Area photographer Kenneth Wyner’s studio is tucked into a Takoma Park A-frame house behind an overgrown yard that smells of herbs and eucalyptus. A rusty radiator, an old sofa, and a Rosebud-style wooden sled vie for space on the porch. Inside, incense wafts up the double-height mustard-yellow walls and water tinkles in a fountain. It’s all very Zen.
So are Wyner’s photos. We’re looking at a 40-by-50-inch Iris print of the Washington Monument, one of the images he’ll exhibit in his upcoming show at the American Institute of Architects gallery downtown. This isn’t your ordinary postcard view, where the pillar stands front and center on a lush greensward. Wyner’s photograph is an off-center close-up of the shaft’s beveled tip, blown up big enough that it might well be a pyramid at Giza. The image is pixelated, too, so the tip bleeds out into the surrounding sky, as if heat emanated from the stone.
Nearly all of Wyner’s digitally manipulated architecture photographs look like this. As befits the work of a Levi’s-clad photographer who describes his work as having a “positive, holistic, humanistic energy,” the photos look as if he’s mapped the buildings’ psychic auras. Even 30 years ago, when Wyner was hawking hand-tinted black-and-white photographs on the streets of Georgetown, he was prone to “add an edge of fantastical to reality,” he says. Since then, he’s showed his work in group and solo exhibits around town. About 15 years ago, he started photographing buildings, too.
You might wonder what kind of architecture firm would want digitally tweaked images of its designs. In fact, Wyner says, architects use his “straight” work to send to magazines and clients, and the “interpretive” work in things like brochure covers. The philosophy behind the product is Warholian: “Ordinary moments become heroic moments,” he explains. For an ongoing project for the National Institutes of Health, which involves photographing employees for murals, Wyner sat in on countless meetings, observing minute gestures and office paraphernalia and shaking them down for meaning. “What appeared to be frivolous are icons of the inner strength of these people,” says Wyner. “There’s real drama in those meetings.”
Even a recent project for a financial printer that facilitates corporate mergers—a business perhaps as far from “humanistic” as you can get—didn’t muss the photographer’s vision. Wyner again concentrated on the mundane, photographing “reams of paper that I turned into a mandala.”
“My vision is slightly askance,” Wyner acknowledges. But despite the New Age factor, he’s not wanting for clients; the Smithsonian just hired him for a project in its Arts and Industries Building. Besides, he says, “I like to stand out.” —Jessica Dawson