Q&A: Art photographer Kenda North

Kenda North: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Kenda North: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

When art photographer Kenda North moved to Oak Cliff in 1990, she rented a studio in Bishop Arts, “which wasn’t Bishop Arts at the time,” she says.

She had taken a teaching position at the University of Texas at Arlington, and by then, her work already had progressed from her early photos of sunbathers, which have become popular with collectors recently.

About 15 years ago, she moved her studio to a huge light-filled space on Jefferson, over a quinceañera shop, where she still works. She and her husband raised two daughters here. She fought for the creation of the Dallas school district’s first stand-alone academy for talented and gifted students. North served for a while as chair of the art department at UTA. She volunteered at Rosemont when her daughters were little. And she helped breathe new life into Turner House and the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts.

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Through it all, North remains a disciplined artist, still fascinated with underwater photography, the human form and the lilt of submerged fabric. North steadily turns out beautiful pictures that are available at the gallery that represents her, Craighead Green.

Can you tell us a little about your “Backyard Desire” series?

I’ve always done color photography, and back in the ’80s, color photography wasn’t really being done. It was considered something you would use in snapshots and advertising. Part of the reason for that is in the ’70s and ’80s, color photos would fade on the paper. It was terrible. So I got into a process called dye transfer … it was more permanent because it wasn’t connected to any chemical process. I’ve recently had a lot of collectors interested in that early work. That’s because the ’70s and ’80s are just kind of hot right now. And also, they look the same now as they did then. They’re pristine. At the time, I was just thinking about how to make a picture look how I wanted it to look.

What is it about underwater photography that attracts you?

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I’ve always loved the figure. And I’ve always enjoyed working with fabric. And I love to swim. The water just provides this really wonderful environment to shoot in.

Not everything you do is about water. What inspired the series “Notations of Beauty and Loss”?

My mother went into a nursing home, and we had all these things … china and random teacups, and if you gave anything to Goodwill, it just seemed weird. Like they were things that seemed too personal. So I had some things brought here, and that’s where that table comes from, and that’s when I had [a suspension rack] put on the ceiling.

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There’s an element of glamour to those pictures, right?

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They all have high heels in them. Some women are passionate about their shoes. I don’t wear high heels, but my mother did. And I wanted this to be about her notions of beauty and home. So I just began to work with people who would bring their shoe collections.

You’ve been a university professor for most of your career. How does that affect your work as an artist?

One of the most difficult things about being an artist is self-discipline, the discipline to keep up a sustained activity. That’s where I think teaching can be effective. By encouraging my students … it can help with my own drive. There are many creative people who want to keep making art, but first they’ve got to find a job, which is very difficult. And then they’ve got to rouse themselves to do their own work at night or on weekends. You’ve no longer got that community of dialogue and critique. It’s important to have that community that I think exists here … of artists doing pop-up markets and things like that. No one is looking to make a whole lot of money, but feedback and visibility is very rewarding.

How did you come to live in Oak Cliff?

My husband grew up in Highland Park, and his parents lived in Oak Cliff but then moved north. I had a UTA connection, Richard Doherty [who lives in Kessler Park]. We visited them, and we just looked around and we thought, this seems right. It’s a tremendous change now. We have new neighbors who are empty nesters, and they’re from Coppell. If you’ve got people moving from Plano and Coppell, you know that’s change.

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How did you get involved with Turner House?

I was asked to be on the board. The house has a lot of physical problems. Right after I joined the board is when we discovered that it needed extensive roof repairs. But we also needed community involvement, to bring people in, so I came up with the Salon Series. There are three programs every spring and fall, and there’s always one about art, one about architecture and one about music. We’ve had quite a few that have just been fascinating, and they’ve been very well received.

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