GTPulse: Local Photography Club Provides Fun and Education For All Skill Levels

Michael Kent goes by Michael Stewart Patrick Kent.

“Or some variation of Michael SP Kent. My dad is Mike Kent. There are three of us,” he said.

Three of them here in northern Michigan, anyways. One being his father, and one being a videographer.

“Michael if you ever hear this,” he said, jokingly cupping a hand around his mouth and speaking into the recorder, “I think we need to have a discussion about the Michael Kent branding. Let’s get this sussed out.”

Despite some occasional community confusion Micahel’s upbeat, creative disposition has a presence all its own that fills up a room. I sat down with him to talk about his local community project, Our Photo Club a free, monthly photo walk for young and seasoned photographers alike.

“I will say a young photographer and I don’t mean age,” he explained. “I don’t think it’s bad to say someone who’s in their mid-30s or their mid-40s who picked up a camera for the first time and got excited about this craft…I don’t think it’s wrong to say that they’re young. I have learned so much from some of our younger, less experienced members.”

Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were in two separate camps when it came to creative talent. Hemingway insisted that talent was something that was gifted to folks; you either could or you couldn’t. A more charismatic and affable Fitzgerald thought that creative talent could be achieved as long as someone had passion and willingness to work at it. Michael Kent’s mindset falls into category with Fitzgerald’s.

“I’m waiting for the day when someone shows up with their smartphone and says ‘I take great pictures with this. Is that okay?’ And it’s like, yes. Absolutely.”

That attitude embodies the essence of Our Photo Club. The local group walk has been going on since summer 2017 in Traverse City. The idea for the club came to Michael while he was attending other local photo clubs a few years ago.

“We would sit at a coffee shop and talk about budgeting software, next month we’ll talk about how to get new clients. That’s really important stuff but I wanted the social part of it, it was more of a social thing for me. So I thought, why don’t we go shoot? Everyone liked the idea but then no one would actually do it.”

Michael grew up in Traverse City and it’s where he first fell in love with photography. His first photography class was in high school. 

“I took it as a blow-off class my last semester. I heard that you couldn’t not get an A. It was a darkroom class. Loved it but was not good at it.”

He took another photography class at Northwestern Michigan College but ultimately wanted to be a school teacher. He was studying elementary education at Central Michigan University when he realized that he didn’t want to teach.

“I got weeded out in the 101 class. So I was floundering for a while trying to figure out what to do, and then I found the art department.”

He graduated with a degree in photography and eventually opened his own photography business that has taken him all over the United States where he hosts Our Photo Club too. Traverse City is home, however, and where the bulk of photo walks are hosted.

Each month a date, time and place are designated for everyone to meet up and each photo walk has a different theme that poses a unique prompt for photographers like photographing in an unconventional setting or focusing on uniquely expressive subjects. 

Our Photo Club grew quickly and Michael realized that the photographers had all of these photos that they were proud of, but nowhere to share them.

“It was like, oh I need Facebook and Instagram and to build a website for this.”

The social media aspect of it has helped the photographers stay connected, and it’s also been a fun way for them to share their work and join in on hashtag challenges that encourage people to post their photos to the theme Michael proposes. Past challenges include self-portraits, hands, and blurry photos.

The club comes with a built-in community and creative support group. Michael is happy to help photographers of all skill levels learn something new, as long as they’re willing. Our Photo Club was initially called AK Photo Club, AK standing for Allen Kent, Michael’s professional alias. He recently changed the name to match the way he feels about the club.

“I don’t want it to feel specialized. I don’t want it to feel exclusive. It really is for anybody. All skill levels, all age groups, all good people.”

Categories: GTPulse