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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Jun 13, 2016

From the Other Side: Stories in Action

by Timothy Lou Ly

From the Other Side: Stories in Action

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Susan is listening to Tig Notaro's story "R2 Where are you?" Photo courtesy of Kevin Penczak.

Kevin Penczak is a photographer based in Chicago. He primarily works in portraiture, and contacted The Moth with his collection of Moth-inspired photos. His collection of these portraits have since gone on to be published. To view more of Kevin's work, please visit his website.

Kevin recently sat down to speak with The Moth's Multimedia Intern, Timothy Lou Ly, about his photography. Click below to listen.


TIM: Hey, Kevin. First off thank you, obviously, for sitting down to talk to us today.

KEVIN: Awesome. Thank you so much. This is great for me.

TIM: Sure. So you're doing something really interesting and cool with your project. You're taking photographs of people as they're listening to The Moth. It's pretty cool because you're kind of shifting the focus from the storyteller to the listener. What gave you the idea to do that?

KEVIN: I got the idea cause I always used to - I always listened to The Moth in my car or on the train. Somewhere like that. And it's always like an emotional rollercoaster to the listener. After listening to it for years, it's just like, man the impact that it has on people is really interesting. Then I was like, "It would be cool to do photos of that." I found a few people to start it with and did three people right away. I was like, "Whoa, that worked out pretty well." It had a good impact on the listener, and I was like, "I think I might have something here."

TIM: Yeah, I think you definitely do. What was the preparation process like for the photographs?

KEVIN: So for a couple of weeks before I knew I was going to shoot, I just piled a bunch of stories that I thought would have an emotional impact - whether happy or sad, anything like that, just something there. It wasn't that hard to try to pick stuff where it's like I want a full range of emotion, so I can just go for a full range of stories. Then as far as what story I paired with the subject, I didn't really think about it. I kind of just had a checklist and checked off each one. I didn't try to tell the same story to too many people. I didn't want to judge someone and try to get a reaction. I just needed some great stories, and everyone - especially the people who liked The Moth already are gonna have a good reaction.

TIM: And did you ... because I imagine a photographer with a camera right in your face, taking pictures of you as you're listening to stories - that's an interesting scenario to be in. Did you do anything to help them feel a little bit more at ease?

KEVIN: I didn't really do much. I did listen to the stories with the participant. I would have their headphones on and I would have my headphones on, and I would press play at the same time so that we were listening to the same part of the story at the same time. So I knew what they were going through. And plus, I just told them, "Feel you're just in a room." I'd try to have it pretty dark in there where there was no one ... you couldn't see the rest of the studio. I kind of blocked it off so that they were in their own little area. But in general, I didn't want to direct them. I wanted it to be as natural as possible. I wanted whatever their reaction was going to be to be that without feeling weird or like there was a camera in their face.

(transcript continues below)

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Armand is listening to Andy Griffith's story "It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times." Photo courtesy of Kevin Penczak.

TIM: Was there any reactions that surprised you when you were taking the pictures - or any moments that surprised you that they reacted to, that you hadn't expected them to?
KEVIN: Absolutely. I underestimated some of a couple stories that were very sad and emotional - very powerful. One of the participants started crying really bad, which is great, but for the project it was almost too much. So I did kind of have to reel it back, and then I didn't do that story anymore because I was like that was almost too voyeuristic almost, or something like that.
TIM: Right. Do you remember what story it was by chance?
KEVIN: Yeah, you know what it was the - I'm going to mess it up - it was either Andy or Eddie Griffin.

TIM: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
KEVIN: Yeah, so that one - even though it was fair for the thing, and it was totally normal, for me it just felt like a little, "Let's not mush that far anymore." But it is a fair story and it is a great story, and maybe it was just the person who was more emotional or showed it more.
TIM: Is there any motivation for you for wanting to do this project?
KEVIN: No crazy motivation. I just really like listening to the stories. It's something that I do while I spend a lot of time in the car. Keeps me interested. I just think they're great to listen to, just great to share that experience with other people that they're going through that I could never experience.
TIM: Any plans for more photos?
KEVIN: Yeah. You know what? I would like to and I think about it on occasion. I just need time to find more stories, and finding people is one of the harder parts. So, yeah, I would like to.
TIM: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kevin. We love your work here at The Moth. Your photos are amazing, and if you are ever working on another batch of photos, definitely let us know. We definitely will be looking forward to it. Thanks, Kevin.
KEVIN: Awesome. Appreciate it, Tim. Thank you.

See more of Kevin's captivating photographs on his website. He's also on Twitter and Instagram @kevinpenczak. In the Chicago area? Keep your eye on our social channels for the chance to participate in Kevin's project!

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Emily is listening to "Her Way" by Malcolm Gladwell. Photo courtesy of Kevin Penczak.

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Geno is listening to "Fameishness" by Steve Burns. Photo courtesy of Kevin Penczak.

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Maribel is listening to "Cookie" by Nestor Gomez. Photo courtesy of Kevin Penczak.

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