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Seeing without sight

Seeing without sight - Ken Keen celebrates the history and the mystery of medieval buildings through his photography and he spoke to ePHOTOzine about his passion for ecclesiastical architecture and why losing his sight didn't make him leave photography behind.

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Photo by Ken KeenKen Keen began to lose his sight nine years ago but his love for photography meant he was determined to carry on taking photographs and be judged against all photographers rather than just disabled ones. This determination means he's still taking photographs to this day using techniques he's developed to capture the ecclesiastical architecture he's come to love.

"People ask me why I take photographs if I can't see them. Well I may be registered blind now, but up until nine years ago I could see and my brain creates the rest of the picture from what I remember. Similar to if you close your eyes you can still visualise what's there from your memory."

For the last ten years Ken has focused his photography on holy places, sacred architecture as he likes to call it. His work documents the history and records the mystery of our medieval buildings. A lot of research goes into his work and if the building doesn't have a history or character he simply wont shoot it.

"The purist technical approach often fails to bring out the mystery or romance of a scene or to place it in its historical or cultural context. People call me an architectural photographer but I'm not. I go out to capture the history, romance and mystery that can be found in the buildings."

Spending time in churches and abbeys has never been a career for Ken just something that's rewarding, challenging and hopefully inspiring to others. He's never switched to digital either as he sees his hobby as an artistic one, a craft he does with his hands. He's never needed to switch to digital and if he did the alternative printing process he uses that makes his work so distinctive would be lost. All of his pictures are contact prints and made using a historic printing process, as he thinks this seems more appropriate somehow.

He creates all of his work on his own - that's part of the challenge for Ken that and people would just get in his way.

"I go out with two friends but they don't take pictures with me that part I do on my own. I don't need any help as, at the end of the day that's what makes the experience satisfying. I like to be on my own as people can get in the way. It takes me a while to set-up and when you're working in a dark building exposures can be half an hour to an hour long. It's a quiet, solitary life and I love it."

Ken walks into a building, gets a feel for the place and sets to work creating his scene. He has many techniques he's devised to help him with his work, one of which uses two tiny lights which he places at either end of the scene he wants to photograph. When he looks towards them he can just about make them out (as he can see light and shadows) and he knows whatever is behind the two lights will be in the scene.

"There are ways of doing things and I have picked up many techniques to make my work possible. If you could see before it may be frustrating when you lose your sight but you can get over it."

As well as taking interesting pictures Ken also gives his work interesting titles to help the viewer understand what the picture is about.Photo by Ken Keen

Out of the darkness, for example is the title of a talk he held and the name comes from the first chapter of Genesis. It is a reference to ecclesiastical architecture after the dark ages, His own endeavours to overcome damage to his sight and that the prints are produced not in the dark but in the sun.

To keep with the theme of romance and history Ken uses a Gandolfi camera which is made of mahogany and brass. Something which can be admired as well as used as a piece of equipment- a perfect camera to reflect Ken's feelings about photography. The work he has produced on the Gandolfi has led him to several accolades, one of which came from the Royal Photographic Society and another from the Disabled Photographers Society.

"I make pictures because I enjoy it, the fact that people like them and feel my work is distinguished is of course nice but I mainly do it because of the pleasure it gives me."

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spaceman 14 5.3k 3 Wales
16 Feb 2009 7:29PM
What an amazing man - and his photographs are absolutely beautiful.

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