The Ball: Q&A with Ingvar Kenne
We got Ingvar to take a few moments to answer some of our questions about the book and its subject matter: the undeniably Australian ‘Bachelor and Spinster Ball’…
For the uninitiated among us, can you explain what a Bachelor & Spinster Ball actually is? What pulled you towards photographing them?
Like with all my personal work, I like to go into a project as uninitiated as I possibly can be, with a clear mind, ridden of any preconceived ideas. I had done a few projects in the past – Karaoke and one called The Hedgehog and The Foxes, which involved lots of young people in tight spaces fuelled by alcohol. A friend, Simon Harsent, suggested I continue with an all-out drunk Australia book, based on these, and suggested B&S balls. This was a bit over three years ago, and I didn’t know anything about them.
I am not sure if I can lie claim to know what they are, still. To me they are not unusual however – all over the Western Anglo world there are similar parties – spring break in the US, midsummer burn outs in Sweden. We have lost the old way of passing down a culture through initiation processes. The teens still have to grow up. Perhaps a part of that they do it with less guidance, together en masse with the help of alcohol and what not.
Where did you travel to attend the B&Ss & how many have you been to?
I went to 10 over the course of 3 years. started and finished in Queensland, one in the NT and the rest was in VIC and NSW.
You must’ve become a regular on the circuit after a while… What was the reaction (if any) from the ball attendees to you, an outsider on the inside, armed with a camera? Do you think in general the existence of the camera curtailed or encouraged?
Yes, I met people who seem to attend most of them…for them it is a lifestyle, they work their schedule around when and where the Balls take place. I made sure I was clearly the photographer. Beyond being way older than most attendees, I also wore a vest for my gear and I had a large camera with flash on it. There was no mistaking why I was there.
95% of the photographs I took was for them. This is the Facebook generation. They want to be seen, tag and share their experiences. “Hey cameraman!!!” was yelled out constantly, getting me over to document their antics. The people going to these Balls are really proud of them. Yes, the camera made them often show off more than if it wasn’t there. Those pictures never made the book, when I felt my presence influenced why the photographed existed.
For me personally, I am curious and the camera helps me investigate that curiosity. There is no way I would be at a Ball without a camera. It is my shield and equally my invitation to be curious. I am an outsider because of it, yet fully emerged in what is taking place.
Some of the photographs look like they were taken amidst complete & utter chaos. As a photographer this must’ve been challenging, but what was this experience like on a personal level– being comparatively straight laced amongst this level of disorder?
It was chaos non-stop. It never ceased. It was like going into a fighting ring for 12 hour straight.
In a way it was exhausting, but also rewarding. All these folks are really friendly and were very accepting of me being there. No one brings their phones out to take photos, so this is the only recording they have of what happened last night. I always made sure I uploaded a couple of hundred images after each ball so they could share and tag each other afterwards.
Did you conceive this work with the intention of it being viewed in book form? If so, did this in any way play into your approach to photographing the series?
It was always a book in my mind. Like all my personal work projects. I was really conscious of never looking back on what I had done, until the very end. I didn’t want my photographs to date inform what I should try to get next. In line with not being influenced with any pre-conceived ideas. Each Ball I wanted to land in fresh. Saying that, they are all very identical in their setup. It felt like groundhog day going back to a new one. The same scenario playing out over and over.
For us photobook nerds, tell us a little about the actual book making process. How did you come by your publisher Journal (Sweden)? How long did it take for the book to come into fruition?
I have known Gosta at Journal for many years since I was active as an exhibiting photographer in Sweden. I was quite excited about him having interest in a very Australian body of work, it is unusual for him publishing stories without a Nordic connection. We printed in Denmark at Narayana Press, where all his books are being printed. A fantastic experience, highest quality process.
The Ball also includes correspondence with Tim Winton. Can you tell us how this came about?
I sent him a box of prints, unsolicited, towards the end of shooting this project. He kindly sent it back with a very generous letter of declining to write an essay. But yet, in his response, he managed to condense an answer that to me summed up the feelings of what these Balls are like for the uninitiated person. I asked him kindly to let me publish that response, alongside my letter to him, as the only text in the book….and he agreed.
What’s up next? Are you currently working on a new project/book?
I have 3 more projects on the go…that are ready to be finalised as books. There is no rush however, and they will tell me when they are ready. I have also just completed my first feature drama film, an 8 year process – a 93 minute piece called The Land. It is due for release in 2019 .
Signed copies of The Ball by Ingvar Kenne now available.