Capturing the Moment with Michael Kunde
Michael Kunde is a professional commercial and advertising photographer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. His work and personal talents take him both across the United States and internationally. Some of his clients include Adobe and Chrysler. Apart from an impressive commercial portfolio, Kunde also boasts personal photography work that includes unique takes from his travels. Some of his more distinguished work contain his striking themes, such as those found in rural areas of the United States.
Kunde’s introduction to photography came toward the end of a service mission in Kenya. During the last little while on the mission, a photo journalist joined the project. Kunde, already taking some amateur pictures of the project, scoped out the visiting photo journalist’s work. He says, “I loved her photos. I thought they were great, and I got frustrated.” For Kunde, his own pictures didn’t quite capture what he thought he had experienced on his trip.
After returning to the States, Kunde enrolled in college. In his third semester, he took a Photo 101 course and bought a camera on Ebay. This would be the start of his path toward professional photography. In making photography a career, Kunde wasn’t motivated by money. “I honestly didn’t know you could make money as a photographer. I was super young, I was super naïve,” he says. “I was just excited about making some rad shit. I wanted photos to look cool. I wanted to tell my story and I wanted people to see my point of view.”[gallery link="file" ids="108743,108744,108745"]
"Kunde came to the realization that being a professional photographer was what he was meant to do"
After a year at school, Kunde received an email from one of his professors: A commercial photographer was looking for an assistant. Leaping at the opportunity, Kunde says, “About a month before school started, he offered me a full-time position. I quit my full-time job and started working for him.”
Kunde has since been freelancing for 11 years. He has worked all over the United States and has helped with numerous projects. One day, about six years ago, Kunde came to the realization that being a professional photographer was what he was meant to do. He says, “Basically halfway through my career I thought, ‘Ok, let’s make a career out of this.’”
This love and passion for photography has allowed Kunde to travel. It’s a passion that was inspired by the recently departed Anthony Bourdain. As a fan of Bourdain’s, Kunde devoured all of his books and every single episode of his series. From there, he adopted a similar approach to traveling and interacting abroad. This would serve him during a radical sabbatical between working for other commercial photographers and transitioning to working for himself full time. In winter of 2013–2014, Kunde traveled to Southeast Asia. One country stood out. He says, “My favorite place that I have visited hands down has got to Myanmar.”
"I wanted to tell my story and I wanted people to see my point of view."[caption id="attachment_108742" align="alignleft" width="400"] Michael Kunde, Balloons Over Bagan, 2013, from Kunde’s personal collection[/caption]
Until about a week before arriving in Myanmar, the country was off limits to American citizens. Kunde’s adventures in Myanmar were intoxicating for him. There were no signs of the corruption of modernity such as Starbucks chains or widespread advertising. The country for the most part still had dirt roads and boasted a population that utilized horse drawn carriages. Kunde says, “It was one of the most incredible experiences ever.”
Kunde’s travels have afforded him the opportunity to take photographs for fun. According to Kunde, most commercial photographers get hired based on their personal shoots. That being said, Kunde’s commercial work is impressive, but so are his personal photographs.
Kunde’s jump into doing big projects is due to his dedication, but also by being given the chance by his friend Zack Arnold, who worked in an agency in St. Louis. Kunde says, “I think he saw something in me, which was really rad. He kind of gave me my first opportunity to work on a large commercial nationwide ad campaign.” This campaign sought to explore agriculture. The project would soon pave the way for Kunde to come up with a body of work that would stand out. Not to mention, it provided him with an ability to exercise his interest in rural America. “I’ve always had a love for the west,” says Kunde. “It’s rural, it has wide open spaces, it's wild.”
“It was one of the most incredible experiences ever.”[caption id="attachment_108746" align="alignright" width="400"] Michael Kunde, The Road to Mighty, 2015, from the “Road to Mighty” Tourism campaign.[/caption]
While certainly varied in his talents as a photographer, Kunde celebrates a recognizable theme in his work—that of hard-working, blue-collar individuals. For him, the dedication to working is a relatable one. “I like hard workers,” says Kunde. “I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am in my career right now." Recognizing that commercial photography is a contested market, Kunde employs a high degree of professionalism and years of experience toward his work. This includes running and knowing his own business. He says, “If I were to go back in time, I would have gotten a degree in business rather than photography.”
One similar project Kunde found himself involved in was the 6 AM Pause campaign. The videos serve as a sort of representation for a farmer’s everyday life. Each video captures the essence of what it looks like during the busyness of a farmer’s early morning routines. This includes focusing on the farmers performing various tasks and jobs, such as getting the kids ready for the feeding of the livestock. Then the video focuses on farmers being able to stop and take a “pause moment” from the work day. The agency behind the project was called Bader Rutter. However, instead of shooting from behind the camera, Kunde was tapped to direct. He says, “They thought my agriculture works and still photography were really strong. They wanted me to apply that same style to motion.“
Unfortunately, with the onset of COVID-19, Kunde’s photography jobs have come to halt. Although he is still eager to take on work, at the moment he is helping start a new initiative called Create In Place with Heather Alder—a photo representative based on the West Coast. The purpose is providing a website for advertising agencies to contact freelance photographers for work from home possibilities.
More about Michael Kunde and his work can be found on his website michaelkundephoto.com.