Photographer finds spaces that became places

August 4, 2009

By David Hayes

Local photographer John Kane shares some of the images he’s captured. By David Hayes

Local photographer John Kane shares some of the images he’s captured. By David Hayes

Little did John Kane know that an innocuous event during a family cross-country drive from the East Coast to Los Angeles when he was 10 would be the inspiration for the theme to his photography today.

“We were passed by a huge tail-finned convertible with a cowboy at the wheel and a longhorn rack on the hood,” Kane recalled of a stretch of empty road through Colorado. “I asked my dad to catch up so I could get a better look at him.”

Unfortunately, his father’s heroic effort to get a second glimpse of the unique slice of Americana was rewarded with naught but a speeding ticket.

But the image remained for Kane, now 61. Thus, the seeds were planted for a lifelong pursuit of something unique found within the mundane.

The Issaquah resident’s latest images were a part of The Center for Fine Art Photography’s recent exhibit, “Works of Man,” in ironically, Fort Collins, Colo.Kane said the show’s curator, renowned photographer Chris Jordan, sought images with a central ironic theme, something built by man and its existence within the natural environment creating conflict.

The two Kane images selected depict a manmade painting within a natural setting.

For example, one was of a band shell in Great Falls, Mont., with a painting of an idealized, but iconic, Rocky Mountain landscape. The irony came from the shell’s location, itself within a natural landscape.

Fascinated with early America’s implementation of manifest destiny, Kane said he’s constantly on the search for how it either worked or didn’t work.

“I like discovering how man took a space and made it into a place,” he said.

Kane’s own place within the world of photography kicked off in his high school’s yearbook, 45 years ago. After 35 years in computer technology, he continued his “creative endeavor” after retiring.

To find his lost, iconic images of the American West, when Kane travels anywhere he sticks to the back roads, visiting small towns, talking to locals, uncovering their histories and other points of interest.

“I shoot mostly landscapes. But I’m not interested in the pristine, the wilderness with a total absence of man,” he said “I’m more interested in the results of the stories man leaves behind within the land.”

His Web page is filled with images of man’s passage through the land — a mural painted on a building, destined to be seen by so few, or a gas station, once representing the promise of man’s expansion, now abandoned and overgrown by the nature that has reclaimed it for her own.

Even his own tool of the trade is a dichotomy of the new mixed with the bygone era. Kane has worked in everything from black-and-white to chronochrome to large format to his current medium of choice, medium prints. Using a larger negative and a manual camera no longer made, he then scans the image to a 20-inch or 22-inch square. His work was inspired early on by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and more recently Chris Jordan and Richard Misrach.

“But the three most influential to me were Walker Evans (prototypical photographer of American society and culture); William Eggleston (irreverence, irony and use of bold color); and most of all Stephen Shore, whose 1980s book, ‘Uncommon Places,’ taught me about color and composition, and opened my eyes to the vernacular as subject matter,” Kane said.

Kane has lived in a neighborhood halfway between Issaquah and Preston since 1988 with his wife of 30 years, Julie. She shares his passion for photography, her specialty being wildflowers, with several of her pictures having appeared on the University of Washington Burke Museum “Plants of Washington” Web site.

Kane admits his photography doesn’t have a lot of universal appeal.

“But it sells well enough to pay for itself,” he added.

His photos have shown up locally (Issaquah, Kirkland, Bellevue, Seattle), as well as in Eastern Washington, California, Santa Fe and at the Center for Fine Art Photography, and are in collections in Seattle and California.

His most recent project is with the Mighty Tieton project in the central Washington town of Tieton, where artists of several genres have found a unique setting to explore their creative talents together. Kane is planning to change up his own style, concentrating on a series of portraits of the area’s people.

In the meantime, Kane said he sees no end in sight for his first love of discovering the unique, never knowing where a back road will lead him next.

“There is still a lot of West I haven’t seen,” he said.

On the Web

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or Comment on this story at

Bookmark and Share
Other Stories of Interest:


Got something to say?

Before you comment, please note:

  • These comments are moderated.
  • Comments should be relevant to the topic at hand and contribute to its discussion.
  • Personal attacks and/or excessive profanity will not be tolerated and such comments will not be approved.
  • This is not your personal chat room or forum, so please stay on topic.