Kendall Messick (2004)

Kendall Messick

Messick received a Tree of Life Individual Artist Grant in 2004 for The Projectionist.


Kendall Messick is a fine art photographer who constructs exhibitions of still photography, film, and video to capture stories that would otherwise go untold. Having studied at the International Center of Photography and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Messick completed his first film and exhibition entitled, Corapeake, in 2001. This project was followed by The Projectionist (2007), a film, exhibition, and book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010) currently traveling through 2013. In 2009 Messick completed Impermanence, a project inspired by a devastating fire that ravaged his home and studio. In Impermanence, Messick turned the camera onto himself and his home to come to terms with the experience of the fire. Messick’s newest exhibition, Swann Song, will be launched in 2013. Messick's photographs are in numerous collections including the Smithsonian Institution, the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

The Projectionist Documentary

Kendall Messick and his creative partner, Lida Burris Gibson, have created an engaging, multi-dimensional portrait of self-taught artist, Gordon Brinckle (1915-2007), by piecing together his vivid memories and lifelong aesthetic principles into a compelling collage, filmed almost entirely inside his basement movie palace. In departure from the traditional documentary format, which typically weaves interviews and stock footage into scripted narration in order to develop a story, the piece unfolds through the intimacy and immediacy of first person narrative by Brinckle himself.

These carefully calibrated creative choices amplify the viewer’s understanding of Brinckle, allowing them to get remarkably close to a charmingly eccentric character who was driven by a dream to hold on to a time when the theater nearly outshone the film. The Projectionist’s narrative follows the course of Brinckle’s life, revealing the profound desire, frustration, and motivation that propelled him to create such a distinctive outsider art environment.

The Projectionist Exhibition and Book

The Projectionist exhibition is a multi-media installation of Messick’s photographs, Brinckle’s original works on paper, the Shalimar Theatre, and the documentary film.

Messick began photographing Brinckle and his theater in 2001 and continued making photographs until Brinckle’s death in 2007. Initially, all of the photographs were portraits of Brinckle inside the Shalimar or stills of the theater itself.  These images are photographed in deeply saturated color, reflecting and heightening the palette Brinckle used in decorating his palace.  The color film echoes Brinckle’s zeal and devotion as he dutifully shuffles about in his self-created fantasy world, operating the projector, serving as usher, and “performing” for his audience. 

As the project progressed, however, Messick felt compelled to document Brinckle’s life outside of this fanciful realm.  For these images, the photographer shifted to black and white film in order to evoke the tacit mundanity of the daily routines of an ostensibly unremarkable man, not so different from other elderly individuals leading sedentary lives. 

The exhibition’s juxtaposition of color with black and white imagery calls viewer’s attention to the manifest duality of Brinckle’s existence and, on a more universal level, suggests the vibrant histories and attendant wisdom of the legion of elders today who are largely unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unappreciated by a society that is moving too fast to take notice.

As a teenager, Brinckle demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent while attending vocational school.  This talent was manifested in detailed drawings, which were not mere renderings from everyday life, but instead original designs and depictions of objects and people in Brinckle’s imagination.  After completing vocational school, Brinckle became an apprentice to a prominent Philadelphia theater decorator and, in this capacity, his interest in art and theaters flourished as he learned to do scale drawings. 

Theater designs and architecture quickly came to dominate Brinckle’s artistic output, which spanned more than sixty years.  His drawings are amazingly accomplished and detailed, ranging from blueprints, cross-sections, and floor plans to interior and exterior scale designs of theaters. 

Interestingly, Brinckle chose to design modest yet highly original theaters, rather than the grand movie palaces that so inspired him.  When asked about this, he said that he had always aspired to create smaller theaters in which customers might be more comfortable, borrowing distinctive design details from the early movie palaces.  In this context, the works on paper are a captivating extension of Brinckle’s ambition—one that was exquisitely realized in his construction of the Shalimar Theatre.

In addition to Messick’s photographs and Brinckle’s work on paper, the exhibition consists of a significant section of the actual Shalimar Theatre.  The entire front of the theater, consisting of the proscenium, stage, loge area, sidewalls, and ceiling, has been reconstructed to travel with the exhibition. This allows viewers to view Messick’s documentary on the screen of the theater that it commemorates, echoing the theatergoing experience typical of the 1920s movie palaces while realizing Brinckle’s dream.

Princeton Architectural Press released The Projectionist book in the fall of 2010.  This is a companion to the traveling exhibition and features Messick’s photographs and Brinckle’s works on paper. Brooke Davis Anderson, former Deputy Director at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, contributes to the book with an essay entitled, “Cinema and the Autodidact.”