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Feature Mon Mar 10 2008

From the Internet to the Streets: An Interview with Kevin Eatinger

As photo sharing websites such as flickr and SmugMug increase in popularity, their coupling with daily urban life is becoming more apparent. Kevin Eatinger, a Chicago-based photographer, has been particularly involved with bridging the online and offline worlds. We caught up with Kevin after the 7 on 8 Group Show at Cafe Latakia to talk about his work and the way his photographic practice has been affected by flickr.


photo by David Schalliol

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm a Chicagoan. I was born in Chicago and raised in Oak Park; I moved back into the city when I was 24 years old. I find a lot of interest in my surroundings, if it's in Chicago or anywhere else. I've been working in advertising and graphic design since I was 22, when I was hired for a job as a key line/paste-up artist at Reuben H. Donnelly (Yellow Pages). That was great exposure to a lot of wonderful creative people -- learning from them, hanging around them and always running ideas and projects by other artists, everybody motivating each other. For me, it was a fantastic learning experience breaking into a creative field back then.

What got you into photography?

I guess you could say my grandfathers. Both of them had cameras and were always photographing where they traveled and at family gatherings. That rubbed off on my mother and father -- they both had cameras. My dad took hundreds of photographs when he served in Korea, and my mother documented her friends and family. All that shaped me.

Unlike a lot of people who specialize in one or two areas of photography, you experiment with a wide range of subjects: self-portraiture, architecture, jazz musician portraiture, urban landscapes, abandoned building documentation and more detail-oriented work. What motivates you across the range?

I see it all as being something to capture, record and interpret. I can easily see how photographers specialize in one or two fields. Those may be their strong suits, and perhaps their most recognizable works, so then clients hire them to do the work they're familiar with. Also, a photographer's "book" is usually a stronger representation if their work is not covering all categories. You have to say a lot with only 10-15 images.

Like you said, I do experiment. It's fun and enjoyable when I have to push myself to try something in another vein. Photography is a form of art, and giving my personal expression and creative vision in an image, no matter the genre of photography, is just simply exciting. I feel I do some styles better than others. Other styles I might merely touch upon their imagery. I realize that there are other photographers who are really well versed in a particular style, so I enjoy seeing what can truly be created through their eyes. That sparks my interest or just begs me to try something new.

With that range, how did you pick which images to include in this show?

Choosing my images was based on knowing the styles of two other people who were going to be in the show and the type of artwork they would most likely be showing. Since there wasn't a set theme, I wanted to have something that would perhaps be a counterpoint and might enhance the variety of the artwork. As it turned out, the other artists had such different styles and wonderful techniques that everyone's art played off of each other's, giving viewers a lot of different "flavors" that worked well together.

I'm particularly interested in the way you've used the Internet to bridge the online and physical worlds. In what kinds of bridging activities have you participated? What's been your role?

Aside from the photography "meet-ups" that I've joined, my first big bridge was the Digitally Entwinedphotography show held at Acme Gallery last year. The show was the seeded and organized firstly by another great Flickr photographer, fotoFANATIC.

By all accounts, that event was a success. What made it a success and what was your role?

I was a participant, who, along with the other 14 photographers, helped with some of the organizing. There were some key people in the show who booked the space, designed flyers and created a website advertising the show. There was also a youtube video created and write-ups in a few Chicago publications. Additionally, food, entertainment and beverages were provided.

Of that work, I believe the contributing factors to its success were the use of the Internet announcing, inviting and "spreading the word," as well as local publications running stories about the show -- plus, easily, 15 photographers inviting family, friends and everyone they knew on flickr.

What about these experiences are most important?

I think my most valued experiences are the new contacts with like minded individuals who are practicing photographic ventures, the accessibility to new works and having my work seen by others. The connectivity gleaned from the Internet has been like attending 10 universities and working 20 different jobs all at once. The amount of people who you can now communicate with in a social circumstance is unbelievable. I can share images, ideas and learn techniques from a huge number of people. I've been exposed to people I could not have imagined meeting. Also, possibilities exist for more gallery shows or the creation of a collective in photography.

Are there any upcoming bridging projects about which you're particularly excited?

At the moment I'm still meeting up with small groups of photographers about every weekend to photograph ... something! Most recently -- and most interestingly -- it has been the documenting of abandoned structures in and around Chicago. But I'm always open to new ventures and photographic expeditions; I'm just trying to keeps my photo "chops" up.

Do you see these kinds of interactions playing a role in the way photography, if not art, is produced and experienced in Chicago?

I think I do. The involvement in arts is growing wider with the interaction of artists, budding and experienced, meeting over the Internet. You are also asking a very profound question about art, especially with the way art programs are cut back and canceled in public school systems everywhere. Some of the artists I have met through flickr, for example, are between 18 and their mid-20s. Is the web the next learning ground or social discourse for children and teens who are interested in art and its connection to histories, both individual and societal? Will the Internet be made accessible to children in low-income communities, especially if Chicago makes a shift toward classes on the web? I believe that art should be inclusive of everyone. People have a natural inclination toward art and self-expression.

Has your approach to interacting with other photographers both online and in the physical world changed as a result of this interaction?

What has changed, for me, has been exposure to more creative people quickly. Sometimes a person who lives down the block from you can be a working artist/photographer you might never happen to meet, aside from web groups or personal websites. I've met people who live or work nearby who are photographers I wouldn't have had the chance to bump into, except for computer connections.

How about your approach to photography?

Some of my approaches to photography may evolve into a broader spectrum due to being exposed to far more styles and aesthetics then even 5 or 10 years ago. Due to what I've seen through the Internet, I've thought: "I'd like to try that."

About the Author:

David Schalliol is Managing Editor of Gapers Block and a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago. Visit his website, metroblossom, and that flickr place for more information about his projects.

 
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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