On the eve of his first ever group show, our LA friend and new signing Kengi reflects on the strength, passion and humility his camera and the art he creates with it has bought to his life.
For as long as I can remember I've had a camera in my hand, so to say that picture taking has always been part of my life would be an understatement. But just like I never thought I'd be homeless for 29 months, would have to battle cancer as many times as I have or the fact that I am HIV positive, I also never thought that something like a camera would play such a vital part in my life.
While homeless, my camera became my voice and the voice of others, but it was also my way of escaping my situation. It became a way for me to sooth, calm and begin to heal from the crap I was up against. With the camera I could snap pictures of things that were beautiful and seemingly perfect. This would give me courage and strength to keep fighting another day.
I recall nights where I would simply walk all night taking photos. As long as I kept moving the cold didn't seem to matter much. Being wet from the rain didn't penetrate my soul. The harshness of my situation was made a brighter because my camera and I had something to do. It was something to keep my mind busy and a way to keep my mind sharp.
Days when I was not able to use my camera because I didn't have batteries were rough days for me. I'd cry, worry and even become depressed. This is when I'd pray even harder to God asking him not to allow me to get lost in my own head and to remind him that he promised me a sound mind.
I never thought that something as simple as a camera would carry me through my darkest hours, my lowest points and even through the act of trying to take my life. I've never shown those I took of my face then, the lost look of despair and desperation on my face. But I look at them often. I can see how I am thinking to myself, questioning and reasoning with myself. Then I look at the next picture; it’s of me laying on the bed in my friend’s apartment. Funny how those pictures only take a second to look at, but they are of a night that was the longest and darkest ever.
Even today, photography is still my escape from my long days. It is a way for me to relax and remove all the stress and energy of my day. When I need to think or clear my mind. it's photography I turn to. There is something about the act of taking photos that motivates and encourages, comforts and calms my soul - and this restores me.
Just when I thought my hobby could only serve as my private therapy and to give voice to people who are homeless or battling HIV, photography once again showed me something new and very exciting. Once again it’s providing things for me I never dreamed of.
Last month I published a book of photographs that I took mostly during the time I was homeless. I called it 29 Months - Seen, but not Heard. Although I know little about book promotion, just this past Friday I received my first payment from book sales. My soul paused; that money was enough to pay more than 90% of my bills for the month.
On September 10 I am in an a group show called Status Symbols* with twenty-four emerging and established artist and photographers. (Editor's note: Kengi writes more about this in his own blog here.)
Last night as I was working on finishing a set of photos I heard the voice of someone from my past say “put your silly camera and this ridiculous hobby of yours away and focus on getting housing, Mr. Carr” I laughed even harder when I heard another voice say “you're fucking homeless. Sell that camera and laptop so you have money to eat or get on the bus.” I was laughing because if I ate the lines they were trying to feed me I'd be so starved or even dead.
My Life Through My Lens is what I've called my photography and sitting where I am right now I can honestly say that I love the pictures I take. They are very much a refection of me, what I am feeling, what I am going through or dealing with. They reflect my anger, disappointment, joy happiness, victory and accomplishments.
I've been through so many painful things that I never thought I'd make it through. I’ve been filled with shame and guilt from being homeless and HIV positive, from the crown of my head to the soul of my feet. I've been in so many crazy situations and circumstances, but by the grace, mercy and favour of God, I've been given so many second chances. I now refuse to live in shame and guilt of anything - including HIV. I refuse to live in a self imposed HIV prison. I refuse to stay silent because silence is guilt; it is shame, it is fear and it is death.
It's funny how things in my life reflect who I am. My camera is a Canon Rebel and in many was I am just that – a rebel. My camera is my weapon that helps me let go of guilt and shame and it refuses to allow me to live in fear or silence. It encourages to me LIVE.
For the first time in a very long time, I love what I see when the camera is looking at me. So me and my silly camera will keep doing what we do. I never know where life is going to take me and I certainly can't change where I've been, but my past or any person, place or thing will not dictate who I am, who I'll be or the final outcome. It is not up to them - I CHOOSE!
* Status Symbols: A reflection on America's Relationship with Bling opens Saturday, September 10, 2011 8:30pm-12:30AM at SAC Studios, located at 1734 N. Main Street. Los Angeles, CA. 90031. Learn more here.