Tim Kerr is a street photographer, artist, musician, and skater from Austin, Texas. He is a prolific artist, and doesn’t put on restrictions on his creativity and forms of self-expression. Read about how he combines all his artistic forms in the interview below (and his fun stories taking a photography course with Garry Winogrand!
Hey Tim, great pleasure to have you. To start off, can you share your life story– of how you got started in skateboarding, art and punk rock, and formed the band, “the Big Boys” in Texas?
Well, I’m not dead yet so my “life story” is still ongoing (smile). I was born in 1956, so I pretty much grew up in (and with) the 60’s. That and having an elementary school principal for a dad and a elementary school Librarian for a mom were a definite influence on me as far as visuals and values.
I have been doing some form of self expression for as long as I can remember and though I understand the differences in painting, music, photography, etc. For me, it all comes from the same place and I have always sort of blurred, or colored outside, the lines that others have drawn.
I started playing guitar in elementary school and I grew up near a beach where I started surfing anytime there were waves in late Jr. High school on. I took photos off and on back then but it was vacation stuff and friends with cheap point and shoots. I might even had had a Swinger (smile).
I went to college at the University Of Texas in Austin from ’74 to ’78 and have never left. I studied art because there was no guitar in the music department. I started skating when I came to Austin because I was not close enough to a beach to go surfing anymore.
Early on at UT, I won a Ford Foundation grant and bought a camera with the award money. My major became painting with a minor in photography and ceramics. I had a camera with me most all the time and the slides and talks that Garry Winogrand would show in class opened my eyes to the pictures all around me.
Right after college graduation (78), I started working at the UT Libraries and I got caught up in the, then new, DIY/punk movement that had started up around the U.S. It wasn’t so much the music as the whole idea that everyone could participate by playing music, making a fanzine, making posters, taking photos, or just supporting in some way, even if it was just being there. There was no “barrier” between the band and the audience and that is what pulled me in, hook, line and sinker!
We (the friends I was skating with) decided to start a band to see if we could play once, and that was the start of the Big Boys and the long crazy road of being in more bands, recording lots of bands, and lots of music related travel. There was so much going on for most of that road, I left the camera behind but I never quit “seeing” photos and art everywhere on the streets. I went through a short Fisher Price pixel vision video camera phase and later a Holga phase but nothing really stuck. If you are really interested in my history you can read here.
In the late 90s,a bigger surge of skaters, BMXr’s, graffiti kids and younger artist/photographers started taking the DIY ideas that we had been doing earlier with the music and applying it to art. They started making zines of their art and putting on their own shows, since trying to get into a gallery was as hard as a band trying to get a major record label deal. Just like with the music, the “majors” and press began taking notice of what was happening “underground”.
In the early 2000’s I started getting asked to show my art work and off I went down that path which I am now on. Early 2000s was also when I was asked to come to Sao Paulo to record a band. I bought a digital camera for the trip that had built in zoom because I knew that I wanted to take photos of the graffiti there that Os Gemeos was doing (which is AMAZING!!).
Walking around the city I would see people or situations but the camera was not fast enough to get consistent shots BUT I was hooked again. I now have a M8 that I got an amazing deal on and a Fuji X20 for the zoom and “quick” shots. I also just got a film medium format GA645 from Bellamy at Japan Camera Hunter that I haven’t really gotten to play around with yet.
One thing I love about you and your work is how you don’t specialize in one thing. Rather, you let your artistic talents spring in all different types of directions. You are also very interested in street photography. Can you share how all of your different interests in art help you as a creator?
Thanks (smile). As I said above, self expression comes from within and hopefully you let it shine out in some form or another. Self expression should NOT have any rules or boundaries, so with that knowledge of it’s freedom, the act of opening up and using whats around you becomes much easier, almost second nature.
You think and see in terms of whats the best way to present that thought, or what I am seeing with what I have right now. I think the biggest hangup for most, when it comes to any sort of self expression, is trying to measure up to someone else’s output or their unique spin on a skill.
How did your interest in “street photography” first come about?
Garry Winogrand’s classes. He would show slides of other photographers work and by seeing that, you started to see the world around you in photos. Growing up in the 60’s was pretty visual with ads, Life magazine photos, etc. So I think the vocabulary was already in me to see like that, but it was seeing the photography he was showing in those classes that gave that vocabulary a big exclamation mark.
It’s like when you read a sentence that expresses a thought you have had for a long time, but you never saw it written down until just now. The light bulb goes on over your head and you have that aha break through moment of…”Oh! thats how you say that!”
Can you share your experiences with Garry, and maybe any interesting stories for all the Winogrand fans out there?
To be honest, I had no idea who the man was when I signed up for his classes (smile). His demeanor was sort of gruff like a Archie Bunker character. He wasn’t a bigot, or racist, but his delivery a lot of times was the same as the character. He would send sorority girls into tears with his quick come backs.
I remember one specific student raising their hand, and when called on asking if it was easy, and before he could finish, Winogrand barking back at him: “Nothing’s easy!”
I don’t remember ever hearing the term street photography in his class. I also don’t recall any set rules as to what or what not you could shoot. Either a picture worked or it didn’t. Most of us shot black/white Tri-X 400 like he did, and you would “push it” in developing. His classes were more about showing his peers work and talking about the photos.
One of my favorite stories about him was he would shoot UT football games for magazines and showed up to class one day with a broken leg. When he was asked about what happened, he barked back “shootin’ pictures”.
A couple of months later there was a group instructor’s show and there was a Winogrand photo where you were looking eye to eye with a football and the receiver coming right at you. It was pretty self explanatory what had happened (big smile). I also remember taking in skate shots of my friends riding in a 14 foot empty pool and having him think it was trick photography.
In terms of influences, who are some other artists or musicians who formed your personal vision?
People who do things from the heart, not for fame, because like breathing they have to. That’s inspiring to me. My personal vision is always being formed and refined.
I think the second you think you know it all is the second you are closing yourself off to more insight. That said, you can never go wrong with John Coltrane (smile). As for photography, a lot of my friends like Ricky Adam, Sandy Carson, Cynthia Connolly, Brent Humphreys, Bill Daniel, Clint Woodside, Glen Friedman are all doing and have done cool things. I really like the colors of Fred Herzog and a lot of the shots from the WPA photographers.
When people listen to your music or see your art– what do you want them to get out of it?
I think one of the best compliments I ever got was when a woman who had no idea that I played music and that music was such a big part of my life, say to me that she heard music when she looked at my paintings (really big smile).
There is a sort of ripple effect with the power of influence that I don’t take lightly and if I am lucky enough to influence anyone, I want it to be a positive influence. As corny as that sounds, it is a truth for me.
In your street photography, your work is quite colorful
as you love shooting both urban landscapes, street scenes (and other things of course). What draws you to photograph a certain scene or a moment?
It’s whatever catches my eye and if I think it would be a good photo (to me), or a situation that might become a good photo (to me), I take the photo. I am a sucker for hand painted signs, ghost signs, and crazy characters.
I understand about seeing in black and white and how that accentuates the light but we live in color and thats what I personally see first, light and all. Some photos do work better in black and white but I would rather have the option and with computers, it’s so much easier to have that option.
You are quite prolific with your work. What drives you to keep producing art?
My friend Dan Higgs said it best: “Keep breathing til’ you stop because there are a whole lot of todays between now and tomorrow.”
For other photographers and creators out there– what kind of advice would you give them to find their unique voice?
I would give another great quote. This one from Matsuo Basho pretty much sums it up: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.”
To each his own, but I personally think that if you are doing some sort of self expression solely for the fame or money, you will have a miserable steep up hill climb.
I am not saying I would turn money down. However, I do not do what I do based on income or fame. If people like what I am doing and I get some sort of recognition and money, thats all icing on the cake. Regardless, I would still be doing what I do.
What are some projects you are currently working on in 2014?
Mainly making art for the up coming shows that I have for this year and a couple of murals. I have started combining my photos with my paintings and I am pretty excited about that.There will be a show at Jai Tanju’s gallery in San Jose, of artist that also shoot photography. I am looking forward to being a part of that.
I want to keep working at getting to where the M8 is second nature to me… “become the M8” (smile) I have a solo show the summer of 2015 at the Rosa Parks Museum that I am honored and humbled to have been asked. As far as music, learn more irish tunes! (big smile)
Any other things you would like to mention that I forgot to ask?
I don’t think so.
Paintings by Tim