35mm Fun: Kellen Mohr

Grolsch Canvas

One of our favourite things about our 35mm Fun series is that it gives us the chance to not only discover the work of some insanely talented photographers, but also learn about the some of the stories and inspirations behind their photos. We were blown away as soon as we saw Kellen Mohr’s gorgeous and cinematic shots of the great outdoors, and we were even more enchanted when we got to find out how some of them were taken. Check out our interview below to discover the thoughts and work of a truly unique talent.

Hi Kellen. Tell us a little about yourself - where are you from, where are you based and what do you do outside of photography?

Thanks for having me! I’m from Spokane, a city in eastern Washington, but I’m currently going to school in and based out of Los Angeles. Outside of photography, I’m studying entrepreneurship at Loyola Marymount University here in LA, and when I’m not occupied with my studies you can most likely find me doing something outside.

When did you begin shooting, what made you start and what has driven you to continue?

I actually started shooting in high school for a class. My school required two semesters of art classes to graduate, a requirement that I wasn’t too stoked on at the time. After unsuccessful forays into other options, I settled on an intro to darkroom photography class working with B&W 35mm film. The darkroom is a place unlike any other, and after I watched my first print blossom into existence on the paper that was blank mere seconds earlier, I fell in love with the magic of the process. I took a second class my senior year that was more focused on digital, and was burnt out on shooting for a while; I didn’t pick up a camera for over a year. That first summer back home from college, I bought a few rolls of cheap color film and started to bring my camera along on excursions with friends, and I haven’t stopped since!

I have a soft spot for disposables. They have this really dreamy, soft focus around the edges that makes you feel like you are stepping into a memory.

What do you shoot on? Is there a story behind your favourite camera?

Hah, there is! A pretty cliché one at that – my mom gave me her trusty Minolta X700 from the 1980s when I started that class, and it’s been by my side ever since. I picked up various lenses for it over the years, but my favorite is a Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 – it allows me to really get the full scene in the frame. I’ve found that as I go along, I’m constantly framing up potential shots in my mind, and the focal length that best matches my mental frames is 28mm. During the 4th of July festivities this summer, I had that camera in a backpack with a few beers when I set the pack down hard - one of the beers exploded and soaked the camera, then quickly dried to a sticky film that ruined the light meter and got in all the seals and gummed up the moving parts. I ended up having it repaired for more than it would have been to buy a new body, solely because of the history behind it. I’d never stop kicking myself if I had cheaped out and lost that camera to, of all things, a cheap beer.

I also have a soft spot for disposables, and for a year or two probably 90% of my shots were from disposables. They are the ultimate way to revel in the moment while still recording it, as all you have to do is see something you like and release the shutter. They have this really dreamy, soft focus around the edges that makes you feel like you are stepping into a memory, it’s really something. Disposables are also very pocketable - along with my little Olympus MJU point and shoot, they are the perfect companions while out hiking and exploring when you don’t necessarily have time to reach in your pack or want to have a heavy camera swinging around your neck all day. Having full manual control is very helpful for bringing your vision to life, but timing is everything.

I’m fascinated by atmospheric weather conditions, particles in the air diffusing the light in weird ways, light slipping behind ridgelines and over horizons.

Over what span of time were these photos taken? What makes them stand out from your other shots?

The earliest shot here is the one with the two small figures raising their beers to the most unusual sunset I have ever seen. During one of those impossibly long late summer evenings in 2014, my friends and I were camping up on Mt. Spokane, ski hill by winter, glorious paradise come summer. The mountain is known for always being blanketed in thick fog, but as we stood on the summit this time, the fog barely covered the summit.  Whirling around us at breakneck speeds and glowing an incredible shade of golden red from the late summer sunlight, we watched as it twisted in on itself, billowed out, and was whisked away into the void, backlit by an incredible sunset we could see remarkably clearly. It was one of the stranger weather conditions I have ever witnessed, which is one reason I snapped the photo, but in hindsight it also marks the end of an era. Everyone was starting to do their own thing during the summers by then and moving away from Spokane, and it was the last summer where all of us would be in the city at the same time - so it’s definitely a feel-good photo that takes me back to that stage of my life. 

The rest of these images all have equally nostalgic and extensive backstories, so in place of filling three more pages with wistful descriptions, I’ll skip to the most recent. The shot of the 3 pine trees piercing up into a wisp of a cloud, foreboding mountains peeking out from either side, was an especially peaceful moment I had the privilege of being a part of last summer in Washington’s North Cascades. I was camped at the lake below, and had taken a quick jaunt up here the night before in very different weather - ominous clouds gathering around nearby peaks, the scent of rain heavy in the air, but in the morning it was an entirely different story. Low lying clouds were cozied up to the valley floor in all directions, and everything was quietly alive with the vibrance only fresh rain can bring. I stood on top of this peak and watched the clouds for half an hour, lost in the ever-shifting dance of water suspended in the air.  

How do you think your work is affected by sharing it online?

I find it fascinating that most of my photos, for all the visceral real-ness of the film medium itself, ultimately end up viewed on a screen. The desire to see my photos in some physical form, in print or on a wall, is stronger because it occurs with less frequency. Social media is such an interesting space; it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the feedback and start shooting for the positive feedback more than for myself. Over time, I’ve realized that the people that choose to get a regular dose of my photos are here because they like something about how I see the world, so that’s how I shoot! Having massive online communities of like-minded photographers has been tremendously helpful, too – one of my great friends and I knew each other through our photography before we ever met in person, and I’ve got some trips in the works with a few other photographers that I’ve connected with online that are on the same wavelength. Last but not least, this! I wouldn’t be talking with you right now if it weren’t for the ability to share my photos online, and I’ve been afforded amazing opportunities (and will hopefully continue to be) by the ability to share my work online.  

The darkroom is a place unlike any other, and after I watched my first print blossom into existence on the paper that was blank mere seconds earlier, I fell in love with the magic of the process.

What do you look for when you’re taking a photo? Are you more concerned with the composition or evoking a certain feeling?

Light! Light and feeling working in concert makes for truly special images almost without fail. I’m fascinated by atmospheric weather conditions, particles in the air diffusing the light in weird ways, light peaking around a rock or throwing golden rays on a subject, trickling in through a window, slipping behind ridgelines and over horizons. The feeling, the vibe of a moment is a crucial element as well - I don’t really think about specific compositional elements (or anything, really) when I look through the viewfinder, I just make sure the image is balanced and feels right before snapping the photo!    

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out?

Oh man, so many people. First of all, I’d like to thank my mom for the camera and constant support! My parents are my biggest fans, and even though there might be a little bit of bias in there somewhere, I really appreciate the unwavering support. All the friends I have adventured with over the years, those I continue to do so with – you know who you are, and I love you all. Other artists, photographers whose work I find inspiring – Maya Beano has been on a tear recently with her phenomenal double exposures, Emily Sullivan’s summer shenanigans in Alaska have me seriously considering dropping everything and never coming back to the lower 48, and Shaun Flint has a really lowkey online presence and his photos are consistently out of this world - the list is endless. Too many to name!

I am launching a media house this fall with a few special people that I want to give an extra big shout out/thanks to: Bryson Malone, Chris Naum, and Michael Hibbs. All are incredibly skilled storytellers, whether loading a fresh roll or ensconced in the editing booth late into the night, and all are endlessly interesting and purely good people independent of a camera that I have been privileged to share many adventures with over the years. Keep an eye out for our launch this later this fall!

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