Artist in Focus: Alex Kain

Although the snow might keep some people indoors underneath a blanket, photographer Alex Kain seeks out the cold. He captures the chilling beauty of the Arctic with a trained eye and enjoys visiting even the most obscure of places.

We caught up with the photographer to ask more about his practice, the things that inspire him and what he hopes to achieve with this work. 

What is your earliest art/photography memory?

Falkor from The Neverending Story.  I still wish I could fly around on a big white dragon.

What is your favorite piece in your UGallery portfolio?

It’s a toss up between Louis and ITP.  Both show how tiny you feel in the Arctic and how the blending of ice and sky makes you feel like you’re on a different planet.

What/where would you say is your greatest source of inspiration?

Unspoiled areas of nature and high-energy people.

Louis, 2009 

What is the best piece of advice that was given to you in terms of photography?

It’s natural to admire the heroes of whatever field you’re interested in. On the one hand this is great because you learn from the best, but on the other hand this is maddening because you constantly compare yourself to the best photographers/painters/chefs/whatever who have ever lived. 

I’ve definitely faced this before. I’ll shoot some portraits or landscapes, won’t like what I’ve done, and then tell myself, “Alex these are not only bad photos. They are literally the worst photos ever taken.”  Then I’ll mope around and feel worthless for a few hours. A friend in the midst of writing a novel once told me that there’s a profound amount of self-hatred associated with writing, and I think the same is true of any artform, especially when you’re familiar with the masters of your craft. It’s really important not to let this hold you back from improving and showing your work.

Are there any other photographers/artists that inspire you or that you try to emulate?

I love the portraits of Joseph Szabo, the wartime photos of Horace Bristol, anything by David Attenborough and this French photographer named Théo Gosselin whose pictures make me want to go on a road trip for the rest of my life.  

There’s this artist named Reuben Margolin whose wavy, mechanical sculptures mesmerize me by being in harmony with natural phenomena and exciting my inner math geek.  I’m also a huge Kanye fan. I’ve probably watched Runaway over 20 times.  Can you imagine any other pop musician featuring a supermodel dressed like a bird and a 9-minute ballet scene in a music video? Didn’t think so.

What is your most important photography tool (whether it be physical or mental)?

A camera. Just kidding! Really though, it’s sleep. Sounds pretty basic, but a lot of being a photographer is having the energy to be perceptive, adventurous and ready to shoot when the opportunity presents itself.  If I’m a sleep-deprived zombie, I get depressed and shoot badly.

ITP-2, 2009 

What is it exactly that you want to say with your photographs?

There’s a morbidity to photography. Photos turn their subjects into corpses. The second after you’ve released the shutter, the closer your subject is to death or destruction. This sounds really macabre and sad, but I like to think that capturing these moments reminds us to protect fragile environments and to find the spaces that let us feel youthful, bright and assured.

What does traveling mean to you? Or more specifically, how has traveling impacted your view of the artistic world?

I think a lot of people go to Paris expecting inimitable charm and then are surprised to learn that the Sephora on the Champs-Élysées is just like the Sephora in Modesto except it’s more expensive.

With the explosion of digital photography and social media, traveling has become synonymous with telling the world you are traveling.  Many people live through digital representations of themselves, engaging more with pixels than with people.  I call this “living vicariously through yourself” and the extent to which people do this nowadays is unprecedented in the course of human history.  The whole thought of being in Paris and being preoccupied about how many likes your pic of the Eiffel Tower got is insane.

For me, one of the luxuries of traveling is unplugging.  I enjoy going to remote places where I can avoid distractions that prevent me from doing things that make me feel good about myself.  At the end of the day life is all about presence.

Sunrise, 2009

We’re giving away one of Alex’s photographs! Visit our Pinterest photography board this Saturday, February 22 around 10 a.m. PST for more details. Good luck!