Editor’s Note: We are excited to have Larry Kanfer as a sponsor of chambanamoms.com! Stop into his gallery at 2503 S. Neil (just south of Windsor) for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or graduation gifts. Or just take a break from your day and escape into the many other worlds Larry captures in his photographic art.
Photographic artist Larry Kanfer challenges himself to find the subtle beauty in the everyday. The Associated Press praises his work, saying, “Kanfer’s gift is that he can endow the ordinary landscape… with an almost magical sense of beauty.” After receiving his degree in architecture from the University of Illinois in 1979, he opened his first photography gallery and studio in Champaign. Most well known for his Prairiescapes®, he has brought acclaim to the Midwest through award-winning calendars and original artwork capturing the beauty of the region. Kanfer has also created a variety of other major collections including Cityscapes, European, China, and now India. He has an extensive University of Illinois collection showcasing the beauty of his Alma Mater. Corporate and private collections nationwide showcase Larry Kanfer photography, including art consultants, designers, Mayo Clinic, Cargill and Wells Fargo. To date, seven coffee table books of Larry Kanfer images have been published. And, he is proud to call central Illinois his home.
See why we think Larry Kanfer is a Chambana Dad to Know.
Your artwork helps people see the beauty all around us, when it might not be as transparent as other geographic areas. What is your relationship with the prairie?
I didn’t grow up here. I moved to the Midwest from Portland, Oregon, in eighth grade, and to Urbana at the end of high school. I did graduate (early) from Urbana High School. In Portland the natural beauty is stunning, and pretty much obvious. When my family first took a train to the flat prairie, there was tall corn as far as the eye could see. I wondered if people even lived here! I looked on a map for places to canoe and go river rafting and was relieved to see the Boneyard Creek ran right through Champaign-Urbana! I put myself through college doing portrait work, which I loved, and Little League photos and weddings. To decompress from the hard work, I would drive around outside town in the prairie and photograph. I was lucky enough to meet some farmers who showed me around, let me ride in a tractor and explained the yearly cycles of planting and harvesting. That’s how I learned that the magnificence of the prairie can best be seen over time. Living here you come to appreciate the seasonal cycles from the silent white on white landscape, to the early green sprouting of spring to the heavy humidity of late summer and finally to the crescendo of activity with the fall harvest. So when I look at the prairie now, I see more than what is on the surface. I see the the earthcycles, life cyles and the spectacular moments our weather creates. To this day I still love tracking the storms rolling in, and learning about the hard work ethic that accompanies the farming industry here in the heartland. And I love to be out there photographing it.
What is your favorite place in Champaign-Urbana to photograph, and why?
Wow, that’s tough one because there are so many different kinds of places that draw different emotions right here within a 10-mile radius. I love photographing on campus — when I’m on campus brings back memories for me, and I can feel being part of long-standing traditions and the excitement of future discoveries. Downtown Champaign has become a magnet for energy, especially in the evenings and I love photographing downtown when it is full of life. To clear my mind I head just outside town, and sometimes I visit the tree called Gordon on Yankee Ridge where you can see the sunset and the valley to the west. The prairie at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana is a place where I go to see the progression of the prairie throughout the year. Although I’ve been here a long time now, I still love to find that one new thing – it’s a sense of serendipity walking or driving around town to discover something new.
Why do you think it is important to have art on our walls?
When you interact with art, it can put your mind at ease, opening up different ways of thinking. There has been plenty of research showing that art can improve your mood, and even improve healing in health care settings. But I also believe that art makes life better for all, because it invigorates the side of your brain we don’t usually get to use. And that helps us think of non-linear solutions to problems and creative approaches to our lives in general.
You are an artist as well an entrepreneur. How do you balance the two and how do they co-exist/conflict?
There is definitely a synergy for me between the artist and the business side. I think to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be creative and think outside the box. On the flip-side I am always trying to be innovative and try different things with my art. I’ve always been at the forefront of trying new technologies both for my art and for the business. From my first computer – the Radioshack TRS80 and the Hypercard database in the late 1980s to an image database, our first website and Photoshop in the early 1990s to canvas printing, facemounted photographs on plexiglass, high dynamic range and gigapan photography today. Just like I enjoy looking at my subject differently and trying different ways to reveal its meaning in two dimensions, I love the entrepreneurial end of things where I can try different approaches to business.
How have your children influenced what you do?
I’ve been a dad now for just over 17 years. My children, Anna and David, are the lights in my life and they help me to see things in new and positive ways. Through the stages of their lives, they have indirectly influenced me to think differently about things. When they were very little I thought in terms of close-ups. Small. Low. I would take walks with the kids when they were young and just look at things I might never have noticed. My recent book Barns of Illinois was very influenced by my children, and thinking about what values my wife and I are passing on to them. As I think about what legacy I can give to my children, I find my work celebrating Veteran’s Day and D-Day is important for me personally and also important for me to share with our children. In business I love when my kids can help, from office work, to framing, to setting up art shows to helping me name photographs. I love my work, and I love sharing it with my children. Maybe I have a little less time to photograph since having kids because I want to spend time as much time as possible with them.
You’ve become an icon in central Illinois. When there is a beautiful prairie day, I’ve heard people say, “it’s Kanfer-esque day.” What do you think is so distinctive and about your photography?
I think it’s because all my work is the result of a process. When I take a photograph of any subject; a landscape, a still life, a cityscape or a portrait of a person, it is most important for me to first identify the “essence” of my subject. In the prairie it is the earth cycles, in the upper Midwest, they love their cabins, lakes and trees, in the city I try to capture the energy, in Europe textures showing the centuries of inhabitance. Before I went to India people told me they thought of color when they thought of India. I found that the dry monotone landscape made a great backdrop for the color I saw all around in the people and their dress. When I photograph people, the most important thing for me is to understand my subject’s personality and to try to get that to shine through in their portrait. I hope that when you look at one of my portraits you do get a sense of peering into the person’s soul.
What does your ideal Father’s Day look like?
That’s easy and pretty simple. My ideal Father’s Day is to spend a day with my family. Starting with a good breakfast in our backyard —eggs, hashbrowns, turkey bacon, homemade smoothies and decaf. Talking about the news in the newspaper and all my online sources on my iPad. Then taking a long, long, walk, the four of us together, looking and talking.