Longtime local photographer Kene Sperry got his bachelor’s degree from Washington State University in business entrepreneurship and photography. After graduating, he moved to Big Sky in 2000 to start his career shortly after that.
Sperry, one of the more recognizable names among Big Sky’s many talented photographers, also returned to the Rocky Mountain School of Photography to study digital photography. The talented artist sat down with Explore Big Sky to discuss his craft, artistry and the place he calls home.
Explore Big Sky: What initially drew you to photography?
Kene Sperry: I was always drawn to the light and had a perspective that seemed to give me an infinite feeling of love.
EBS: What is unique about your industry/trade that people might not expect?
K.S.: We’ve become desensitized to the point that we don’t even move into what moves us emotionally.
EBS: Other than Big Sky, what are some of your favorite places to shoot?
K.S.: My heart and soul live in southwest Montana but my favorite spot I ever photographed is India where 15 years ago my whole view of light, time and space changed forever. That is when the endless sense of wonder really kicked in with me in the medium of photography.
EBS: You have amazing shots of mountains. What is unique about capturing the topography of southwest Montana?
K.S.: Southwest Montana completely blows my mind with how special and unique the topography is. The light and space seem to have an infinite level of perspective. This place is a vortex and that is why people are moving here.
EBS: What are the biggest misconceptions about taking professional photographs that the general public has?
K.S.: That capturing a beautiful, dynamic and emotional responsive image is easy. Once you know the mechanics of the camera and basic rules of photography then I believe you have to work very hard in self awareness and mindfulness to create your own unique vision and perspective.
EBS: From a business perspective, how have you seen Big Sky change in the last two decades, for better or worse?
K.S.: All of the art collectors that have moved or have places in Big Sky have brought an abundance to all of the artists in this town and around Montana. The art market is huge in Big Sky right now. I love Big Sky and like to stay optimistic that the future will be bright. Remember that we are all just visitors here—nobody truly owns this place and you take none of it with you when you die. So accept what is and continue to add value to wherever you live for the short fleeting time we share on this planet. It is all a gift.
EBS: If you weren’t a photographer by trade, what other field could you see yourself in?
K.S.: There is no other profession I would see myself doing, so I suppose I would just be a ski bum, thus I am grateful for my eye and open heart to capture life through a lens.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident in Big Sky?
K.S.: The spring offseason when we took a helicopter up to ski and photograph the Headwaters and North Summit Snowfield. All of the stars aligned and I captured an image that had been in my mind for over ten years that truly expresses the grandiosity of this place in one image.
EBS: What advice would you give someone who was just starting to explore photography as more than a hobby?
K.S.: I think it is fantastic that so many people are interested in photography and the visual arts. Photography has never been more important as a profession because everyone and every business is trying to get your attention and there is no better way than the still photograph. It is true that a photograph is worth a thousand words. Your work will shine powerfully when you simply keep your heart open, free your mind and keepyour soul connected to all that is divine. Love, attention and understanding are all things we crave. Shoot that.
EBS: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about the art of photography? Did you have a mentor?
K.S.: It is not about the machines. It is 100 percent all about how hard you are going to work at the craft and how to continue to see more deeply. What you are truly dealing with … is what is inside of you. That is what makes your work That is why photography is not easy because you have to study yourself to find your vision. You have to put yourself in the photographs. What photography is is studying yourself.
Be mindful and self-aware. Just spend time seeing with and without camera. Focus, relax and commit. Walk around in wonder. You have to study the craft as almost an obsession. Slow down and be intentional. Just be a good photographer—focused on the art, failing a lot knowing that that is part of it. The journey is the prize. You will never stop failing, once you know this you can relax into it.
One of the more influential persons in this field is a friend, colleague and my master curator/editor Ryan Day Thompson who I met at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in 2003. His careful attention to the depth of my work with his keen eye has been a perfect complement to who I am.
The time I am most connected without ego is when I am focused on the light and not following rules and just following my heart. I ask myself, “What am I trying to evoke with this photograph/moment?”. The most whole I am as a photographer is when I am deeply connected to my subject matter whether that is a landscape or a person I feel that deep authentic connection of presence.
EBS: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
K.S.: I see myself as continuing to be humble with an endless capacity to learn and grow. I see myself as one of the more influential photographers in this modern day. I want my work to continue to lean into the discovery of myself and the vulnerability of shining my light as bright as I came into this world. I envision moving back and forth with capturing the light from natural landscapes of this planet to the infinite light of the human soul.
I believe the only thing to do here in this existence is to hold space for yourself and then hold that space for others. That is the best value you can bring this world. This quote really resonates with me as a photographer: “Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.” -Michael Kenna