An exhibition of photographs and artists' talk held in the A Foundation on Friday 5 September 2008
DadaFest showed 20 of the 80 photographs in Kevin Connolly's internationally acclaimed portfolio entitled The Rolling Exhibition. Several of Dada-South's team were captivated by the work and the artist.
Kevin Connolly describes himself as 'a guy without legs'. He took 32,000 photos whilst travelling 13 countries on a skateboard, a form of transport which is for him the most practical, if surprising for those he encounters. He began using a camera to document people staring at him out of sheer frustration and anger at the invasion of privacy. Soon his motivation developed into something a lot more subtle. He realised his photography captured something universal. When he thought about it he realised he wasn't above having a good stare himself and that the impulse to look is something everybody does regardless of nationality, age, gender, sexuality, class and religion.
So he set about catching the gaze of bystanders. His photos capture the moment of curiosity when he is seen for the first time. The emotion behind the gaze ranges between bafflement, fear and wonder. The pictures express something of the narrative people make up for themselves to explain why Kevin is who he is.
In his talk Kevin described it as ‘a true moment of sincerity’ - because in that moment people shed their personality and come to epitomise the impulse to discover.
In one of the 20 photos on display at DadaFest he is being stared at by a police officer and a wheelchair user in the same moment. Both have the same expression of being 'weirded out.' The fact that all the photos are taken from ground level also has that effect of giving the subjects a sense of ultimate authority. The media and world at large have been fired with imagination for Kevin's achievement. At the age of 23, having only just finished studying film and photography at University, The Rolling Exhibition is already being featured in major art institutions in the US and abroad.
I was particularly struck by Connolly’s work because ‘the stare’ is so often the subject of ire within disability arts - and here is work that takes that anger and transforms it into something positive that offers something rich and deep in understanding and meaning for a very diverse audience. I liked the question of which nationalities stare the most?
Apparently the British are best at the sidelong, after-stare!
I made two visual responses to the exhibition and talk by Kevin Connolly. A visual response to music and a canvas in progress, made from various head shots taken as he gave his animated talk.
Connolly told the stories of the characters he met on his journey with great aplomb and narrative style. He reminded me of a cross between a very, very young Alastair Cook and Jack Kerouac. Alastair Cook, because his editorial is educated and modulated.
There's something about his observational rhythms that gets into his road trip stories and give a Kerouac flavor. This struck me particularly in his descriptions of the towns as he rolls in; and a physical encounter with a guy with restricted growth. His go-with-the-flow attitude was typical of the Beat Generation.
His photographs capture the moment before, or a time in between, a timing that grabs my attention and hence the moving footage as I accessed them this way and would have liked more time in front of each one. They have durability and engage you totally because of his character and what he is telling you. His style is Art house reportage.
He is hugely impressive and a bright star to guide your boat. Everybody who met him and heard him talk about his trip, his life was hugely inspired. Will be awaiting the book release and really cannot wait to see his Tibetan Plateau Trip on film.
As soon as I sat down and listened to Kevin Connelly, I was hooked. He is a dynamic and charismatic young man - open, honest, warm and funny. He is so real about who he is, how it is and how it was on his incredible, and vibrant journey around the world taking photographs for his fantastic exhibition. He explored everywhere from New Zealand, Croatia, USA, Europe, London Liverpool, from remote locations, to urban environments, from the bizarre to the ordinary, bridges, roads, streets, buildings, museums, galleries, markets; capturing the hustle and bustle of people of all ages and walks of life.
Digitally taken, it must have been a time consuming activity to edit the collection down to 80, and then for Dada-Fest exhibition a select 20 shots were on display. I loved the work. The photographs shone with colour, mood, movement and comment on being gazed at for being different.
The premise behind the exhibition is so simple yet extremely effective - the idea being to turn the tables on the ‘starers’ by capturing that moment in time. Finally, the audience in front of the photographs become the starer, the gazer. So, you get to put yourself in the place of those being photographed. I can’t help thinking the photographs would be great for use in DET and Education work.
In his talk Connelly was a powerful personal storyteller. He went into the different kinds of reactions he got from people once they realised what he was doing. Mostly people want to explain why he is disabled. Children ask ‘if he was in a shark attack’ or subject to a ‘magic trick’ etc. Adults responses tend to be more geographic, asking if he was ‘in a car crash’ or ‘victim of a war injury.’ I would have loved Dada-Fest to have held some visual imaging sessions with this work. This is a form of interactive description whereby a facilitator gets the audience to describe what they see and enter into discussion about the stories behind the image. I first got excited about the potential of using visual imaging in a talk by Metropolitan Museum of Art, educator and access coordinator Rebecca McGinnis (who is herself visually impaired.) I know Kevin is off to New York, so maybe his exhibition could get the visual imaging treatment.
Audio description Connolly’s talk was one of the few audio described events on offer. I’m partially sighted, and if Kevin had been talking about and constantly referring to the various pictures, it might have been relevant to have AD. But quite honestly, once a talker has been described – and Kevin’s so upfront about who he is - you didn’t need anyone else to describe who was on the stage. I didn’t need AD for this event. It was a waste of precious AD time. However, I did need AD for the photographs and the audio describer Ann Hornsby from Mind’s Eye, understood this. After Kevin’s talk she took time to walk around the exhibition with me, which was excellent.
I decide to attend Kevin Connolly’s talk. He is a young, energetic American photographer who happens to have no legs – a born-disabled man brought up to deal with life with an adaptive mind-set. Encouraged to do sports, wrestling, skiing he is adept at getting around on his skateboard, which incidentally brings greater hitchhiking success than a wheelchair.
His glossy photographs record the moment of “the stare” in different parts of the world as people see him whiz by. As he says, better to be seen and stared at than not seen and trodden on, particularly by someone in high heels. For Connolly, the stare is universal and simply reflects curiosity. I tend to resist notions of ‘the universal’. Hints of the nature of the curiosity – Is he an Iraq war veteran? Were his legs eaten by dragons? Did he have a terrible accident? – and the time of the stare – long from children, quick and furtive from adults – are indications of the personal narratives that each individual brings to what s/he sees. However, it is not these narratives that are to the fore: in a sense, the photographs give the photographer a context within which to tell his own story.