Photography professor captures artistic ambitions

Photography professor Kenda North said she grew up with a passion for art and photography. North has done a variety of work, from dye-transfer painting to underwater photography.

Photography professor Kenda North has shared her photo experience and skills with students at UTA since 1991.

She started taking photos when she was a teenager growing up in Chicago, North said. She knew from a young age she wanted to pursue art and never changed her mind.

“I had a friend who was very interested in photography, and he had a dark room,” North said. “And I thought that was pretty cool.”

She attended Colorado Mountain College and majored in art in 1979, North said. However, most schools did not have a photography program in the 1970s. Art primarily consisted of painting, printmaking and sculpting at the time.

She attended a workshop in Aspen, Colorado, after graduating college, North said. The director agreed to give North a scholarship to spend a summer there.

She studied and met American photographer Nathan Lyons, who she decided was the smartest person in the field of photography, North said. He ran an independent Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York, and she drove all the way there to attend it.

“Because Colorado College didn’t have a photography program, I really wasn’t very well-trained,” North said. “So, I had to spend a year kind of catching up, and then the second year, I was accepted to the [Master of Fine Arts] program.”

After completing the workshop in 1976, she graduated with a master’s degree in art with a concentration in photography from the University at Buffalo, North said.

Color photography is her passion, North said. However, it was not accepted by fine art photography until the 1980s and had faded quickly.

So, she dove into dye-transfer painting with a curious mind, North said. She took photos with black-and-white film and then hand-colored the photos herself.

Photography senior Jennise Burgos said she has taken five of North’s classes, and her favorite course was color photography because she learned how to photograph different color combinations.

North advised her on her senior project, helping her pick out materials and frames, Burgos said. It was a new process for her, and North was there every step of the way.

North pushed her to submit her work, Burgos said. In return, she received two scholarships and 500X Gallery featured her work.

She has worked in pools with an underwater camera for the past 10 years, North said. She has photographed people, flowers and fabrics and has printed them up to 40 inches by 60 inches on fine art paper.

Her “Seeing is a Nervous Habit” exhibit was featured at the Arlington Museum of Art this year, North said. The museum features one faculty member every year or so. The exhibit will travel to Midwestern State University in Wichita Fall, Texas.

Her artwork that was part of the “Faculty Biennial XVI” exhibition in The Gallery at UTA was untitled, North said. However, she made it by cutting up her old 20-by-24 inch polaroids from the 1980s, making a collage, having it rephotographed and printing it on acrylic.

North’s work has a feministic aspect, and making her work inclusive is important to her, photography professor Leighton McWilliams said in an email.

She enjoys taking photos more than teaching, North said. However, the two are intertwined for her because she has done both ever since graduating.

Since 1999, she has taken students to study abroad in Florence, Italy, every other summer, North said.

“International travel and education for UTA art students has always been a priority for [North],” McWilliams said. “She has influenced many generations of students by taking them to Italy for work and study during summer sessions.”

North advises students, alumni and junior colleagues, encourages faculty and staff, promotes the photography program and serves in art community organizations, photography senior lecturer Bryan Florentin said in an email.

He met North 16 years ago, Florentin said. It is impossible not to learn something from North and her work.

“A lot of artmaking is about making mistakes and then feeling comfortable enough to work your way through that and move forward,” North said.

Believing in oneself that they have something to say, taking it seriously and getting close to their subject are difficult aspects of photography, North said.

She never felt like giving up, but she felt discouraged at times, North said. Sometimes, nobody asked to see or exhibit her work, and it felt like she was working in a closet.

For her, photography is a means of personal expression and always finding new ways to use it, North said.

“[Photography] is part of everything now,” North said. “It’s just part of every single person’s life, and that’s changed a great deal in terms of what it means to individuals.”


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