20 QUESTIONS with
PAUL MICHAEL KANE -
The Photographer who conjures up vivid images
for Konxari Cards!
When and what got you interested in photography?
I had developed an interest
in photography ever since I was a little kid looking through
my grandfather's collection of National Geographic magazines.
He had them stuffed in a small closet behind this big grandfather
clock. I still recall the smell his cigar smoke made as I
went threw each issue – asking him where this one was
shot, where that one was shot – he seemed to know everything.
I think that really opened my eyes to the fascinating world
around us and that everything and anything is photo worthy.
My first job was as a resort
photographer – you know, one of those guys taking pictures
of couples in heart-shaped tubs. Man, could I tell you some
stories about that, but that's a whole other interview!
2.) Are you into the paranormal,
or were the Konxari Card images just
I would say I have a healthy
interest in the paranormal, but nothing has convinced me in
its existence a hundred percent. My wife has had a number
of inexplicable encounters with what we guess was the paranormal,
but really, I've never seen anything myself. That's not to
say that I don't believe though — and I truly hope that
through my involvement in the creation of the Konxari Cards,
I'll finally get the confirmation I've been looking for.
3.) What kind of
locations were these photos taken? Any creepy experiences
that happened while doing photo-shoots for the set?
range from a Civil War era cemetary just outside Orlando,
Florida to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
and even in and around my home in Northern New Jersey.
That image of the home invader coming down from the attic?
That's me in my attic! I think the creepiest thing that occurred
during this body of work wasn't even during an actual photo
shoot. For the “Sister” image, I purchased a doll
off the internet. I shot it and then promptly buried it in
a closet behind my computer workstation so that my four-year
old wouldn't stumble across it and cost me decades of therapy!
So one day, I’m working at my computer and I hear a
music box rendition of “who's afraid of the big bad
wolf?' coming from the closet. Yeah, I had completely forgotten
that the doll had a music box inside its chest, but I hadn't
even wound it! Creepy? Yeah . . . that creeped me out something
4.) How much leeway did you
have creating the visuals for the cards, and how much was
set by The IRM Foundation.
gave me 100% leeway . . . it was amazing to have such freedom
to shoot that way. They gave me a list off 88 card titles
with some very loose descriptions and let me have my way with
each and every card! The first thing I did was look through
my current body of work to see if I had anything that fit
the bill — found a number of images that worked great.
Then I went into the planning stages of setting up each remaining
shot. Some were easy – like the “Murder”
card, which didn't require a whole lot of interpretation.
Cards like “Third Eye” or “Other Worldly”
were the tough ones. I wanted to come up with something conceptual,
but not cheesy.
5.) Is it true that
no Photoshop was used for any of these cards? What kind of
equipment and software do you use?
Yep, that’s true. You
know, Photoshop used to be a necessary part of my photographic
work flow, but with the release of Adobe Lightroom, I hardly
utilize Photoshop anymore to aid in the processing of my images.
Lightroom was created by photographers for photographers.
It does an amazing job of applying traditional darkroom techniques
– in which I’m trained – and adapting them
for the digital darkroom. Let's take “Third Eye”
for example. How easy would it have been for me to shoot a
forehead and then simply Photoshop a tertiary eye socket into
the image? Cheesy! It was a decision made when the project
was first pitched to me that we'd try to do everything in
camera and keep the digital effects to a minimum. So what
you’re seeing is traditional photographic techniques
like gels and filters along with equipment like Lens Babies
and other tricks I've learned along the way!
The photo for "Suffocation" is incredible!
How did you shoot that?
Ah! One of my favorite shots
in the set. I hung a white sheet from a backdrop stand and
lit with two Wescott TD5 Spider Lites each placed at a 45
degree angle to the sheet – about 6 feet behind it.
My lovely wife then stood directly against the sheet while
I shot from the other side with my camera. She posed several
times, and I snapped away until I thought we had it. We had
a lot of fun with that shoot!
Did you have any previous photos that were used, or were that
all shot specifically for the cards?
A number of images from my previous photo shoot at Eastern
State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania caught the attention of
The IRM Foundation. That body of work is actually what lead
the Foundation to contact me and commission me for the images
in the Konxari set. A number of the prison shots made it into
the set as well as some other existing images, such as the
“Dawn” and “Dusk” cards. I had shot
those while on a trip to White Sands National Monument in
New Mexico. The vast majority of the cards, though, were shot
specifically for this set.
What are some of your personal favorite shots for the cards?
Oh, there are too many to
count . . . This turned into a very personal project for me
as many of my friends and family ended up as models in the
shots! My daughter is in it a lot . . . the “Dream”
card is at the top of my list! The “Possession”
card is a favorite of mine because the boy in it is a family
friend, and we had a blast shooting – and I just know
he'll get a kick out of showing his friends the card set!
My wife is in it as “Desire” and “Otherworldly.”
am really most proud of the “Love” card. Being
an unabashed romantic, I really wanted this card to say something
about me. I toyed around with the obvious — a rose —
but it was too simple. And when is Love ever simple, right?
I even considered hitting the butcher shop and getting a cow
heart and shooting that – but can you say 'over the
top!’? Then one day, I opened the blinds in my office,
and the sun came in just right and it hit a lens cap that
had been up on its side. The shadow it cast looked like half
a heart! I reasoned that if it had a hollow center, I might
just be able to get a full heart shadow out of it . So I grabbed
a book and lit it at an angle with a narrow beam of a TD5
Spider Light. The I pulled off my wedding ring, which is inscribed,
“Here is my heart, guard it well.” And it worked
beautifully. The book in that shot incidentally is a 1920
copy of Edgar Allen Poe's collected works, opened to my favorite
short story, The Cask of Amontillado. So that one is very
personal to me . . . definitely my favorite!
What are some of the creepiest images to you?
Hands down, the creepiest
card – for me – is the suicide card. I got all
wrapped up in the production of that shot, from making the
blood out of corn syrup and red food coloring, to posing my
wife in the tub and finally the application of the blood and
lighting and all that. It wasn't until I processed the image
in Adobe Lightroom that I came to see how utterly creepy this
concept was. That card, in particular, leads me to describe
this body of work as though I’m 'filming a horror movie
one frame at a time.”
When you set out to take a photo, do you already see in your
mind what you want to capture, or do you "wing it"
on location and see what you can get?
It's a little bit of both, actually. That's
the beauty of shooting digital — you're not wasting
anything in trying something different. I would approach the
subject with something in mind, then try something radically
different. Most of the time, the initial shot is what I go
with, but it's good to have options. You know, part of a photographer's
job is to see what others don't. For instance, if you're shooting
a sun set, that's great! I am a sucker for sunset shots. But
here's the thing: don't work yourself into a corner —
while everyone around you is shooting the sunset, turn around!
See how the sun set is reflected off the buildings behind
you, or a group of trees on the darkening horizon . . . there's
your shot! The one that no one else will have!
11.) Just exactly
what is the crazy thing in the "Curse" card?
That's a grain silo in Northern
New Jersey. I shot that with a D100 that had been converted
to shoot in the infrared spectrum, which makes for great black
and white or duo tone images. The vines crawling up that made
for the creep factor I was looking for. During the summer
months, you can't even make out the structure underneath all
the vines. I can't see it supporting all that growth much
longer . . . the barn next to it was under similar growth
and collapsed under its weight several years ago. Of special
note, this silo bordered the cemetery where the “Grave
Yard” card was shot – shot them the same day,
12.) Now that the
game is out, and you get see how your images work in the context
they were intended for, are you a fan of Konxari Cards? Have
you tried to do a reading?
haven't done a reading yet,
but the Konxari tour is just about to kick in. As I am responding
to these questions, we're gearing up to launch the cards at
the NYC Comic Con in February! It's my hope that during this
tour, I'll be able to sit down and do a reading. As I mentioned,
I’m a bit of skeptic – not because I don't believe
– but because I haven't seen. I hope my involvement
with Konxari Cards will open my eyes to the other side. I’m
actually looking forward to my first reading very much!
Where did you find the statue for "Demon"?
Ha! That's a garden statue
in the front yard of my house! I grabbed it and brought it
in the studio where I could control the lighting. I think
we got that at a Home Goods store. You know, that's the same
statue in the “Angel” card. I reasoned that a
demon was nothing but a fallen angel, so I got out the red
gels and set my white balance on the camera to shoot really
warm. Worked like a charm!
14.) Are there any
images you shot that were rejected for the set?
There are quite a number
of images and situations I shot that didn't make the cut for
one reason or another. Perhaps it was my interpretation of
the card subject. Maybe I was having too much fun and went
a little too over the top sometimes.
15.) Will we ever see them
You might . . . you just might! I know there are plans to
do an “Art of Konxari” book in the works. I suggest
you keep an eye out on Konxari.com for details!
16.) What exactly is that creepy
face in the "Hiding" card?
You know – I have no
idea! That was taken during a photo shoot in Orlando, Florida.
I love shooting doors and windows – just a thing I have.
Anyway, that could be something as simple like a bystander
walking behind me as I shot – their reflection distorted
in the textured glass. Or it could be what we're all thinking,
but I ain't saying one way or the other!
17.) What was the most challenging
photo to shoot?
all going to laugh at this, but the most challenging shot
of the series was the “Suffering” card. Everyone,
meet Fishy . . . this is my daughter's gold fish she got when
she turned 2 – that's right, she's four now and this
fish is two years old! The concept of a fish out of water
was a no brainer for “Suffering” but how could
I do it to poor fishy? I got everything ready, set up the
lights, tripod and even had a stand-in for Fishy so I could
lock down my focus! If memory recalls, the stand-in was a
Halloween Peep! So anyway, I timed this to coincide with a
weekly cleaning of Fishy's bowl and set the camera to shoot
on continuous high – 5 frames a second. I scooped him
out onto the shooting surface and fired away while he's just
staring at me, his little eyes pleading for a breath. Four
seconds later, I dropped him into his nice clean bowl, fed
him and assured my place in Hell for putting him through that!
What influences you as a photographer? Other photographers?
Everything around me influences
me. I see a newspaper on a park bench, I shoot it. Johnathon
Swift had a saying: “Vision is the art of seeing things
invisible to others.” That's how I live my photographic
life — searching out things that most people would not
deem photo worthy. Of course, I take my fair share of snap
shots or post card type shots, but it's those rare moments
of invisible beauty that set a photo apart from all that came
As far as other photographers
– you can't be a photographer anytime after the era
of Ansel Adams and not be influenced by him! The guy was a
pioneer. Others like Paul Caponigro and his son John Paul
Caponigro are big influences in my work as well. Joe McNally
is a huge hero of mine. That guy gets a camera where no one
in their right mind should put one — a great shooter!
Was is difficult getting the young girl to cooperate standing
in the corner for the "Girl" card?
at all! It was a self-imposed exile during a family event
where my daughter got shy about something – I can't
remember. Whatever it was, all eyes were on her and she just
couldn't take it. So she put herself in the corner just like
that. Konxari wasn't far from my mind during this time, and
I thought what a great concept for the “Girl”
card and snapped away. Imagine me trying to explain myself
when I finished shooting and turned back to my family –
whose eyes were all on me now for taking a photograph of my
daughter hiding in the corner before I actually consoled her.
What other projects do you have going on outside of Konxari,
and how can one learn more about your work?
now, I’m in the process of wrapping up designs on Captured:
The Ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary, to be distributed
by Blurb. It's going to be a look at my various photo shoots
at America's first penitentiary, located in Philadelphia,
PA. The book will represent 3 years of shooting on location
at the prison, and I am very much looking forward to that
release. I also hope to be doing more work with the IRM Foundation
on further looks into the world of Konxari. I invite everyone
to visit www.paulmichaelkane.com
for all news and announcements concerning my work.