Wednesday, November 02, 2022
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Rhode Island boasts plenty of established artists, but part of the excitement of the state’s art community is the growing number of emerging young talent here. For Kannetha Brown, Rhode Island is not only home but also the subject of her current photographic work. Still in art school, Brown has already made a name for herself and promises to have an exciting career ahead.
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Based in Providence, Brown is a Cambodian-American artist who commutes to Boston to attend Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Although she is still in the process of completing her BFA, she has already earned accolades and seen her stunning photographs published in venues like Elle, Rolling Stone, In Style, and The Guardian. These credits would be impressive from a mid-career artist, but for an emerging talent, they are particularly noteworthy.
While Brown’s editorial work is laudable, some of her most compelling images are sensitive portraits taken using technology that dates back to the beginnings of photography. She is one of a new generation of artists exploring large-format photography. This is a historic technique and one that commands both time and attention. For Brown, the importance of its use in her practice is multi-faceted.
When asked why she’s chosen this as her metier, she says, “Large format film photography, particularly 8×10, is a medium that allows for an extremely unique relationship between the photographer and their subject. In addition to having no electronics, these cameras are so large that they must sit on a tripod and the subject must remain still once the photographer sets their focus. For many contemporary photographers of color, large format has ties to the history of photography and exploitation. This can be reclaimed through the slow, sincere, and collaborative process these cameras can encourage.”
Brown’s current project, titled “The Americans,” has a focus on Rhode Island. In a series of stunning photographs, Brown is exploring the stories of Asian Americans in the state. Her portraits are sensitive, well-made, and, most importantly, are vehicles for stories about community that elevate and center the Asian American experience.
Speaking of her relationship with her subjects, Brown explains, “The majority of my subjects are people that I already know, such as friends, family, or mutuals. A small portion of my project involves me approaching people that I have not met before. I like to maintain a relationship with who I photograph, stranger or friend, and ask them to connect further by photographing their friends and family, so I can visualize what community ties look like here in Rhode Island. There is a lot of overlap in the relationships here that we all can relate to, in such a small state.”
For Brown, her work on her current project has also led her to a deeper appreciation of home and community both within and beyond Providence. The small size of Rhode Island has proved a huge asset to her work on “The Americans” and unexpected points of connection have strengthened her project.
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She states, “Good storytellers are aware that there is no knowing beforehand how a story will unfold, this is something you must discover as you create. “The Americans” is one of those special projects because it is constantly evolving with my connection to home and the people I’ve met here. I see a love for the city of Providence that is so unique because of the size of the state. The shared connections we have here are what brought me to this project and my desire to see each other. I know that wherever this project takes me will be special, not just for me, but for a lot of people.”
In hearing Brown discuss her work and methods, one finds a rising talent not only interested in technique or craft, but also in using the artform of the photograph to transform the way people see one another and the way she herself sees the world.
Speaking of what is next for her, Brown says, “I’m still considering my future paths, but I have really strong passions for the intersections of art, education, and social work. I plan to work on “The Americans” as well as other projects, personal and commissioned, that help connect those interests of mine.”
The future looks very bright for Brown, who is one of the state’s most promising young artists. Regardless of where her path takes her, it is clear that she will continue to make poignant and deeply beautiful photographs that serve to highlight and connect communities in Rhode Island and beyond.
Learn more about Kannetha Brown on her website at www.kannethabrown.com, or follow her photographic work on Instagram at @kannethaa.
Michael Rose is a multi-talented fine art professional based in Southern New England. Since 2014 he has served as the gallery manager at the historic Providence Art Club, one of the nation’s oldest arts organizations. Through his current freelance work he advises collectors and artists, provides appraisal services, teaches, and completes curatorial projects.