Jacqui Kenny: When the Soul Journeys

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Photo - Jacqui Kenny: When the Soul Journeys
Jacqui Kenny is a New Zealand-born photographer renowned for her works based on Google Street View images, and more recently, for exploring artificial intelligence and NFT technologies.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, Jacqui long ago moved to London, UK. Unlike many creatives who have been immersed in art from early childhood, Jacqui only started photography after the film company she worked for closed down. There, she assisted directors and visual effects specialists, reviewing thousands of images and photographs, which helped her develop a unique artistic vision.

However, a significant factor influencing Jacqui’s creativity has been her longstanding battle with agoraphobia—a disorder that causes fear or severe anxiety, up to panic attacks, in situations where a person finds themselves in unfamiliar places or unexpected circumstances. Even as a child, going to school, she imagined a thread tying her back to her home. Due to agoraphobia, she rarely travels, and working outside her home induces significant stress.
If I don't visualize the next step, it feels too surreal. I feel like it's not really happening, and that is anxiety inducing,
Jacqui notes.
For many years, Jacqui Kenny tried to ignore her agoraphobia and didn't seek professional help. When diagnosed, she only confided in close family and friends. The closure of the film company where she worked exacerbated her condition, prompting her to find solace in art. She began exploring cities through Google Street View, taking screenshots of panoramic images from various countries. This activity marked the start of her creative journey.

When she decided to share her best works on Instagram, she was surprised by the positive response. Her openness about her agoraphobia garnered even more support. Her Instagram project, the Agoraphobic Traveller, now has over 130,000 followers. Initially, Jacqui feared criticism due to the theme she chose but eventually realized that her project could do more than just serve as a hobby or a source of comfort; it could also bring awareness to mental health issues.

Jacqui's Photography. Source: Instagram account of the Agoraphobic Traveller project.

As Jacqui’s reputation grew, various brands and publications began to take interest. One such company, automobile manufacturer Lexus, invited her to create a commercial for the new Lexus UX model. Despite her doubts, she managed the filming process remotely while a friend helped coordinate everything on location. Jacqui valued this experience highly, appreciating the professionalism and creative freedom Lexus afforded her.

Jacqui has progressed to holding personal exhibitions, and her photographs and story have been featured in prestigious outlets like The New Yorker and National Geographic. A special exhibition in New York, organized by Google as part of the Agoraphobic Traveller project, presented a significant challenge due to her anxiety, requiring meticulous preparation for the journey.
Interesting fact: On World Mental Health Day 2018, Jacqui Kenny’s works were showcased on Google's homepage, along with a link to a documentary about her art.
Jacqui Kenny meticulously crafts her photographs using Google Street View, aiming to capture perfect lighting, obscure locales in small towns, vibrant colors, and unique everyday scenes. These elements collectively forge her distinctive artistic style. However, the task is challenging, considering that Google cameras have taken over a billion images, and finding the perfect, compelling shot that aligns with Jacqui's aesthetic preferences can take days or even weeks.

With the advent of artificial intelligence, Jacqui was inspired to experiment with this new technology. She leveraged her extensive collection of over 30,000 screenshots to train an AI model, subsequently showcasing the generated images on the blockchain. This initiative birthed her first digital series, "Argleton Lane," which includes three NFT collections: Homes of Argleton Lane, Flora of Argleton Lane, and Moments of Argleton Lane. The series title pays homage to a fictitious town that appeared on Google Maps in 2009.

The most acclaimed collection, "Moments of Argleton Lane," features numerous photos enriched with surreal elements crafted by AI—oddly shaped houses, improbable occurrences, and quirky scenes. Some of the base images chosen by Jacqui already possessed inherent distortions, which she further embellished with her creative insights, rendering them captivating and distinctive.
Collection "Moments of Argleton Lane." Source: OpenSea.

Collection "Moments of Argleton Lane." Source: OpenSea.

This digital series presents 100 unique NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. As of this writing, the minimum price stands at 0.189 ETH (approximately $600), accompanied by a modest artist's royalty of 5%. The series also includes earlier works by Jacqui—photographs and animations refined with AI models such as Midjourney and Dall-E.

While some may view Jacqui more as a curator than a photographer, she herself views her extensive and intricate work as a reflection of her artistic identity. Presently, she is dedicating less time to exploring Google Street View and focusing more on enhancing her existing images with artificial intelligence. Furthermore, she is committed to engaging more with the NFT community, maintaining her health, and visiting some of the spectacular locales featured in her projects.