high fashion photography, something he learned with time to abhor.

"Fashion and advertising were much the same thing." Said the man with shoulder-length, black and gray hair, "It was away from my space."

"I felt fashion was anti-women. In shooting fashion, you have a make-up artist, stylist, and a whole slew of other people. You are creating a illusion, and all those people interfere with what I am doing. We were creating a non-reality, women that cannot exist in real life.

"I didn't enjoy the process or the end result. Those pictures must screw up women's heads," Kennedy said.

He had the same opinion of advertising, it was trying to sell people things they didn't need.

Kennedy switched from fashion and advertising work to photographing album covers for the music industry, something to which he felt more attuned.

"In music you are dealing with the real person," Kennedy said. This was the first commercial work that I really had fun with.

Often, it is me, an assistant to help with the camera and the real subject - as is. "You don't have people telling you what someone should or shouldn't look like. It's just say, Willie Nelson hanging out on a motorcycle", he said.

Nelson is just one of a slew of musicians Kennedy photographed from classical to pop. Others include Chet Atkins, Bob Dylan, the Charlie Daniels Band, Julian Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, along with Pinchas Zuckerman and Isaac Stern.

Isaac Stern? "Yes, he's a wonderful man," said Kennedy, munching a grape and eating a piece of cake that his wife Lucy had prepared for the interview.


"When I shot him, I knew he liked a certain kind of smoked salmon along with wine. I had them waiting when he arrived."

A busy Stern charged in and said he just had 15 minutes for the shoot.

"When he saw the food, he sat down and relaxed," Kennedy said. "He ended up staying for three hours and even playing for us.

"I learned in New York that you always put food out and try to relax the people you are going to make pictures of. Food is a great medium for relaxing people. It creates a homey atmosphere and shows respect for your guest. It works. Stern is a prefect case in point", he said, cutting a second piece of cake.

Since moving to New Mexico, Kennedy has continued photographing famous musicians for covers and also celebrities for Penthouse interviews that have included Eliot Gould, John Candy and Mickey Mantle.

"These commercial jobs are gravy for me," Kennedy said. "I make my living off my personal work that is sold through galleries." He is represented locally by the Andrew Smith Gallery.

Initially, he specialized in black and white photography but grew bored with the process about ten years ago.

"Silver printing is so straightforward that the only challenge in printing was to keep the negatives and prints spotless. I began playing around with the palladium printing method of the 1800s," Kennedy said. (See accompanying story.) "It's an incredibly challenging process. There are variables that are uncontrollable. A slight change in humidity can throw everything off."

"Palladium is constantly challenging. The results beat silver prints in quality, texture, subtlety and tone. By minute changes in chemistry, temperature or developer, you can vary everything - contrast, tone, color, texture or the grain of the final print. And the quality of that final image is fantastic," Kennedy said.

To relax and become part of the community, Kennedy who lives here with Lucy, son Jesse and a couple of dogs - joined the Turquoise Trail Volunteer Fire Department where he is has now risen to the rank of Assistant Chief. The firefighter's cloudscapes, which he took with a Pentax 67 camera, and a body of his other works can presently be seen at the Andrew Smith Gallery.

What is Palladium Printing ?

For the negative printing buff, here's David Michael Kennedy's definition of what Palladium Printing is all about:

In the palladium process, fine art paper is sensitized with a mixture of ferric oxalate, potassium chlorate (which increases contrast) and sodium chloropalladite (palladium and salt).

The sensitizing is accomplished by pouring the sensitized solution (emulsion) onto the paper and then brushing it on evenly with a fine brush. Depending on the desired look and depth of the final print, you may use one or two coatings of the emulsion. After drying, the print is exposed in direct contact to the negative by either sunlight or a strong ultraviolet source. It may be developed in a variety of chemicals depending upon the desired warmth of the final print. I use a saturated solution of potassium oxalate heated to about 120 degrees. That gives the image a great deal of warmth.

Exposing the ferric salts to light reduces them to the ferrous state. When the print is placed in the developing solution, the new ferrous salts are dissolved and reduce the palladium to the metallic state.

The print is then cleared in hydrochloric acid or other citric acids to eliminate the remaining ferric salts in the paper. The image that is left consists of metallic palladium in a finally divided state.

The print is then washed for 30 minutes and air dried. Other than the obvious beauty of the process and the truly archival quality, what intrigues me is that each print is different.

In an edition of 10 to 20 prints each will have it's own subtleties that make it unique from the others.