Brendan George Ko

20/03/2012 § Leave a comment

Going to art school, there are certain graduates who came before you that you view more as myth than reality. This status usually comes with a lot of the upper year students continuously mentioning these mythical students names’. Then you discover their strong online presence, see their work popping up in publications, and finally, you realize that you have no idea what they look like or who they are.

For me, that person was Brendan George Ko. He is a Photographer who graduated from OCAD in 2010 and has been making quite the name for himself ever since. His work is published everywhere I turn, referenced by my professors and swooned over by my peers… and I have to admit, I’m included in this collective swooning.

When I decided to start interviewing more than just my peers and friends from the internet, I moved onto established artists who I really looked up to and had wanted to meet for quite some time. Naturally, the myth of Brendan George Ko was at the top of my list.


Well, first off, I just wanted to say, I’ve come across your work quite a bit in the time I’ve been at OCAD and I’ve gotten to a point where on multiple occasions I have recognized something as being a “Brendan Ko” piece before even reading who made it. 

I feel like you have really developed a style that is noticeably your own and I was wondering if you believe there’s anything consistent throughout your work?

Atmosphere is an aspect of my images that I’ve been focusing on primarily since Nocturne (2009-2010, thesis work).  During the time of that work I took on these walks through nature, and rather than photographing the woods as a straight document, capturing in the light of day, or night, I wanted to create something far different from what was initially there, I wanted to have the photographs separate themselves from the peace which is found in nature.  The only thing that could do this was atmosphere, adding this element, investigating what techniques create it, and most importantly, how it effects the viewer (what does it stir up in the mind, and what images conjurer up).  In effect, I found the images of Nocturne, as I tempted to make images that look far different from a daylight viewing of the woods, they were attempts at creating certain aspects to how I see nature, or rather, how I saw nature, especially when I was younger.  The woods that surrounded my childhood home in Gallup, NM, were haunted, they were full of legends, and took on this atmosphere, which in my adult life, is no longer there.  I miss being spooked, like all good ghost stories.

(cont’d) This aspect of atmosphere and memory has moved on to portraits in The Barking Wall body of work, where the landscape is now domestic, and the subject, for the most part, are humans, or more specifically, humanoid (representations of human element).  I’ve been stretching that series as far as I could go with subjectivity, and seeing if it still works as cohesive collection of images.

What would be the best way to conceptually describe the type of work you make? Is there a topic or even a few topics that drive you to continue making work?

My work is mental landscapes and portraits of faux memories, faux for being taken after-the-fact, but true to a feeling.  They focus on this disembodied concept of memory, with an overwhelming value, the distraction and ambiguity of old memory, and also the relationship between memory in its exactness (sequence, scale, detail) to the feeling (atmosphere and emotion) which can conjurer up separately from the memory, and often repeat themselves, like phantoms, coming and going without origin without reason.

With your work being more a conceptual abstraction than a literal representation, do you feel like it becomes less personal and more relatable or do you find it becomes far more personal to your memories/feelings and creates a bit of a separation of understanding between these heavily emotionally charged images and the viewer?

I wanted to avoid identity all together in The Barking Wall series, covering faces, entire bodies at times, and even going as far as removing the human from the humanoid figure (e. i. Phantom (Jorge The Wanderer image).  I didn’t want race or sex to be a factor, just the objects that are left behind when you strip away superficialities.  As a result what is left behind are sorts of monsters, creatures, not necessarily humans, but mutants, and further, hybrids, this is what I was going for.  And in an Ouroboros I created an identity piece from this series, realizing that my fascination with otherness and hybridism is a result of being both of those myself.  In the end, the work has access for the lack of identity, the playfulness of the images, and the cheese factor that is included with some of the images.  There is something about the supernatural, the fantastic that we find attractive, perhaps it is the something that takes us away for a moment, such as dreams, the escapist in us are relieved and captured, for a fleeting moment.

When I was going through your website, I noticed that you did a lot of installation and collaboration during your undergrad. Do you feel like this was more an experimental phase in your education that you’ve shifted away from or can we expect more installation based or collaborative work in the future?

I still consider myself a sculptor of sorts, the current work I’m doing involves creating objects and sets, and using my background in photography to create a moment out of them.  When I was working on Before I Die, I had a lot of anxiety working with powerful carpentry tools, once a wooden frame flew out of my hands and smacked the wall in front of me in an instant on the router.  I had nightmares of cutting off my fingers on the table saw, and once I finished the third piece and the semester was over, I put the work on pause indefinitely.

(cont’d) With some of the sculptures I’m working on these days, I am building them closer to complete for the intention of exhibiting them outside of the photograph.  And as for collaborating, Danielle Bleackley and I started, Side A / Side B, we’ve been planning on starting it back up, as curators, and having other artists run through the process.  At the end of the day, there’s a lot of projects on pause, being discussed, but the ones that are being done are the ones I can do alone, finding time between two jobs, and showing work, and this is how I came to be a photographer from film-making, I could do it alone.

I’m glad you mentioned filmmaking because I was wondering if that’s still a medium you want to work with? Do you feel like you’ve completely transitioned from moving to still images permanently or can we expect any type of moving image work in the future?

I don’t feel like I was ever done with it, and for the years I’ve been accumulating ideas of things I want to shoot, some more cinematic, and some as video art.  I just need to sit down one day, say to photography, “Listen, I need to take a break, and focus on this other interest of mine, I still like you, but I want to try something new for a bit.”  That and putting together a book.

You mentioned before that you’re still working on The Barking Wall and over the past few months I’ve noticed a couple of additions to the series on your website but is the end in sight for this body of work? How do you decide when a work of this size is complete? Finally, are you working on anything on top of The Barking Wall series or is this still very much the active focus of your photo practise?

For now, probably not, I see The Barking Wall as an extension of Nocturne, which isn’t done as well.  I split the series in half, calling one portion, Day, and the other, Night, and with one with a more documentary aesthetic and the other with science fiction cinema aesthetics.  Mid-summer I started to producing a new series, something that I conceptualized before B.W, and Nocturne, entitled, We Soon Be Nigh! (the exclamation mark might disappear at some point).  The work focuses on atmosphere like my recent work, but taking on a dread that comes from living with this feeling we might be steps away from the end of the world.  I have a few images I’m happy with, and concluded Barking Wall with a leader for the series (entitled, The End of the World, original right?).  I decided to start showing people’s faces as well.

Brendan is going to be featured in our upcoming publication Xeroxr I which should be available sometime this spring.

He was recently named one of the 5 Hot Shots for the 2011 second edition of Hey, Hot Shot, a project by Jen Berkman Gallery. His work is currently being exhibited as part of the Hey, Hot Shot showcase at Jen Berkman Gallery in New York until March 25th.

Along with the showcase, Brendan’s work is now available for purchase on Jen Berkman’s 20×200 website. You can purchase his prints HERE.

And also, Brendan is represented by Angell Gallery in Toronto and you can see his artist profile and contact the gallery about any purchase inquiries HERE.

But if you’re interested in looking at his work online or contacting him, you can check out Brendan’s website HERE.


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