Everyday Icon: Mikael Kennedy

From time to time I’ve sifted through my parents’ collection of polaroid pics.  The style is immediately nostalgic and beautiful and reminds me of the simplicity of a time gone by.

Mikael Kennedy resurrects that time.

Kennedy is our latest Everyday Icon – representing the lifestyle of an individual that creates their own style.  His work in Passport to Trespass represent his Polaroid-documented wanderings.  Carrying a Polaroid SX-70 and a batch of film, he’s chronicled some fascinating people and places.


Kennedy’s work is internationally acclaimed and is represented by the Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art Gallery, NYC.  His Polaroid work has been converted to six books.  Each volume follows a different journey in Kennedy’s career.

Fine Times had the chance to visit with Kennedy and talk about his inspiration, his wardobe and what’s up with all of those polaroids.


FT: How did you get here?  Give us your story of your journey.

Kennedy: That’s an interesting question. My latest book of Polaroids that just came out a week ago was called “i can’t remember where i’ve been.” The title came from the idea that as you take pictures your memory begins to suffer because you only remember things based on the photographs rather than the actual experience. Having taking thousands of Polaroids over the last 10 years, and having been in a constant state of travel it’s sometimes hard for me to remember where I was last week until I look at the pictures. I actually just bought a library date stamp so I can date the backs of the Polaroids to help me figure out what was when.

So to begin it all… I grew up in Randolph, VT, a tiny little town, in old farm house on the crest of an empty valley of farm land. I spent most of my childhood wandering that valley.  My older brother left home and started hopping freight trains when I was still in high school. You could say that gave me my first glimpse of the wandering lifestyle, he would write me and my little brother these epic letters home from his travels all over the country. The road just always called my name after that, you know like most young American boys I grew up on adventure stories… the wild west…. the beats poets, Kerouac and his journeys, Indiana Jones.

So halfway through college I left and started traveling (eventually I finished)… I caught rides with touring bands for several years as just a free way to get around. I did some hitchhiking, lived out of my car driving around the U.S. for months at a time. I bounced back and forth between the east and west coasts with groups of friends, setting up artist houses in different cities for short periods of time, then moving on.

I didn’t leave the country until I was 25 because, well, I was so broke most of the time, but also because there was so much to see here. America is such an interesting country to explore, from state to state it varies so much. New Mexico compared to Vermont or Montana might as well be different countries. When I eventually did leave I moved to Belgrade, Serbia, kind of on a whim for a while to see what it was like, then returned to states and started crashing on my friend’s couch in Brooklyn.  I’ve been here since.

Even in living here however I guess I’m rarely home.  I can’t seem to shake the wanderlust. There’s probably a lot more behind the journey I’m on but I figure that’s a good start. The way I see it I’ve got maybe 80 years in this life and I’d like them to be as full as possible.

FT:  What drew you to the Polaroid?

Kennedy: I started shooting Polaroid about 10+ years ago.  I just thought it was interesting, there was no grand plan, I thought the pictures looked beautiful. Mostly I liked the way it looked, and traveling I didn’t have access to a darkroom to print my photos so this was nice to have a self contained process.

Now, over a decade into this, I have some more developed ideas of what shooting Polaroid means.

The uniqueness of the print is a big thing for me. In photography, especially today’s digital world… there aren’t many things that are one-of-a-kind, a Polaroid is an entirely unique moment captured on an entirely unique piece of film.

Neither will ever exist again, and unlike even a negative; the Polaroid is the finished piece, you can’t run off as many prints of it as you want. The Polaroid feels very ‘real’ to me. Because of the limitations of the cameras and the film the image itself becomes a closer representation of reality than other forms of photography. With my Polaroid camera there is no zoom lens, so if I am photographing something it means that I am right there with it, make it impossible to not be part of what you are taking a picture of. Police and Insurance companies used to use Polaroids as evidence, I consider my Polaroids evidence of a life lived.

FT:  What’s your muse?  What inspires you most?

Kennedy:  Life, really that’s it. I think just simply being alive is absolutely amazing. The way my friends live their lives, for good or bad, it fascinates me. My friends and the people I met inspire me a lot just in their day to day activities. Sitting in a friend’s kitchen in the morning over coffee can be a beautiful moment.

FT:  How would you describe your personal style?

Kennedy: I’d say any style I have relates to the adventure. I don’t like brand new clothes… I like things that have been or will be worn in. Sturdy denim jeans, a  good pair of boots, a tough jacket, these are the things a man (or woman) needs for a life of wandering.

Kennedy is a wanderer.

FT:  What’s the one item in your wardrobe that you cherish the most?

Kennedy:  I have a Saint Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) necklace that a good friend of mine gave me right before I left for Belgrade.  He had carried it with him when he was younger, all over the world, I think he had found it in Jamaica. I’ve worn it every day since then which was about 6 or 7 years ago and I won’t leave the house without it.

FT:  What’s the next thing for Mikael Kennedy?

Kennedy: I’ve got a lot on my mind recently. I feel like I haven’t been traveling as much as I’d like… I’d like to work some more on my landscape series called ‘The Odysseus’ and I need to get back to New Mexico soon just to settle my soul a little.

My girl and I are talking of driving my van out to California next spring and down the 1, sleeping on the beaches, hitting the dakotas on the way west. Always west, I read somewhere that it began with the vikings, this thing called “Westering” always chasing the setting sun. Stuff like that, my next big Polaroid show in NYC will probably be in the fall of 2011 although my gallery is trying to set up some shows over seas as well.

My supply of Polaroid film is slowly running out which I am actually okay with, I’ve got this new project in mind that I’ve been waiting a few years to start but there are only so many cameras I can carry at one time.


Learn more about Mikael Kennedy at his website, mikaelkennedy.com or through the Passport To Trespass blog (where you can view much of the Polaroid work) and facebook page.

    • md
    • December 18th, 2010

    Mikael, I appreciate your tremendous work and plan on buying a book. Just remember that Texas is close to New Mexico and we have couches too! Stop on by sometime.

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