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Artist Spotlight: Steve Kean

Welcome to another installment of the Artist Spotlight series. This time, we asked photographer Steve Kean a few questions about his current exhibition Spina Bifida – Front to Back, on view now at Station Gallery until October 16.

Steve Kean and SG curator Olex Wlasenko pose at the opening reception of Spina Bifida - Front to Back.
Steve Kean and SG curator Olex Wlasenko pose at the opening reception of Spina Bifida – Front to Back.

SG:     Hi, Steve!  Please tell us a little about yourself.

SK:     I’m 48, from Sudbury, Ontario. I stayed there until I finished a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at Laurentian University. I started taking pictures in high school and then worked on the university newspaper, where I became the Photo Editor. I came to Toronto in 1993 to work for Bank of Nova Scotia. It took me all of 90 days there to realize that I was not a banker. I started working part time as a commercial photographer in 2011.

SG:      How did Spina Bifida – Front to Back start?

SK:      The project just occurred to me one day when I was sore and feeling old. My sore back made me very aware of my spina bifida; kinda struck like lightening. It was strange. Like many of my ideas, the title came first. I knew I wanted to show the backs of people with spina bifida and show them in a beautiful and powerful way. The idea of front to back talks about telling someone’s full story, just like we read a book from front to back. The two portraits allow me to help participants to show the world how they want to be seen every day and what they want you to know about them. The photo of their back is intimate and beautiful. At the heart of it, Spina Bifida: Front to Back is about reclaiming dignity and personal power from a world that, if it even sees or thinks about people with disabilities, sees us as broken…less than whole. To them, our scars, the lesions and deformities are ugly. We should be pitied, coddled. After someone sees the exhibit and reads the words of the participants, I hope they are changed, enlightened about what they see as beautiful.

SG:     Take us behind the scenes of the project – how did you find the people for the series and make connections with them?

SK:     I started the project by asking people who I knew, close friends and acquaintances. That helped me break the ice. Then when I got the idea that the project could grow, I took it to Montreal. When I want to add someone from the area, I take the show and add their images and words to the exhibition. Montreal was the first stop and the person I photographed there was the first person I did not know at all when we met for the shoot. Scary! But just like everyone else who said yes, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. Thanks to the success of previous exhibitions and the press, people are now seeking me out to be part of the project. It is incredibly humbling and flattering.

SG:      What is next for you in your career?

SK:     Good question. Front to Back continues to grow. Stay tuned…

A view of Spina Bifida - Front to Back photography exhibit by Steve Kean
A view of Spina Bifida – Front to Back in the Coppa Gallery at SG.

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