Not an "Artist": Kyle Clayton's Macro Photography

For our first artist profile, we will be hearing from a photographer who doesn’t consider himself an artist. In this piece, I will be making my case as to why I disagree.

A Creative, Nonetheless

For some creatives, their connection to creation can seem to flow fairly obviously and dominate their entire lives. Most creatives I know don’t dabble in left-brained intensive activities like 3-D printing or CPU building. For photographer Kyle Clayton, being creative manifests in work as unique and complementary as his interests.

Seeing Kyle’s portfolio feels like I suddenly do not recognize, or at least appreciate, the world the way his brain does. Kyle’s work consists of macro images taken from everyday and novelty objects from our lives. In his photographic style, we see the subject from the closest view possible with a digital camera. With these images, we have no other option but to explore the object’s unusual forms, curves, lumps, and purpose-filled structure.

Silence is Heavenly

When I come across an image from his portfolio such as those in his “Organic” series, I spend half of my observation being frustrated by not knowing what the object is. The second half of my time is taken up by the comforting and amusing realization that it doesn’t matter at all exactly “what” I am looking at. For me, the value of Kyle’s work is not in a traditional emotional reaction associated with artwork, but in my mind’s wandering and its ability to maintain my full, undivided attention. In the case of Kyle’s work, I am silent because I am legitimately perplexed. For a few minutes, I only know how entertained my mind feels by trying to solve the puzzle, and find an answer to the question, “what am I looking at?”. I think of nothing else.

Kyle considers his main outlet for creativity as, “problem solving” and describes himself as a maker rather than an artist. One advantage Kyle has gained from having left-brained hobbies is the ability to, “dive deeply into understanding” why things are the way they are. One of the works he is most proud of and exemplifies this advantage is his final portfolio which was created in his final semester of his photography degree. According to Kyle, “It was the culmination of my life’s work up until that point. It is also, hands down, the piece of work that I have spent the most time refining. Due to all of this, it is the purest representation of my artistic vision that I have created”.

Image eight from Kyle Clayton’s series “Elemental”

A project to say ‘Thank you’

A close second to his final portfolio is Kyle’s Photographic Braille Project from 2019. In this project, Kyle took a series of his own macro images and turned them into 3-D prints, “for the express purpose of allowing people with sight impediments to experience art through the sensation touch”. This project was partially inspired by Kyle’s aunt who is blind and was intended to thank her for her support by, “creating art that she can experience”.

If you leave with one thing, please recognize that Kyle exemplifies one of my favorite quotes aimed at creatives which is; “It’s important to do something that doesn’t bring you money”. I believe in that statement strongly and I have never been less than dumb-founded at the connections created by seemingly unrelated interests whenever I need a fresh perspective. When I run low on hobbies or interests which can ignite a new idea, it is equally beneficial to study the work of someone who sees and uses art in a completely different way than your own style.

As a fellow creative who enjoys a carefully choreographed balance of right and left-brained activities, what I appreciate most about Kyle’s work is his ability to remind me of the impact of intent observation and the joy of simplicity when it comes to artistic work. I often feel overwhelmed by the intricate layers of meaning in the art I consume. In Kyle’s work, there is no meaning other than my reaction and the showcasing of pure objects without even scale as a distraction.

Case Closed

In my case to give Kyle the title of “artist”, I am convinced that he meets the requirements. In this case, the only requirement being, “a person who is skilled at a particular task or occupation.” In my opinion, Kyle has mastered expressing the world in a way only he can envision and executing a skill to create a reaction. He also meets my personal definition of an artist which is, “one who can convey a perspective in a way which adds a layer to my life”. Even if the layer his work adds to my experience of the world is simply being perplexed, it is an addition and a re-orientation, nonetheless.

Kyle’s Portfolio:

Answers from the creative:

What do you do when you have a creative block?

"I have found that whenever I encounter a creative block or burnout, the best way for me to get past it is to channel my creativity elsewhere. For example, during my final semester in college, I had some hardcore burnout. I pretty much lived in the studio and once my portfolio was finished, I needed to take a break from photography. Instead of shelving my creativity, I began doing more design work and 3D printing. I discovered that focusing on another creative outlet allowed my photography burnout to fade while keeping my creativity flowing."

Why did you choose your particular medium?

"I chose photography mainly because I do not have the dexterity or patience to do any of the other forms of art. I also have trouble creating something from nothing. It blows my mind that other artists can imagine a finished drawing or painting and then create it. I find that my strengths lie in capturing things I see rather than creating images from my mind."

What inspires you?

"I find inspiration in seeing new things. Whether it be a new city or a new texture on a bathroom wall, seeing things that I have not photographed before intrigues me."

What could you talk about forever?

"Many things. Camera equipment, 3D printers, my own work, technology in general, science, etc."

Where do you see your future as a creative?

"Ultimately, I would like more people to experience my Photographic Braille series. Creating art for the visually impaired is very dear to me. Obviously I would like to be featured in galleries, but even just showing my art to individuals gives me a deep sense of fulfillment."

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