Artist Interview: Kyle McDougall
Get to Know Artist Kyle McDougall!
Kyle McDougall is a contemporary landscape photographer from Ontario, Canada. His current work is driven by a fascination with society, time, and the ever-changing environments that surround us. He is an advocate of film and creates his images using a wide range of formats—from 35mm to 4x5 large format. You can view more of Kyle’s work on Instagram (@Kyle_Mcdougall), and on his website at www.kylemcdougallphoto.co
What inspires an image for you?
It all comes down to locations and light. The subject matter, or location, has to be something that interests me and falls in line with the current style of work that I’m creating. The light has to complement, or strengthen the scene—and this doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be incredibly dramatic, it just needs to fit the mood and style that I’m after, or provide me with creative options when it comes to composing an image. As I get further along in my career, I’ve found myself slowing down and focusing on a single body of work at a time—typically whatever I’m most curious about. For the past two years, the American Southwest fascinated me, so that’s where my attention has been focused.
In your opinion, has social media been helpful or hurtful to modern artists?
I think that it’s been incredibly helpful. Social media has provided us with so many different options that didn’t exist even ten years ago—both from a business as well as a creative/networking standpoint. Artists can build personal brands, showcase their work to large audiences, easily connect with people they look up to/admire, market themselves/their products, ask questions, learn, and so on.
I think that social media gets a bad rep at times, with people complaining about things like market saturation or competition, and then also there are the pitfalls of comparison—but none of those things are directly the fault of social media and they’d all still exist without it. For example, even though it would be on a smaller scale, without social media people would still find a way to complain about competition (ie. the “new photographer” that pops up in their town), or would compare their work against their peers or even images that they see in galleries and magazines. Social media is just revealing some of our insecurities on a larger scale.
Are there any clichés in photography that you actively steer away from in your work?
I would say no. I think it’s important for people to create the type of work that they truly enjoy, no matter what it is, or how “cliche” it may be deemed. Whatever interests you and excites you, that’s what you should focus on. It’s all part of the journey and is necessary for growth. We’re all doing this creative work because we’re passionate about it and find it enjoyable—don’t strip that away because someone else has an opinion about what you should/shouldn’t do.
Do you prefer shooting as individually or with a group of people?
Individually. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy going out with groups, but for me, that’s more of a social experience, and I rarely end up creating any work. Photography has always been a very personal pursuit for me—almost meditative. It’s a way for me to visit locations, immerse myself in the surroundings, and look at things closer than I normally would. For me, that’s easiest to accomplish when I’m out by myself.
Do you take photos more for yourself—or for others?
First and foremost my images are created for myself. Any subject or location that I decide to focus on is one that I’m genuinely excited about it. I’ve found that I can’t force things, and if I don’t connect with a place or a subject, then I won’t be able to create an image that I’m happy with. For that reason, I don’t think I’d ever be able to go out purely with the intention of creating a specific image because I think it’s what is going to get the most attention. Obviously, I want people to enjoy my images, and having an audience to share work with is an important part of being an artist, but that has to come naturally—you can’t force it. I think if you create purely to please others, you’re bound to burn out quickly.
What is your ideal career path and your end goal in this creative community / industry?
I wouldn't say that I necessarily have an end goal, nor would I be able to determine an ideal career path. Things change constantly—interests, approaches, style—and that’s really the exciting part for me. Even over my short career, I’ve seen myself go in a few different directions that I wouldn’t have ever been able to predict. At all times I just want to try and stay curious, take risks, push myself, and create work that truly makes me happy.
What are your thoughts on working on single images versus projects?
I think that there’s value in both, but for me, I enjoy working on projects more than just creating a single image of a specific subject. On top of photography, I’m also a filmmaker and focus mainly on creating non-fiction documentary work. People, places, and stories interest me. With still imagery, a project or portfolio gives me a way to tell a bigger story that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to communicate with just a single image. I also think that in some cases, certain images are stronger when they’re part of a portfolio.
What message or advice do you have for young creatives just starting out?
Practice, practice, and practice! Stay curious, and don’t stop exploring and experimenting. As soon as you can in your career, accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes, and most things won’t go as you planned or hoped. There are no shortcuts and you have to put in the work if you want to achieve your goals. Just get out there and create images. It can be incredibly easy to get caught up in so many different distractions—like gear, comparisons, setbacks, and failures—and they end up stalling us. Sometimes you just need to get out of your head, and get out there and work. Never forget that we all do this because we find it enjoyable. Always try and retain some of that innocence and curiosity that we all possess at the start of our careers.
What’s next for you? Are there any new mediums you want to explore?
For the foreseeable future, I’m going to continue work on my current portfolio titled “An American Mile”. I’m not too sure what will come after that, but I’d love to potentially approach my next project strictly using 4x5” large format film, documenting the province of Ontario, more specifically the Northern regions. But for now, my heart is in the deserts of the American West, and I’m excited to explore its vast landscape until my interests start to shift.
Focal Collective: Artist Interview Series
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