My name’s Jake Kivanc. I’m a 20-year-old photographer and writer in Toronto, with a background in journalism and a passion for turning my emotional blues into visuals. Up until last week, I worked at VICE Canada, where I was a writer and photographer since September 2015. Now, I’m working freelance, and focusing on creating editorial content for a variety of publications and media outlets.
My niche is largely within the realm of hip-hop, where I work with both local (Toronto) and international artists through visual and written storytelling. Artistically, I’m heavily drawn toward creating portraits of mental health. I think a lot of my work has that subliminality interlaced throughout it.
I’m heavily drawn toward creating portraits of mental health.
Just short of a week before the passing of the beautifully talented photographer Ren Hang on February 24, 2017, Bianca Venerayan and I both committed to spend half of our Sunday on a creative shoot focused on layering. I knew that I wanted to do a shoot that wasn’t outfit-reliant, and rather focused more on Bianca’s facial features: her lips, the creases of her skin, the pores on her face, the textures around her.
The night leading up to the shoot, I had sent over a few of Hang’s shots that I had tucked away inside an old inspiration folder. They were from his 2015 Human/Nature exhibit, which featured naked models obscured, sometimes entirely covered by foliage, water, and lily pads. At the time I sent those photos, I had no idea that Bianca was also a huge fan of his work, and we were both extremely shocked to hear of Hang’s passing a few days later.
What attracted me to Hang’s imagery is that he was able to create such provocative shots without the use of any sort of physical modifier, like outfit or unnatural lighting. Unlike the oversaturated pool of Instagram photographers shooting naked women nowadays, Hang’s talent cannot be underscored simply as grungy nude photography. Hang used the naked body, sure, but not for objectification. The body was Hang’s canvas. He amalgamated elements around nudity to highlight emotion, shapes, and textures. It’s what I believe makes his work so universally stunning, and likely timeless.
I had no idea that Bianca was also a huge fan of his work, and we were both extremely shocked to hear of Hang’s passing a few days later.
Of course, my style as a photographer is entirely different than Hang’s: he shot film, I shoot digital. He left his photos as is, I distort and augment them. While I respect the purity of a film shot, the reason I shoot digital is because it allows me to take a regular photo and mutate it. In the same way that Hang wanted to provoke conversation, I want to people to question both their emotions and what is in front of them. How was this photo created? Why does it make me feel this way? What does this mean in relation to my life?
Since we lacked the natural foliage and scenery that was present in Hang’s imagery, we knew we had to downscale. Ultimately, we decided on using a few bottles of red colouring and some flour to cloud Bianca’s bathtub pink,and then carefully taped a piece of crystal jewellery Bianca had to the front element of my lens, which I used as a DIY prism. We figured this could work as a type of layering without actually creating an intricate set around Bianca.
My process, while not entirely complex, always involves both Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s important to me that a photo always goes beyond what is captured within the frame. For example, the photo of Bianca’s face in the tub went through three separate treatments:
1. The first was the base image, which I used Lightroom on to slightly adjust the highlights, shadows, and sharpening.
2. The second piece came in Photoshop, where I selected everything above the water level and added coloured noise.
3. The final piece was to section out the water water itself, which I distorted slightly, but left free of noise.
Sometimes, we just want some silence.
The point of separating the world above the water – where one can breathe – and the world below it – where might one might drown – was to create a feeling of discomfort and claustrophobia. In the digitized, noise-heavy world, there’s a sense of anxiety. Take that message how you will in relation to social media and smartphones, but the fact of the matter is that we cannot escape the constant buzz of life around us. Sometimes, we just want some silence. Yet, like the water in the tub, those options aren’t always habitable or healthy. Drugs, isolation, and unhealthy coping mechanisms may shut out the noise, but one eventually has to come back up for air. Our generation’s greatest challenge is to find a balance between both.
NOTE: Bianca actually coughed up water multiple times during the bathtub photo, and I had to gauge how long she could allow water to fill one side of her sinus before it was too much. Thanks again, Bianca!