After establishing himself as a painter and sculptor, this Los Angeles artist has turned to the medium of photography to create his asymmetrical, multi-dimensional cityscapes.
It takes more than a single snapshot to appreciate the intricacies of a place. The artist Jeremy Kidd, who is perhaps better known in Los Angeles as a painter and sculptor, discovered this fact a few years ago when he decided to pick up a camera as a new artistic tool.
His inspiration was, of all things, a Sylvia Plath poem. Eve Wood, a curator for the Cirrus Gallery, one of the most prestigious galleries in Los Angeles, asked Kidd to read Plath’s poem “Ariel” and create a piece for the gallery. He was traveling in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., when he saw a landscape that reminded him of Plath’s imagery and stopped to take a photograph. But he came to realize that just one photograph could not fully represent the experience he was having. What he needed was a full panorama showing the combination of all the elements he saw — what he calls a “fictional reality.”
Kidd went back to visit the same spot three times, photographing it at midnight, at sunset and at midday, and then combining those images into a single, Photoshopped landscape. “That represented ‘Ariel’ for me,” he explains. “I felt that it was quite a shift from my earlier work, that [it] was a strong concept of uniting lots of photographs together to build up an experience of being in a place, the same way we build up an experience of being in a place and spending time there, looking at different features.”From this experiment, Kidd launched his “Fictional Realities” series, a body of work made from hundreds of two-minute exposures stitched together in Photoshop. “These pieces are as much about what traditional photography is not, exploring movement, time, multiple viewpoints, and the subjectivity of experience,” he says.
“I feel the best way to convey the experience of one’s vista is to take multiple images of the entire scene and reassemble them,” Kidd says. “It seems unrealistic to expect a single photographic shot, a single moment in time, to convey the human experience of seeing. We visually explore our environment in the third and fourth dimensions as we build up our personal visual journey, and I aim to present something of this experience.”
Before he turned to photographic pixels, the British-born Kidd mainly used a paintbrush to realize his artistic visions. It’s a calling that runs in the family; Kidd comes from a long line of fine-art painters and sculptors in England. His great-grandfather, William Nicholson, was a portraitist for the British aristocracy. His grandmother, Barbara Hepworth, was a renowned sculptor and his grandfather, Ben Nicholson, was arguably the first abstract painter in the U.K. All were heavily motivated by the British landscape.
Kidd carried on the tradition, starting his career as a sculptor and painter after earning a bachelor of arts degree at De Monfort University in Leicester, England, in 1984. Although painting and sculpture were his primary media, Kidd got his first taste of photography at art school, when his professor assigned the class to take a walk and document it with photos. For Kidd, the task turned into a topographical map of where he had been, sowing the seeds for future photographic endeavors.
As Kidd found acclaim in the art world, his expansion into photography was a natural progression. When photography was first introduced as an artistic medium, he says, the need to paint arguably became obsolete, because photography represents a more faithful and truthful representation.
Many of his early paintings of buildings resembled altered photographic forms. Further along in his career, in the late 1980s, Kidd began using actual photographs in his paintings. In many of his works, he would paint brightly colored “primal forms” resembling single-celled organisms on the surfaces of outdoor landscapes. For some installations, he would pair these paintings with sculptural representations of the organic blobs, making them appear to crawl off the image and onto the floors and walls.
From many come one
Despite the editing work involved, Kidd describes his images as products of happenstance. Sometimes his work comes by way of commissions, or he is moved by a new place he sees, or he wants to shoot a place he has long romanticized. His emotional connection to a particular location usually dictates his subject matter.
The edges of Kidd’s landscapes are uneven and have an abstract quality to them, similar to David Hockney’s photo-collage work from the 1980s. Kidd chooses not to make the edges straight and symmetrical in order to give the images an uneven profile. Were he to make the landscapes rectangular, he says, he would lose a lot of important information.
“As a sculptor, I like a certain truth to my process; I like there to be a story about how I got to where I got to,” Kidd says. By leaving the profiles of the original images that appear as a result of the overlapping photos, he is “honoring the process of how these things were made,” he adds. “Also, because I’m a sculptor, I like to reference a sculptural activity of how these things are made. I had to cut them out like this because of the sculptural nature of the piece. I talk about the drama of a place and the light, but because I think of my sculptural background, I’m always trying to convey the physicality of the place.”
By using repeated elements and warping the three-dimensional architectural forms to fit the 2-D format of his cityscapes, Kidd deconstructs iconic locations — Times Square, the Chrysler Building, the London waterfront — flattening them and splaying them out until they are almost unrecognizable.
One of his favorite landscapes is “Crystal City 2,” which depicts part of the Houston skyline framed by a curved entryway that seemingly encircles the viewer. To Kidd, the former Enron building seen in the background appears to be both “taking off and landing.”
The sprawling cityscape of Dubai is another vision that came to life for Kidd, allowing him to show a complete picture of the urban landscape at night. With scaffolding everywhere in the rapidly growing city, and the world’s tallest structure, the Burj Dubai, rising in the background, these inanimate buildings appear to breathe. “Two-thirds of the world’s cranes were operating in Dubai during my trip,” he says. “There seemed to be more dust in the air than on the ground.”
The madness of method
To create some of his downtown skylines, Kidd will take hundreds of images and later piece them together in Photoshop. He likes shooting at night because he feels that buildings and skyscrapers take on a life of their own, almost as though they have souls, as they emit light from their windows. If he shot these structures during the day, he says, they would be overshadowed by the human interaction going on around them, so he prefers shooting at night and the early morning.
Flirting with disaster is part of the game when you’re out alone on the streets of L.A.’s skid row armed only with a camera and a tripod, or lost on the Southwest’s 100-mile-long Lake Powell on a WaveRunner with no cell phone reception and no idea where the houseboat was moored. While shooting New York City’s Chrysler Building, Kidd sat on a 40-foot ladder atop the Allied Irish Bank building for three days, capturing hundreds of images while suffering terribly from vertigo.
But Kidd’s results speak volumes; he creates anamorphic and surreal urban cityscapes with amazing detail. His sensational images capture not only the visuals but also the feelings evoked by the places he photographs.
The cutting edge
Painting a canvas is a lengthy process that takes years to master, but it’s a talent Kidd had already acquired. Now that he has embraced digital photography, he takes the vast number of images from his adventures and “paints” them together into provocative and beautiful compositions.
His tools are a Canon E0S-5D, a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM wide-angle lens, Apple Aperture to organize his images, and Photoshop. While he is out in the field he takes hundreds of photos, mostly two-minute exposures either handheld or on a tripod, of every detail and square inch of the landscape in front of him.
Kidd’s camera focuses on the minutest of details, from the scaffolding surrounding a construction site to a close-up of a wall or other element that he finds pertinent.
“I give these elements an equal amount of attention in a piece, so photographing the texture of a floor, or a paper bag, or a trash can, or a parking cone is as interesting as the world’s tallest building or the Superdome,” he says. “I like to balance the attention to those different kinds of detail — in other words, giving an importance to all of them — so I can say that they are just as important as each other, or that beauty can be found in areas you might not expect. So in that case I play with distance and length.”
Using either aperture priority or timing priority — depending on whether he wants to show the movement of traffic on a freeway, for instance, or isolate an object by playing with depth of field — Kidd uses many techniques to create the whole.
He isn’t bogged down by the technique of photography, believing that “happy accidents,” such as a frame out of focus, can often add a new dynamic to the image. These areas often start to look surreal or fictional, and they are what gave him the idea for his current series, “Fictional Realities.”
Kidd may shoot up to 800 images of one subject, so just wading through them to find all of the ones he likes can be a daunting task. After he does so, reducing the total to about 60 images, he pieces them together over a two- to six-month period, adding layers and stitching the images together as seamlessly as possible. Eventually, he creates a massive finished image that can be up to four gigabytes in size.
“I’ve come to find that over the years the process is, I am presented with a question, and the first one usually is: What images am I going to use?” he says. “I then look at all the images. I make a selection of some very strong, dramatic, attractive images that just pull me. There is a possible metaphysical aspect to that process of choosing the images or, one could argue, an unconscious selection process that takes place. Once I’ve asked the questions and gone over it, I’ve actually viewed all the images. … It’s definitely otherworldly to be working with 600-plus layers, [which] can be quite daunting as well on me and my computer.”
An artist and a salesman
Kidd will be the first to tell you that he is less infatuated with the business side of photography than with creating his body of work, although he finds marketing a necessary process.
His background is as an artist showing in galleries, so he uses this experience as his platform to sell his work. His panoramas range from 60 inches all the way up to 120 inches in length, with three different sizes.
Kidd exhibits his work in galleries and museums throughout the world. He has just started doing commercial photography, for clients such as Red Bull, and recently acquired professional representation to help him sell his work. He also does commissions, and was recently asked if he wanted to explore Jerusalem to do a piece. “It’s tough surviving as an artist,” he says. “You have to have a strong entrepreneurial side to yourself, and you have to keep working. ... It has been important for me to come up with a philosophy that included marketing the work as part of its completion.”
What the future holds
With about 24 complete pieces in the “Fictional Realities” series, Kidd plans to forge ahead with creating more landscapes. He is currently working on a New Orleans piece with the Superdome; a piece on Lions Bay, Vancouver, B.C.; and a near-future piece based in Sydney, Australia.
He’s also looking to expand his work to be more interactive in the future. He wants to develop a tool with a mouse and a target that allows the viewer to zoom in on his works to see the details of the landscapes.
Kidd’s compositions, which require months of work to edit and put together, reveal his own personal view of the world. His “Fictional Realities” landscapes are a testament to an artist studiously crafting pieces that evoke complex emotions in viewers, creating a surreal world that viewers can see through his work.
“I want to create a visceral experience of where I was, or at least move people with the drama of these places and of these objects,” Kidd says. “I want people to be excited by these objects, to be inspired and excited.”
IN THE LOUPE: Jeremy Kidd
Home and Studio: Venice, Calif., or wherever his pictures take him (jeremykidd.com).
Hobbies: Lots, including surfing and guitar playing. “I write songs, [do some] martial arts, soccer,” he says. “I’ve skated a little.”
Equipment: A Canon 5D and “any tripod that I have handy,” Kidd says. “I love my Epson 3800 printer. I love Photoshop.” But, he adds, “I feel that people get too caught up in the technology of the equipment; ultimately it is the quality and vision of the piece that determines its success.”
Best time to shoot: “After dusk, when there’s still some ambient ultraviolet light but it ap-pears to be pretty dark to the naked eye.”
Recent exhibitions: Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn.; the Orange County Museum of Art in Los Angeles; the Irvine Fine Arts Center in Irvine, Calif.; Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, Calif.; and the Deutsche Bank in London. Advice for aspiring photographers: “Keep working; you have to keep being out there,” he says. “Keep pushing; keep showing your work around.”