Viewing from an outsider’s eyes with Larry Kanfer


Larry Kanfer’s, professional photographer and 1979 alumnus, work on display in the Illini Union as part of his past exhibit “Illinois Trilogy.”

Professional photographer and 1979 alumnus Larry Kanfer returns to the University with his new exhibit “Larry Kanfer: Illinois Trilogy.” In this exhibit, Kanfer features collections from Chicagoscapes, Prairiescapes and university photography. The exhibit is open to the public at the Illini Union until Nov. 2. 

This exhibit features a variety of pictures and settings in Illinois. From the cold, harsh winters of Chicago and the beautiful summer days on the prairie to the rowdy crowds at Memorial Stadium, “Illinois Trilogy” blends urban and rural landscapes to fully capture the state of Illinois. A more extensive collection of Kanfer’s work is on display at the Larry Kanfer Gallery, located at 2503 S. Neil St. in Champaign. 

The Daily Illini spoke with Kanfer about his thoughts on photography and beauty, trips around the world and tips for up-and-coming photographers.  

The Daily Illini: On your website I see that you like to “look at things with an outsider’s eyes.” Can you explain how you do this after capturing Illinois for so many years?

Larry Kanfer: Well, I always like to think of that as important. There comes a point where me, being an insider, will make a conscious effort to go away somewhere in the Midwest and look at it from a different point of view. Another thing I like to do is approach things seasonally. I might have seen every corner in one season, but not the other season and things always look different. There are millions of moments that make things look different. 

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DI: So you can come back to the same place multiple times, and it will always look different to you?

LK: You have to look at it with the curiosity of a child. You have to think about what makes a place beautiful. Is it because of the weather, or is it because I know the place and it’s comforting to me, or because of the color and composition. All these things play a role in how a location might look different to me. 

DI: Right after your graduation in 1979 you opened your gallery in Champaign. Was it a big risk at the time? Were you nervous? Did you know you were going to be successful?

LK: Well, I got my degree in architecture here, so I thought, well, I can always apply for architecture, but I love doing this. There wasn’t any security besides the fact that I had enough to buy food, but I really loved doing this. I would go door-to-door asking to do portraits for people. It took many years, but I made it work.

DI: Do you feel your degree in architecture allows you to see beauty in things others may not?

LK: I think it’s helped me see beauty but also think about beauty analytically. 

DI: I see you have collections in southern Europe, China and India. Do you have a favorite place internationally? 

LK: I really liked India. Besides the visuals, really, the people were very spiritual. There’s great poverty there, but I saw a lot of smiling people, and it was very beautiful although it was beauty that wouldn’t typically be defined.  

DI: Can you tell me a little about the “Illinois Trilogy?”

LK: When I first started I photographed U of I a lot. As I moved forward, I photographed prairiescapes, then to Chicago and I continued to photograph U of I. What I want to show is that everyone is able to somehow get some of my work. I want to show U of I my three areas. 

DI: If there’s one thing you want people to think leaving your exhibit, what would that be?

LK: Basically there is beauty all around you — on a small, middle and large scale. 

DI: Do you have any advice for young photographers?

LK: You don’t have to go to exotic places; the beauty is right in front of you. Look at your images critically and honestly. Ask what you can do to better your image. There has to be some technical understanding, but the main thing is understanding composition and how to get your point across. 

Drake can be reached at [email protected].