Kenny Karpov will be the featured exhibiting artist at M Contemporary Art Gallery, right across the street from the Ferndale Library, starting November 22 -thru – December 15. This is his first solo exhibition, but Karpov is not an artist. Even if it is an exhibition in a gallery, with 21 works of photography, Karpov is not an artist, just as he’s not your typical photographer. At least he doesn’t talk like one; doesn’t live like one, and doesn’t, frankly, think like one.
Kenny Karpov – Despite It All We Never Learn
Until recently, Karpov was spending much of the last five years living out of a suitcase, working as a documentary photographer for a string of nonprofit organizations working in humanitarian aid. The Detroit-native had quite a resume leading up to what became a daunting, and often emotionally draining expedition at sea, with contributions to local outlets like WDET, but also the New York Times.
But Karpov will be the first to tell you that he’s a storyteller first, a documentary photographer second, and is often shies away from the category of photojournalist. Strike that, Karpov will tell you he’s a human first, and a storyteller second, and so on. Karpov captured hundreds of images to help document the migrant crisis during these five years. But he also wouldn’t allow his assigned work detail to outweigh his compassion. He often opted to put his camera down and instead extended his hands and arms to help steady those in the water, spotting for rescuers, and aiding in the coordination of rescue efforts.
Karpov permitted us to share some of the featured photographs here. He ended up taking 17 excursions over to the area of water between Morocco and Egypt. The idea for capturing all of this into a book came later. It was overwhelming to communicate the full magnitude of this experience, and the emotional roller-coaster of being a firsthand witness to a migration crisis. Karpov had been collecting audio interviews during his itinerant residency as a documentary photographer. He would transcribe testimonies of individual experiences, keeping them as a sort of archive as he hopped from ship to ship.
The Ferndale Library is currently circulating the recently published assemblage of accounts, Despite It All We Never Learn. Karpov realized that his interviews during the first two years were limited in scope, asking people “who they are” and “where they want to be going.” But through the proceeding three years, he began asking more questions, so that he could shape the narrative almost as though he were a novelist, but still remain in the role of interviewer.
Karpov remembers conversing with a friend toward the end of his five-year run. When she heard that he was heading back for his 15th mission, she couldn’t believe it. He remembers telling her: “I feel at home here. This is a story that I want to keep telling. And so far, it hasn’t changed. It’s my duty to come back here and tell these stories. I don’t see anyone else here trying to tell these stories.”
Karpov identifies as a storyteller, but he made sure that the words captured in his book were not his own. He worked to ask deeper questions of his subjects to reveal a broader picture of their experiences. In our recent conversation, Karpov admitted to frustration with the sensationalism of wire service photographers working for major news outlets. With this book, and with the photographs featured at M Contemporary, Karpov wanted to illuminate a more comprehensive montage of stories. The brief news reports and headlines could never activate our empathy chambers. Karpov’s stories and photographs, meanwhile, can bring an audience to a one-on-one engagement with an individual, a human caught up in this ongoing migrant crisis.
Kenny Karpov solo exhibition of work at M Contemporary Art, entitled Despite It All We Never Learn, will be on view from November 22 – December 14, 2019 https://www.mcontemporaryart.com/kenny-karpov#kenny-karpov-biography