The first monograph from emerging photographer Kane Ocean, WAYN, is a tribute to youth culture in Canada and beyond
Kane Ocean’s debut photo book, WAYN, is a rip-roaring journey through the Canada-born artist’s personal life and travels. Shot over the course of the past five years, the book brings together candid photos of crowded gigs, sun-scorched beaches, and raucous late-night scenes on city streets. These raw images are interspersed with striking portraits of friends and acquaintances taken around the world, including figures from the universe of skateboarding and the Montreal music scene. While WAYN is a personal look at life through Ocean’s ad-hoc lens, it is also a tribute to friendship, nightlife, and contemporary youth culture – and in particular the people and places which form Canada’s underground youth scene.
Shot in a freewheeling documentary style, the book is markedly different from Ocean’s bright and slick fashion photography, which he has shot for brands like Burberry and Ssense, as well as lensing global stars such as Kaytranada and Pharrell. “What’s different about WAYN is it’s purely informed by my own views, instincts, and sensibilities,” Ocean tells AnOther of the project.
This instinctual feeling can be traced back to the passions of Ocean’s formative years, which he spent skateboarding and playing in bands, and later, DJing at parties, nightclubs, and running a small record label with his friends called ‘00:AM’. “I was born and raised in Vancouver,” he says. “My parents met tree-planting and had me and my siblings pretty fast. As a kid, I was mainly into music, skateboarding, street hockey, and photography. One summer my mom and my siblings helped me set up a lemonade stand by the beach to earn money to buy my first drum kit. When I was 11 she signed me up for a 35mm photography course. The darkroom was really crazy to me. When I turned 15 I sold the drum set to buy my first proper camera.”
For Ocean, the worlds of music, skateboarding and photography were always connected, and for years he religiously documented his life and shared the images online. After a while, though, he felt that releasing his work on the internet was “vapid”, and was compelled to make something more meaningful with his diary photos. “I wanted to provide more context – to offer a more complete experience,” he says. “I decided to stop sharing the photos online, and began compiling the images for this book.”
In WAYN, we encounter a varied cast of characters, which range from friends of Ocean’s from the music scene to strangers met across the world. The photographer introduces us to a few: “Montreal’s famous bagpiper, rave Spiderman, a hole in a wall, Tyshawn Jones, the king of Norway (Skatebård), my late pet fish’s casket, and Dee, who has the most calming southern accent in the world.” He adds, jovially, “The rest you’ll have to see for yourself.” With little written context, the resulting book forms a visual tour of Ocean’s days and nights, inviting the viewer to imagine stories and sentiments around the action-packed scenes – from a self-portrait with a bloodied nose to a flaming rubbish bin in New York.
“The team and I spent a lot of time making WAYN just the way I wanted,” says Ocean of the final product. “I’m really hyped on it. There’s something nice about interacting with art without context sometimes. I like to be moved by art. So whether people feel seen by my point of view, the book resonates in a way I didn’t necessarily intend, or maybe they hate it – whichever way, I’m down.”