Story by Imama Khawaja
Photos by Priyanka Podjale
When Kendall Hill discusses his art, certain phrases pop up, sometimes just once or again and again - romantic, kinetic, the color blue, confrontational, dreamy. Raised in Chicago and currently attending school in Urbana-Champaign, Kendall has spent the last three years shooting primarily film photography. From there he has built up a following and gotten exclusively featured in multiple galleries, as well as has been writing his whole life. His quiet manner of talking might speak to how much more comfortable he says he is behind the camera instead of in front of it, but we still heard every word - read below for the details.
How did you get into photography?
Funnily enough, I didn’t start until college. I was not having an easy time developing, so I started photography. At first I just did digital on a school camera I rented out, but I wanted to shoot during the summers and digitals are expensive, so I bought a cheap film one. Now I almost only shoot film.
Why do you prefer film over digital?
The quality is a lot more romantic. Film is easier than digital to create that feeling.
You seem to focus on people a lot with your photography.
Yeah, I do a lot of portrait photography. There’s a lot of good energy with people, stuff that you can work through. It’s kinetic. With landscape you need a certain type of patience and a certain eye. One thing that really drew me to photography was being able to tell a story through people’s eyes, through another version of myself.
You also use a lot of bold colors in your work. How much does color factor into it?
The first project I committed myself to was based on colors, and my first showcase in Champaign was all focused on the color blue. Even before photography I’ve always wanted to explore how you can tell emotions through colors. It’s always on my mind.
Blue was my favorite color at the time and it tells more of a somber story, which is where I was mentally. Now compare my last show, there’s a lot of oranges, yellows and reds.
How do you see your poetry translate to your photography?
The reason I started photography was because I realized writing wasn’t the best way for me to paint the picture I had in my head. Writing has always inspired my photography. A lot of my pictures, I’ve written about first.
You recently had a gallery in Champaign titled Dog Eat Dog. What was that all about?
Dog eats dog, that expression means like - living in an environment where you feel like you always have to one - up somebody or be the bigger person or get this job over someone else, blah blah. I was trying to question that. Like, is it okay to feel competition like that with art and life in general? And I’m from the south side so I’ve seen a lot of that in life, the difference in people and classes and ethnic background. It’s always been so cut - throat, especially in Chicago. We had like twelve hours of set - up for the gallery, using strings of yarn to hang up the work. As soon as you walked into the space you were confronted with the exhibition. I wanted to surprise people that way, and I thought it was fitting for the title.
You seem to describe your old work as romantic and dreamy but your new work as confronting and surprising.
Maybe it’s age. Maybe I’ll look back and be like, I was so young.
Everything is more romantic when you’re younger.
I wasn’t asking myself stuff back then that I’m asking now.
You’re from Chicago but you go to school in Champaign. Do you see setting affecting your art?
Yeah! People don’t even know - I think that’s the best secret of Champaign. There is an art scene. It’s a lot smaller but it gives me more space to test new ideas, that I can later bring to the city. It really helps me with being able to focus. ‘Cause when I’m back home, especially since I grew up here, I’m making stuff constantly. That’s fun too because it’s a different type of movement, but when I’m downstate I’ll do a shoot every other week.
Do you feel like your content is different too?
That’s a good question. I’m sure if I’d stayed in Chicago my work would have gone in a totally different direction. I don’t know if I would’ve even started film.
"If you’re going to talk about confrontation you have to be living it."
What themes would you describe showing up in your work?
I question myself a lot, so self - consciousness comes up a lot in my work. And I think a lot about people. Youth and growing up as well, and the threshold between that. A lot of politics have been appearing in my work lately. I can only tell what it’s like to be a black male, but I’m trying to figure out how my experience matters to everyone else’s experience, and how those are supposed to blend together.
How do politics show up in your work?
The stuff that’s happening in politics is why my work is so much harder and big-voiced lately, because I’m thinking of people in a more negative light sometimes. And that’s a hard road to go down. Trying to expose what’s not right with society - politics of the world, politics with yourself, politics with art and artists, class and society. The nitty gritty stuff. Trying to attack stuff like that is not easy or always welcomed.
So it goes back to your work being confrontational.
It’s kind of like a performance at that point. The way I think of the world is there’s a lot of performances going on. If you’re going to talk about confrontation you have to be living it.
"I don’t think it’s important anymore to people to have moments by yourself."
You’ve been quoted saying you hate the Internet. Why?
It’s not real! I feel like I’m always seeing something through another set of eyes, and while that’s interesting it’s also depressing. And there’s so many politics of the internet, people are afraid to post stuff, it’s supposed to be an open “you can do whatever you want” type thing but it’s not. You feel like you have to abide to these unsaid rules. I don’t think it’s important anymore to people to have moments by yourself. The Internet is a community experience, and that’s cool, but nobody experiences things by themselves anymore.
What new stuff are you thinking about doing?
I want to start making new work outside of photography and writing and challenge myself. That’s why I like being in the city because I don’t have time to think about stuff, I just do it. That’s what being an artist is about, just producing and seeing what comes out of it after the fact. And I want to do more installation stuff. You know when you go to a movie, you leave the theater thinking differently than when you came in? Photography should be the same.