Interview by Divya Krishnan, Article by Akshita Verma, Photographs by Kannetha Brown
Kannetha Brown is a photographer based in Providence, Rhode Islands. An established photographer, she has been published in Elle USA and Rolling Stone and primarily focuses on capturing diverse female and gender expansive experiences on camera. She has been highly influenced by her mom and her documentation of her life and travels in the US since she originally belongs from Cambodia. She has been a dancer for 15 years and claims that it has helped her understand interpersonal intimacy and relations. This helps her engage with her clientele and bring her vision to life in photographs.
She thinks that people are born with a certain artistic sense, that some people can just “feel something and make it” and it “ends up looking really good”. While that is true, talent and skill come as you’re learning. When asked why she is interested in capturing mostly female experiences, she says that she enjoys working with more than men and they inhabit the same level of understanding. She also feels safer working with women. Most of the inspiration behind capturing women in photography comes from the feeling of capturing women in a way they want to be portrayed in. She feels that photography is a heavily-male dominated industry and that women need to make a space in this industry that isn’t influenced by the ‘male gaze’. So, she wants to portray an image of women that is more nuanced and something that they may have a control over. She feels that there is a very significant difference between men and women photographers when it comes to depicting female experiences. Kannetha thinks that male photographers tend to portray women as sexual muses rather than people with stories and that this has to do with the trends of media consumerism, including pornography. All this has fuelled the disparaging way men think of women, act towards women and treat women. It has also affected women empowerment and how the whole movement is viewed in the world, in terms of our rights and the behavior that we’re exposed to.
Kannetha’s photography deals with many profoundly layered concepts such as periods, diversity in body shapes and nudity. When asked how she came around to photographing such concepts, she says that it all happened naturally. She has always possessed a love for photographing women and it has now resonated to capturing other experiences that come with being a woman and incorporating more diversity in her work. It has become such an integral part of her process that she now focuses more on the concept and art rather than technicalities.
Kannetha says that divorcing art from money is very difficult and that Covid has honed in that fact even more. During Covid, she started working more for clientele and that it had frustrated her as an artist. When asked what her next step would be, she says that she doesn’t know what the next thing will be but she is thankful for anything that comes. Something that she is looking forward to in the near future is relocation. She also potentially wants to work in the entertainment and music industry, do some album artwork promotional work and involve herself with some music videos. She also wants to work with Playboy, now that it is becoming an entirely women-led entertainment company and presenting a more diverse engagement space, in terms of the sexualities and the people they represent.
Kannetha is also influenced by the works of photographers such as Petra Collins, Pixie Lau and Laurel Nakadakte. When asked about the process that goes on behind a photoshoot, she says that most of her process is organic and that it heavily depends on the subject matter. She says that she can’t entirely explain her artistic process, only that she gets inspired and comes up with an idea while doing something entirely unrelated, like taking a shower. She then looks for people who she thinks will fit the concept better, bring her vision to life and inspire her furthermore. She says that most of her work is an entirely collaborative process of working rigorously with models, bouncing ideas off of each other and allowing them to take control of how they want to be represented on camera. She says that many of her personal experiences have led to the development of a terrible self-image and exploration of that trauma has now made her explore her photography and navigate her own self through the experience of other women. She also has taken some photography classes in school and says that it has helped her a lot with understanding the technicalities of a camera.
She also points out that there have been various instances in her life where she has been made extremely aware of her gender and how it has led her to be treated. She again points out that working in a heavily male-dominated industry has led to her experiencing sexism, some in ways that are obvious and some more subtle. She feels that women have to work harder at proving themselves, constantly fight for what they accomplish and that is something that has always been a struggle because women are inherently taught that “it’s not enough or that we don’t deserve it.”
Kannetha has vocalized a need for regulation of the type of women’s images we see in all forms of media and how they are represented. She feels that the only solution to that is having women in positions that allow them that sort of directive. If such positions are not available, then creating such positions is equally necessary or at the very least employ a man that is sensitive to portraying realistic women experiences on camera. She also expressed the need of understanding women experiences as a consequence of generational trauma, the unattainable beauty standards imposed on them and how that can affect the self-image of younger people. She says that as a POC woman she has felt somewhat less than when it comes to how people, especially men have treated her. She thinks that the world almost views women of color as undesirable. Even if they are considered to be desirable, it is always in a very fetishized, disparaging way. And that is what fuels her need of including diverse female experiences in her work- to open the eyes of the world of a female that the society doesn’t see, or doesn’t want to see.
For anyone who is interested in photography, Kannetha advises them to practice and yet to not force themselves when they don’t feel ready. She says that researching and technicalities are important but practicing is a whole another teacher.