Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline (b. 1965, Elkhart, Indiana)

Kevin Kline studied at the City College of San Francisco in California and now lives and works in New Orleans, Louisiana. His photographs have appeared in a number of exhibitions around the country and are held in the collections of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; the New Orleans Museum of Art; and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.

The title of his series Someday You Will Be a Memory references both the passage of time and the importance of memory in photography, issues that the great theorist of the medium Susan Sontag has also characterized as important to photography, especially portraits. Sontag describes photographs as memorializing times that have passed because, even immediately after a photograph has taken, it represents a moment that has ended. Photographs thus keep people and memories young as they grow older and ultimately fade away. Most people take photographs to preserve memories of family and loved ones, but Kline has constructed a very personal survey of people on the street who best represent the character of his home, New Orleans. In spite of the fact that the people Kline photographs are strangers to him, his black-and-white portraits offer intimate, humanizing portrayals. 

One work from the series, Young Girl, St. Roch Avenue (2013), shows an adolescent from the chest up standing in front of a tree. She is wearing a mass-marketed T-shirt that confidently proclaims her as an “All American Cutie,” yet the young woman seems more shy and sensitive than this statement would suggest. She looks out at the camera through a partial veil of hair, arms held tight to her body, with intelligent eyes and a modest attempt at a smile. Her posture and expression suggest a discomfort with, but interest in, the camera. Like many adolescents, this sensitive young woman seems self-conscious of others’ perceptions of her. Kline captures her in a moment of her process of growing and finding her way into an adult identity that will likely be deeper and more complex than her shirt’s superficial branding of “cutie” implies.

Another image, Woman on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, St. Claude Avenue (2008), presents an arresting portrait of an African American woman living in New Orleans two-and-a-half years after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Media coverage of New Orleans’s African American communities during and after Katrina often focused on economic deprivation and extreme poverty, which sometimes played into stereotypes about rundown black communities, ignoring the city’s long and unique history of African American cultural and middle-class strength. Kline’s image of a woman in the street dressed up for the holiday departs from such traditions. The composition places the crown the of woman’s head at the top of the frame; her gaze looks slightly down at the viewer. With her smartly cropped hair, earrings, and sumptuous fur coat, she engages the viewer with self-certainty and pride. Shot in black-and-white against the light wooden boards of a building, her portrait may recall the Walker Evans’s Depression-era portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, the wife of an Alabama sharecropper, which became iconic symbols of Southern poverty. Though Kline’s framing of his subject echoes elements of this famous image, his treatment of the woman and her empowered pose create a very different impression, that of a Southern woman with unflappable style and strong self-respect. Kline’s intimate portraits of interesting characters he finds on the streets of his adopted home represent a tribute to this culturally rich, vibrant, and historic Southern city. 

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