The Photographer who conjures up vivid images for Konxari Cards!

1.) 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
another job?

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?

Locals 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 fierce!

4.) How much leeway did you have creating the visuals for the cards, and how much was set by The IRM Foundation.

IRM 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!

6.) 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!

7.) 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.

8.) 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.”

I 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!

9.) 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.”

10.) 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, in fact!

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!

13.) 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 published?
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?

You're 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!

18.) 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 before it!

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!

19.) Was is difficult getting the young girl to cooperate standing in the corner for the "Girl" card?

Not 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.

20.) What other projects do you have going on outside of Konxari, and how can one learn more about your work?

Right 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.