Monday, April 29, 2013

Krista Steinke

Krista Steinke was born in Richmond, Virginia but grew up mostly in Texas. She received a BA in Art and the Advanced Humanities from Valparaiso University, a BFA in Studio Art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a MFA in Photography and Digital Imaging from The Maryland Institute, College of Art. Her work has been included in exhibitions from New York to LA and her time-based work has been featured in film and video festivals around the globe. She has received several awards and fellowships for her work, including an Artist Residency at Light Work, an Image Award from CENTER, Santa Fe, and recently, a 2012 Promise Award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Krista lives in the Philadelphia area. Her work is represented by the Schmidt Dean Gallery.

View more of her work here 

Ashley Kauschinger: Were you drawn to living on Purgatory Road because of its local folklore? How did the series surrounding this area begin? 

Krista Steinke:
Purgatory Road is a wooded pathway (in some ways it is more like an extremely long driveway) leading up to a cabin by a small lake in rural New York State. This property has been in my husband’s family for generations, and I have spent the past twelve summers living in this area. As a professor, I find the summer months off from teaching to be a critical time in terms of my creative work. During the summer, I try to photograph every day; I naturally gravitated towards this place as a subject because of its haunting beauty and uncanny resemblance to a setting in a children’s story. When I first started this project (approximately twelve years ago), I took a straightforward approach to photographing the landscape. However, over time, I realized I was less interested in producing documentary-style photographs and more interested in using the natural environment as a platform for exploring the metaphorical implications behind the folklore that surrounds this area. It took me about ten years to figure out how to execute this project in a way that felt poetic, and at the same time, evoked a sense of place. 

AK: You use handmade filters to help create the aesthetic of these images. Do you feel this creates a barrier, window, and/or passage between one world and another? Do you create a specific filter for each image? 

KS: I have used the terms “window” and “passage” in explaining this work, but I have not thought about the use of filters in terms of “a barrier” – that’s another interesting read on these images. But yes, the concept of portraying a state of “in- between” (i.e., “Purgatory” – figuratively, not literally) is the main theme behind this series. Shooting through these handmade filters, in essence, is a way to obscure or abstract reality and create an illusion that suggests an intersection between two different spaces – a meeting place where two conceptual polarities collide, become blurry, muddied or ambiguous. 

I have over fifty pieces of Plexiglass sheets that were donated to me by a friend who manages a gallery. These vary in length from 5 inches to 8 feet. I first treat them with various painting mediums and then leave them outside to be weathered by the natural elements. They are rained on, bleached out by the sun, and often become embedded with bugs, leaves, spider webs, and dirt. I love the idea of nature serving as both my subject and collaborator. When I head out to shoot along the road, I load up a little red wagon with photo equipment and a random selection of these Plexiglass sheets. I reuse the filters as needed, and their appearance continues to change as they are banged around and left outside over time. 

AK: This series is exploring several concepts-- legends, stages of life, the unconscious, the in-between, the environment, etc. Are these ideas inspired by personal experiences, research, and curiosity? 

KS: Although never directly autobiographical, my work always seems to parallel the events, questions, and issues that infiltrate my everyday life. Research, curiosity, and personal experience all play a role in how my work develops. For years, my ideas have been framed around my interest in narrative, myth, and metaphor, and it is through “research” that I am able to locate stories that can visually inform these ideas. “Curiosity” is usually what drives my interest in experimenting with the photographic medium and finding new ways to approach materials and techniques. “Personal experience” often sets the tone for my work and points to some underlying emotional influence or psychological impulse that compels me to explore a particular subject in depth. The year that I embarked on producing “Purgatory Road”, my father had a life-threatening health scare and had to undergo serious surgery. Fortunately, the outcome was positive, but the experience weighed heavily on my mind that summer and certainly influenced the creative output for this series. 

In general, I have always been interested in creating multilayered work that can be interpreted through a variety of vantage points. My goal is to present open-ended references or unresolved moments which allow for various levels of meaning or associations to emerge. 

AK: What advice would you give about making a cohesive body of work and the editing process? 

KS: From my experience, creating a cohesive body of work takes time, exploration, revision, reflection, and then more revision. As much as I dislike writing artist statements and grant proposals, I find the writing process to be a critical component in helping me articulate the ideas and intentions that I am trying to visually communicate. My writing changes as the work changes – it is an ongoing, fluid process. The element of time has also been important in the evolution of my work. For me, it has been necessary to give ideas the space to incubate, brew, and ripen. (As I already mentioned, it has taken almost twelve years for “Purgatory Road” to be realized, and the series is still in progress.) 

When it comes to “reflection”, seeking critical feedback from someone with an objective point of view can be extremely valuable. As the saying goes, “photographers are the worst editors of their own work”. With that in mind, I think it is advantageous to seek the support of others who can provide honest, solid feedback. My husband, for example, is trained as a painter and works in digital media. He has a unique perspective as an artist and always seems to find bizarre connections in my work that I would have never considered without his input. (He is also my worst critic, so once I get through a critique with him, I am good to go.) Portfolio reviews are also ideal moments to observe how work is communicating to an outside audience. On average, I like to attend at least one professional portfolio review a year. Preparing for the portfolio review can be a helpful exercise in learning how to strategically edit and sequence work, as the order and the amount of images presented can be critical in how a body of work is ultimately perceived. Finally, in creating a cohesive series, it’s important to remember that not every image in the mix needs to be a home run or stand-alone piece. Images that are small, quiet pauses can be powerful, poignant moments when viewing the work in its entirety.

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