The stunning (sur)realism in Ken Gerhardt's photography - #MemberSpotlight

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As the 1st ranked photographer on CreativepoolKen Gerhardt certainly knows more than most about the art of photography. In recent years, he’s rediscovered his love for black and white film, feeling that the over-manipulation of digital photography has robbed some of the magic out of the practice.

For someone who states to have "stumbled" into photography, his journey through the creative industries has been quite an interesting one indeed.

In this Member Spotlight we are learning more about the art of capturing images from an inspiring artist and a passionate creative, someone who clearly loves every single instant of his job.


How did you get into the industry?

I stumbled into photography; I wanted to study fine-art but ended up in a photographic studio next door to the art college. What was I thinking? This became evident years later…

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

Cape Town, RSA. International clients mostly; above & below-the-line. However, my first love remains fine-art –shooting on B&W film and exhibiting limited edition handprint collections.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

Sitting in the shade behind my easel, painting watercolours…


Can you explain your creative process?

Yes, it has everything to do with analogue photography!

For most people, a film camera seems an anachronism. But in a very profound sense, it is the opposite; film cameras remain the ultimate refinement of photographic technology. Used correctly, a mechanical camera portrays your subject faithfully from the moment you shoot to your final darkroom handprint. Shooting on film is dignifying and affords one the opportunity to learn from odd mistakes. So, my ‘creative process’ is now governed by accuracy; get-it-right-in-frame-first ––NOW, trigger the shutter.

How would you describe your style?

REALISM – though I am now leaning toward surrealism; being cooped-up under the COVID-CLOUD got me brainstorming as to what/where/whom and how will I shoot once these restrictions are lifted. I am thinking differently, seeing more pragmatically and, in an independent way, adopting a nonconformist approach (which is hard to explain actually)… however, I can feel it and can taste it!


Do you have any heroes in the industry?

The late Federico Fellini, the Italian film director/screenwriter known for his distinctive style of blending fantasy & baroque mixed with earthiness. He's recognised as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. 

How has technology affected the way you work?

Digital (DSLR) photography leaves me cold — sadly, digital post-production has the ability to rob the image of its believability. I make a point of viewing B&W archival handprints, especially those shot during the 1940s-1960s scrutinising actual photographic prints. I then judge my work (digital & film) accordingly; do my pictures communicate a true/faithful representation of what I saw in the first place? 


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

John Steinbeck's comment; The camera need not be a cold mechanical device. Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart.”

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Exhibiting my B&W handprints —a warm feeling comes over me on entering a gallery and seeing my Silver-Gelatin enlargements beautifully framed gazing back at me –my heart swoons.

How do you recharge away from the office?

COVID has kept us ALL away from the office; I cannot wait to get back to the studio and recharge.


What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

It is becoming apparent that specialist stills (single-shot) photographers are commissioned less nowadays. Clients are wanting an entire campaign covered photographically; a collection of representative images. Buyers are looking for particular styles, those with a signature running throughout their work... My advice is to develop your particular skill early in your career, do not try to replicate other shooters; their recipes are not destined for your baking oven! Once you have developed your style; continue improving it within your genre; remember, you are only as good as your last shot! (Need I say more...)

What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

I would like to see ad-campaigns dealing with humane stories, benevolence in other word. We all know that mindsets have shifted thanks to COVID. The shaking-of-the-tree has brought about a paradigm movement; I say ‘OUT’ with retail consumerism! COVID's after-effects promise a cultural wholesomeness, people emerging from this pandemic are not going to be fooled by retail idealism any longer. Consumers will want quality, value-for-money, and less of that greediness, I want it because I want it… They will purchase it because they really need it… We must turn the soil of creativity ––good roots, good fruits… cost-effective ad-campaigns set in true-life scenarios!

I’m reminded of a quote by David Ogilvy (I think?): It pays to advertise, it costs not to!

But, we must tell the truth throughout all advertising media!


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?

The term image capture — capture means to record accurately. Digital cameras are driven by algorithms, couple this to the power of Photoshop manipulation, and digital images end up a far cry from what was initially recorded. It's kinda like being thrown into prison; everyone comes out differently from when they were first captured (pun intended).

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Yes! Dig-up a couple of old B&W movies by Federico Fellini and get the ‘rush’ I get when watching his mastery of film-making; it will light-up your life!


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