Alex Kress is a Toronto based photographer who takes the intangible vulgarities of punk music and moulds them into something beautiful. Her work is a monochrome feast for the eyes; boasting a visual representation of Toronto's thriving punk scene that is as fraught and endearing as it is encapsulating.
"It is frightening sometimes. Authentic and stripped down. It's punk."
After she moved to Toronto in July 2015, Alex made it her mission to get to know the city's punk scene and do what she could to document its' raw and fleeting moments. Her work is bold and aggressive; with each photo epitomising what it means to be punk in the city in 2016.
The photographer grew up in Edmonton - a quiet city in Alberta, Canada. It was here that she began nurturing her love for visual art; becoming entranced by the cause and effect of film photography: “I think film is always worth it... I adore the medium and love the mystique of it." She had no tutors and no classes: just passion. Even so, help from unlikely sources cropped up along the way.
"This old guy named Wally had been running this camera shop for 40 years, so he is this really old man. You go in there and its this tiny little thing, you know, piled high from floor to ceiling with old cameras. I bought all of my equipment from him and then set up the darkroom in my spare bedroom in my apartment."
However, as time passed Alex began going to punk shows specifically to capture the discarnate moments. Through acknowledging her burning desire to shoot live shows, she realised that maybe an upgrade to digital was due:“There was no way I could keep a consistent level of focus with film in that setting. Punk moves at such an intense velocity that you're never gonna know what you'll get when shooting with film. Or if it'll even be in focus properly."
Since arriving in Toronto just over a year ago, Alex has shot dozens of shows, including a hefty number of acts at the last two NOT DEAT YET festivals. This 3 day festival gave her the chance to shoot as many acts as she wanted, in as many venues as possible. Out of these shoots, came some of her most impressive work to date (see above and below).
"[Punk] in some ways, is this exorcism of genuine emotion that you normally wouldn’t let out. And there's something very honest about that."
Insiders note: Alex likes to use the faux brightness of flash to illuminate her muses onstage (or off). The split-second brightness lasts just long enough to solidify the brash moments she's looking for. But then there's the annoying venue rules which ruin everyones fun. Alex begins laughing and explains a case she had at a recent NOT DEAD YET show:
“This security guard blocks my way like, "That’s not a camera bag is it?” So I go, “um. yeah.” I mean, obviously! But they have weird security at this place, so he's all serious like, “well, just eh, no flash photography” and I was like, “...huh, okay, NO PROBLEM." But I did. Obviously. You know, I FLASHED."
I asked her why her portfolio is mostly black & white:“I have always loved black and white. I think that colour can be distracting... When I think about punk, there is this emotive expression which is so angry and so explosive there. But it's also a very vulnerable thing. You see that emotional purity and anger through the contrast and exposure in the white; then the black is this strong, dark feeling. Plus, it's eye-catching.”
Kress' strictly DIY attitude has nurtured a very particular aesthetic to her work. With visual boldness acting as a face for her self-made brand, people can look at her product and know instantly that it is hers.
Yet, it is the heartfelt, up-close-and-personal narrative behind Alex's photos that sets her work apart from the rest. There is an honesty behind them which tells a story that a thousand words could never do justice.