Summoning Spirits with Brendan Ko


Papirmass Artist Brendan Ko Working the Pakalolo (Marijuana)

“My photographs aren’t about truth, realism or precision. Making photographs is about manipulating the medium in order to summon the spirits captured within.” – Brendan Ko

Our May artist, Brendan Ko, dug deep for his artist interview and shared with us his special relationship to Hawaii, his appreciation for the land, and how his creative process has changed since graduating university.

As a natural visual storyteller working in the mediums of photography, video, sound, installation, and text, Brendan is spiritually connected to his surroundings. He weaves together whimsical stories from the places he visits and the people he encounters. Ultimately, his photography is the direct product of his deep appreciation for the land and the spirits that live within them. 

Have you heard? We’re so enamoured with Brendan’s nature photography that we’re giving our members a boost with two prints from him. Subscribe now to enjoy his work, and click here to learn more about how Papirmass can bring your creativity to light!

Ohia Lehua Nature Photography by Papirmass Artist Brendan Ko

Tell us about your artwork for Papirmass (not pictured).

The land feels haunted and it is the spirit I seek to invoke when I make the decision to capture it as a photograph. My photographs aren’t about truth, realism or precision. Making photographs is about manipulating the medium in order to summon the spirits captured within.

What is your creative process?

A friend once told me there should be no separation between life and art, that one should live it, change with it, and be a part of its process. My projects seem to find me rather than me seeking them out. And with the stories I tell through my art, I dedicate myself to understanding where these stories come from by creating a discipline within that culture. I want to change as a human being with each project and I am not sure if anything is ever finished.

What’s a typical day look like?

Lately, I wake up, answer emails over breakfast, drive to my friend’s farm, work, talk story, eat dinner, play cards or watch a movie, watch the stars and play with the dogs.

Photograph with Red Flowers by Brendan Ko

What are the themes in your work?

A return to original knowledge. In Hawai’i Nei, this means learning and practicing the knowledge of those that have lived here the longest, those who originally came on the waka moana (ocean canoes) and have spent the past 2,000 years understanding this place better than anyone else.

How do you get into your creative zone?

Going somewhere and praying to the spirits of that place, thanking them for welcoming me, for accepting my presence, and seeing if any of the spirits want to hitch a ride to Maui.

What has being an artist taught you?

Joy and independence. I get to live a very strange and wonderful life filled with the best people and rewarding encounters.

What is your most important tool?

My camera, then my laptop and backpack.

Ferns III Nature Photography by Papirmass Artist Brendan Ko

Where do you create?

Most of the year I work outside and am without a formal studio space. I can say Hawai’i Nei is my studio. I love that it is full of good spirits but it frustrates me that some people don’t respect the environment or its culture.

How has your practice changed over time?

Coming out of art school, I had a very institutional approach to my work. Over the years, I learned to develop my own language and allow the culture of my study influence how I speak.

What was difficult about starting out?

Not wanting to do the same thing. There is security in having fans and patrons who follow a certain kind of work but I find myself in waves of interest and lack of interest depending on the direction my work goes. Over the years, I learned to not care about how much popularity my work attracted and to just simply follow my na’au (gut feeling/intuition).

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

Being part of the family of traditional voyagers in the Pacific and sailing voyaging canoes.

Palmtastic Photograph of Palm Trees by Brendan Ko

What is your favourite place in the world?

Hawai’i Nei.

What do you love most about Hawai’i Nei?

It’s quiet, slow, and local.

What is the best life advice you’ve heard?

One of my favorite Hawaiian proverbs: Nānā ka maka; hoʻolohe ka pepeiao; paʻa ka waha. This translates to: Observe with the eyes; listen with the ears; shut the mouth.

What’s the best thing about being an artist?

You can develop your own language to convey ideas.

Hala Pepe Nature Photography by Brendan Ko

What’s the worst thing about being an artist?

Having to think of your work in a monetary sense.

What role do artists play in society?

Artists act as conduits to other worlds. They find and give new meaning to the world around us in order to change the consciousness of society.

Any advice for aspiring artists?

Follow your na’au (gut feeling/intuition) and be honest.

What does it take to make great work today?

A combination of talent, ambition, unique insight, and life experience.

Bright Shiny Diamond Photograph of the Sun framed by Trees by Brendan Ko

How would you like to create change?

I want to help include voices that have long been omitted from the perspective of our society.

Is creativity learned or innate?

Creativity is nurtured. My creativity was born out of my upbringing and the many different places and cultures I was exposed to. Without those formative years I would have nothing unique to say, nor would I have conflict to work within my art. Biography is the best source of creativity because it is about holding different perspectives.

What in the world is most mysterious to you?

The world that cannot be explained by science. The way ancient peoples understood the world, as well as the magic they witnessed and had power over.

Sambucus Nature Photography by Brendan Ko

Our May 2019 Edition will feature work by Brendan Ko. Subscribe to Paprimass by April 30th to receive two print from Brendan!

Explore more of Brendan’s work in our online gallery!