Billboard Art Project Interview
Kerry Woo’s first interaction with the Billboard Art Project happened as a spectator viewing artwork from a Citgo parking lot in Nashville, Tennessee. By day you might find him working in an office as an internet marketing consultant, but after hours Kerry enjoys tooling around the city with a camera in hand. As an avid photographer who likes to capture images of Americana ranging from a flock of plastic lawn flamingos to a picked over automobile graveyard saturated with rust and overgrown grass, Kerry Woo answered the next Billboard Art Project call for artists with a series of his own images.
On Friday, May 13th, Kerry packed his bags and headed out on a road trip. After driving a little over five hundred miles and arriving in Savannah, Georgia, he looked up at a billboard flashing images of art. Only this time he did this not as a casual onlooker, but as one of the participating artists. His images were bold, quirky, and colorful, and they jumped off the billboard with a vibrant glow. Recently, Kerry took some time to answer a few questions and reflect back on his visit down to see the Savannah Billboard Art Project.
Billboard Art Project: Could you tell us how you first found out about the Billboard Art Project?
Kerry Woo: Sure thing. I read an article about the Billboard Art Project in the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean, and thought, "What a cool idea!" I told my wife about it and said I would be back in a couple of hours, as there was a convenient location about 10 miles away on a busy street - Nolensville Road. So I grabbed a couple of SD cards, my Nikon D60 and a tripod, and waited until dusk to start shooting away for three hours! Then it got too chilly around 10:30 pm.
BAP: What are some of your impressions from the Nashville show?
KW: Overall, I liked it. There were a couple of pieces that got redundant for me as they played off of a variation on a single image with hard to read type. With my advertising background, I was looking for an image that was "non-advertising," yet had a captivating image or message that would be clear, concise and compelling.
BAP: What work really stood out?
KW: I really liked "Impressions of Imagination" by Rick Gustafson; eight visually striking images that rendered well against the night sky and that provoked an emotion. Two people walking on a beach, an empty road ahead, a man walking alone in a forest... these images for me (and maybe for others) evoked some memory or story from the past.
BAP: Was playing with a space normally used for advertising part of the initial appeal for someone such as yourself who has a background in advertising?
KW: Absolutely! We are bombarded with advertising messages everyday, the bulk of it being safe, cookie cutter or just noise. I believe that advertising should be inspiring, creative, striking... and yet, at times, catch people off guard. Thus, kudos to the Billboard Art Project. How often do you see very creative work on a canvas that thousands of motorists see every day? I once saw a billboard on the side of the road that simply said "I pooted." It was a complete mystery. What was it for? Who was behind it? I later came to find out that it was part of a series of images advertising a show on the Cartoon Network. It really caught my attention.
BAP: What sort of topical ground do you explore in your work?
KW: I guess anything that's quirky, unusual, bizarre, interesting. I tend to go on certain themes. For a while, I was captivated by roadside attractions such as an eight foot chicken wearing a chef's hat ("What's up with that?"), a 10 story minister's treehouse, a giant cow, a Great Dane, a 15 foot country boy, and a large Rubik's Cube. It's my destiny to see those things firsthand and photograph them! I like neon signs, old motels, random parts of the city... just about anything...
BAP: You seem to travel quite a bit to gather some of your photos. Tell us what you like about traveling.
KW: I do a lot of travel on business. After a day of being on the internet or walking through PowerPoint presentations, it's time to change clothes and go out on the town. I love exploring a new city, especially the old parts that have become revitalized or even trendy. I find that traveling affords a lot of opportunities to discover other communities. Each city or town I visit offers a rich tapestry of architecture and local culture. Some people on business trips really go for the per diems; I prefer taking pictures wherever and whenever possible.
BAP: Is there a particular trip that stands out?
KW: I remember my first trip to Los Angeles, where I set out to take two thousand photos. Obviously, the tourist spots were a must, but I also took advantage of the weekend and put over 300 miles on my rental car, grabbing as many shots as I could. The best shots happen by accident, like when I'm waiting at a stop light or stumbling upon a scene at a street corner. I like this shot of a billboard "throwing a look" at the girl crossing the street...
BAP: Do you have any ideas for upcoming trips or projects?
KW: One day, I'll own a Honda Element and capture a sunset in every state!
BAP: How was your trip to Savannah?
KW: It was excellent! I was really honored to be a part of the Billboard Art Project and certainly appreciated the process of selecting photos that would tell a story individually and work as a whole. The road trip I took was fun. I started off in Nashville and drove though Chattanooga, where I saw some great abandoned buildings. When I was passing through Atlanta, I got to see the skyscrapers and planes against the backdrop of an incoming storm front. On the last leg of the trip, between Macon and Savannah, there was nothing but green. Once I arrived, I had to see the ocean. While watching the show, there was a real sense of community and fellowship hanging out under the billboard with participating artists and locals who had come to check it out. Afterwards, I visited Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens Art Festival to see a renowned folk artist's work.
Then I headed home. I have never set out to travel a thousand miles over a weekend strictly for photography until this trip. It was a blast and I hope to do more photography-themed weekends.
BAP: Was this your first visit? What did you think of the city?
KW: I'd been to Savannah once before on a week-long business trip, but really enjoyed the city this time around, especially down by the river. Savannah has its share of history, roadside attractions, and a wonderful graveyard of rusty, vintage cars.
BAP: As a participant in this show, did you look at the submissions differently after considering and building your own submission?
KW: I was pretty comfortable with my selection of 49 photos; only three didn't render well and one was a bit cluttered. I really liked the submissions that were "snappy" and conveyed a message or emotion in a clear, concise and compelling manner. I personally think text doesn't work well, as consumers see words on billboards everyday. For me, seeing only images on a billboard is as refreshing and unusual as good news on a newscast.
BAP: What are some of the things you took away from the project?
KW: You need to consider how images will render on such a large scale. Reds, blues and oranges really pop. And when approaching the project, an artist should consider how the pixilation of the LEDs might wash out details. However, it's a good thing to be challenged by this medium. What works on a CD cover doesn't necessary translate well to a print ad or even to a billboard. But that's the beauty of art in a new and relatively unexplored medium - by experimenting, testing and never giving up you can come up with some exciting things. This project presents artists with the opportunity to use the billboard as a means of reaching unsuspecting motorists and getting them to wonder, "What is that?" Maybe it will put a smile on someone's face and provide a break from that grayness the world wants to throw upon us. Isn't that the beauty and timeless appeal of art?
BAP: Any last thoughts?
KW: I hope an image I submit will cause some people to say "Did you see that?" "What was that?" "Who is behind that?" Or, as I like to call it, the "I pooted" effect.
Keywords: Kerry Woo, billboard art project, kerry woo photography
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