“I find myself speaking more and more to the plants”: Brendan George Ko on his foliage infused photography

The mixed-media photographer has returned with more illusory and nature-rich imagery.

Date
6 October 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read

Much can change in a few years. For Brendan George Ko, however, there’s still a lot of similarities to the work that we first observed here at It’s Nice That. When we last heard from the Toronto-based photographer – who was raised in Ontario, New Mexico, Texas and Hawai’i – his previous scrapbooks were brimming with foliage, colour and a surrealistic nature. And this time around he’s returned with an updated portfolio, one that sees plants remain as the sole subject to his rousing photography.

Alongside the completion of two more iterations of his scrapbook series – titled nana’dey-wey’stid (2018) and marinerblue (2019) – Brendan has also developed a story about traditional farming in Hawai’i as a “means of understanding one’s ancestors”, he tells us, also beginning to work on commissions for the likes of Vogue and SSENSE. Alongside this, there are a few other pieces on the go, which includes a book project called Moemoeā, produced with Conveyor Arts on his work with traditional voyaging in the pacific, set to be published in 2021; a documentary film project on the colonisation of Hawai’i Nei titled Introducing Castor, ready to go into production in winter; plus his annual scrapbook for the year, set to release in January 2021.

There’s no doubt that Brendan has been keeping busy over the course of two years, and an evolution in his practice does not to go unnoticed, either: “I had been deeply involved with the ocean and traditional practices revolving around it,” he says. “Now, I spend more time on land, deep in the kua’āina (backcountry in Hawai’i), learning from farmers. I have always had a spiritual connection to plants and land but had no vocation until recently. I find myself speaking more and more to the plants and introducing myself to new regions stating my intentions.”

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Brendan George Ko: Sumac (2018) (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

Brendan’s most recently published works are less of a turn away from his typical subject, rather they are an offshoot of such – a further development into his long-lasting passion with photographing the natural world. Between the dense shots of trees, water and various plants, you’ll also notice the addition of human subjects, all of which are induced with chromatic hues and a surrealist energy. “I find myself less interested in creating exactness with photography,” he adds of his reasons for working this way. “There is a spirit I am chasing, to capture in the medium. And when I work I am seeking to evoke the spirit of a moment, a region or person.” This is achieved by “stripping away” all that he can in order to devote his attention to the feeling of an image.

This evocative methodology can be traced back to his upbringing, where Brendan grew up as an artist in a small town in New Mexico. “There is a culture there that has witnessed some of the strangest, beautiful and horrible things and it articulates these stories through oral tradition; a medium that is woven between fact and fiction and speaks a different kind of truth that most of us are used to.” Because of this, Brendan hopes to constantly reinvent himself over the course of his career, refreshing and changing with what surrounds him. This is so that he can “simulate” the oral tradition of his hometown within his multimedia works.

This mixed-media approach has meant that Brendan’s photography aesthetic is deeply unique, especially in terms of the colour palette. This is something that he came to decipher and learn through his work in a colour darkroom. “I found that this experience helped me to understand the natural characteristics of film,” he says, “and it still serves as a guide for me.” From this experience, Brendan sees colour as a technique that he can use to evoke an emotional response from the audience. “I have an obsession with trying to make the medium stir the feelings and atmosphere of the scene captured.”

With this in mind, Brendan’s ethos as a photographer is one that comes riddled with emotion and illusion, creating in a way that he hopes will raise the spirits of the past. “It’s my hope that my images remind people of the magic that is all around us and that we live amongst spirits,” he concludes on the matter. “There is so much memory in the places we live and visit, from past human history to the creatures that came before us; it is all there, lingering and visible to our eyes. It is funny working with images since you cannot see spirits, and so I find it important to manipulate the medium to summon them from within.”

GalleryBrendan George Ko

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Fantastic Haie (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Funguy XI (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Naupaka (2019) (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Laua'e I (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Pakalolo XXVI Blacklight Poster (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Daiva The Diver I (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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The Swarm II (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Caption

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Family Watch Hawaiian Pro (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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Anuenue at Hawaiian Pro (Copyright © Brendan George Ko)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and continued to work with us on a freelance basis. From November 2019 she joined the team again, working with us as a Staff Writer on Mondays and Tuesdays until August 2020.

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