Ken Schles (CV)

Ken Schles is a photographer and writer, the author of five monographs. A native New Yorker, Schles currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He is a graduate of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and studied with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research.

Born in 1960, he grew up in a turbulent era and has been engaged in the issues that have shaped his world. As a student at Cooper in the late 70s and early 80s, he helped revamp an ailing photography department. In the 1980s he documented his life in the underground art and club scene and lived in what became an abandoned tenement in the East Village. After organizing his fellow tenants, he led the fight to prosecute his landlord resulting in the landlord's imprisonment and the renovation of a twenty-four unit building. The work he made at the time became material for two books, Invisible City (Twelvetrees Press, 1988), which was named a New York Times notable book of the year upon publication and, when reissued in 2014, was named a TIME Magazine photobook of the year. Invisible City has appeared in four histories of the photobook, including Parr/Badger's seminal The Photobook: A History (Phaidon, 2014) and the recently published New York in Photobooks (Editorial RM and Centro José Guerrero 2017). A second book, Night Walk (Steidl Verlag, 2014) was also named book of the year by TIME Magazine. Together the exhibited work was nominated for the 2016 Deutsche Börse Prize.

Other books he's authored
In 2001, thirteen years after the publication of Invisible City, Schles released the prescient The Geometry of Innocence (Hatje Cantz, 2001), a powerful statement about the kind of world we have created for ourselves where the illusion of promise doesn't always conform to reality in our fragmented consumerist society. Released in New York two weeks after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, The Geometry of Innocence is a hard look at a declining American landscape.

A New History of Photography: The World Outside and the Pictures In Our Heads (White Press, 2007), an experiment in the history of photography analyzing images and the connections we make, Schles examined the photographic work he made over a twenty five year period and recognized within it a slew of antecedents and influences. Considered "insight into the mind of a great photographer," by Bill Kouwenhoven in Hotshoe magazine, the book was a finalist for the 2009 Les Rencontres d'Arles Photographie Contemporary Book Award, selected by Photo-Eye and 5B4 as a best book of the year and by Claxton Projects as one of the most significant American photobooks published between 2003 and 2012.

"Ken Schles' fourth title, Oculus (Noorderlicht, 2011), is a philosophical exploration of memory and perception, a poetic pilgrimage that thoughtfully weaves its analysis of how images influence and define our understanding of that around us. Like Schles' previous titles, Oculus is a demanding, personal and beautifully emotive work that not only compels multiple visits, but also leaves lingering questions long after the turn of the last page. Rarely does the text and imagery of a photobook unite in such an evocative and deeply effecting manner," Claxton Projects. We infuse the world we encounter with meaning, with social and symbolic significance based on the value we place upon representations we share. This, perhaps, is the irony of our conceptualizations: We make and share images and representations so that we may know the world. Oculus takes you on a philosophic journey that points beyond the shadow play of images. It's a meditation on the nature of perception and existence in the gray light of this world. Oculus is a photographic book about images, memory, and the metaphor of light. A Photo-Eye photobook of the year.

Writing on the ecology of the image, his essays have appeared in Vision Anew (University of California Press, 2015), The Photographer's Playbook (Aperture, 2014) and Publish Your Photography Book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014). He's been the foreign correspondent for the discontinued FOAM blog, and a guest blogger for other sites. He writes occasional original essays for his own blog (Seeing images, seeing things) and for his own published works.

Editorial work has appeared internationally, from The New York Times Magazine in the US to the FAZ in Germany. He's had six covers of Newsweek and worked for dozens of magazines throughout his career. He was the first photographer commissioned by The New Yorker, taking a portrait of the playwright Tony Kushner in 1992. During the 1990s he worked with recording artists on nearly 100 CD packages, most notably Billy Bragg and Wilco, Green Day, Alicia Keys, Rufus Wainwright, Rod Stewart, Natalie Merchant and The Wallflowers. Click here for a thorough client list.

A New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow, Ken Schles has organized and mounted over 18 solo exhibitions (most recently at the Deichtorhallen Haus der Photographie in Hamburg, Germany, 2016) and appeared in over three dozen group shows in over a dozen countries. His work is included in nearly two-dozen museum collections throughout the world including The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Rijksmuseum in The Netherlands. He currently lives in his solar powered 19th century Brownstone, where he raises a family along with his wife, a New York City public elementary school principal.