By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BOZEMAN – Much of photographer Kene Sperry’s work involves “line gestures”—a lone skier snaking down an unnamed peak; a line of trees, stark white against the darkened backdrop of a placid lake; a pair of bison trudging through a narrow break in an undisturbed field of snow.
The anonymity is deliberate—the subject isn’t the skier, the mountain, the bison or the trees. The subject is the viewer herself and the connection she feels through the photo, whether that’s a sense of freedom, longing, lightness or darkness. That light or dark, Sperry says, is part of being human and of what connects us.
For the Summer 2020 edition of Mountain Outlaw magazine’s Outward Bound Gallery, Sperry presented a collection of portraits titled “The Connection Project.” The experiment involved uninterrupted eye contact for five minutes with each subject, and Sperry then laid the before and after portraits side by side. In a time when a pandemic necessitates social isolation and half of our faces are covered in public, the eyes are a key feature—perhaps more important than ever before.
“The only way you’re going to get through it—it’s not going to be based on a president or a virus disappearing, you actually have to look inward,” Sperry said of the collective challenges the world is grappling with together. “We’re living in a day of information, and no amount of information is going to give you the answer. What’s real is that we’re all connected, and everyone wants to be seen and heard and loved and if we can have that kind of empathy then we can transcend.”
When he was 13, the Seattle native decided it was his purpose to be a photographer. He pursued art in school, purchased a point-and-shoot camera, then went on to study film photography and business entrepreneurship at Washington State University, then digital photography at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
At age 22, having moved to Montana, Sperry dove headfirst into his photography career and hasn’t looked back since. Even early in his career, he was fascinated the relationship of light and shadow and how that connects to the human nature within us.
Now, Sperry has more than 20 years of experience under his belt, both in portrait and wedding photography and now in mountain landscape, as well as three kids to keep him humble. He focuses his energy on living and working with intention, whether he’s out in nature taking notes and gathering inspiration for his next series, or in a helicopter getting a once-in-a-lifetime photo from high above the mountains.
“When I’m capturing those images, I’m not just shooting pretty images,” Sperry said. “I’m trying to gravitate the light that’s in each and every one of us. It’s not an ego shot, it’s you as the viewer. You are that person.”
True to the theme of connectivity, Sperry is currently working on a photography series called “Significant Other,” featuring pairs in nature. He says people are always in a relationship with someone, whether it be a significant other, a group or merely oneself. The series will be featured in Courtney Collins’s Fine Art Gallery in Town Center in time for Christmas and those invited to the opening will be required to bring someone as a pair.
“The root of suffering is to think you’re separate,” Sperry said. “That’s when you feel the most alone.”