Calls for entry allow us to meet photographers that we may not known. We are always amazed at the amount of talent there is in the photographic world and feel honored that photographers take the time and expense to entire our calls, and to share their work.
Karen Hymer was one of the recipients of the 2016 Rfotofolio’s Choice Award. Her work has been shown at the Phoenix Art Museum, Center for Photographic Art, The Los Angeles Center for Photographic Arts, Soho Photo Gallery, Alex Ferrone Gallery, Art Intersection, The Center for Fine Art Photography, and The Washington Printmakers Gallery.
Please tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Tucson, Arizona and grew up mostly in Phoenix. I am the third child of four and grew up in a middle class family. I feel fortunate to have grown up in a time when children could play outside and roam around. I had a carefree childhood and was a bit of a wild child. Our neighborhood had a lot of kids so I spent a great deal of time riding bikes in the desert near our house, playing hide and seek among the citrus trees and exploring the alleys and canals. I was not exposed to the arts at home but I had a vivid imagination and was inquisitive so I guess that is how I ended up as an artist. I loved college and had many great teachers who inspired me to pursue teaching. I taught photography at Pima Community College in Tucson for 22 years then transitioned to my current staff position in the photography program. I am in charge of the digital and wet darkrooms, ordering and maintaining all equipment, supervising student aides, and seeing that all runs well. I really love teaching and offer private lessons, digital printing tutorials and Photogravure workshops.
How did you get started in photography?
I gravitated towards the arts in grade school. I liked to draw and color and remember doing paint–by–number pictures, mostly of horses – such a typical girl thing! My parents had an instamatic camera and I remember taking pictures of my pets, family and friends. When I was around twelve I found my grandfather’s Argus 35mm camera. We had a local camera store and the men there were very nice to me. They taught me how the camera worked and encouraged me to use black and white film. My first negatives were of my siblings, the family rabbits, poodle and myself. Looking back, it seems even at that young age I was examining where I fit in the work through self-images. The next summer I took a darkroom class from the Parks and Recreation. I will never forget loading film for the first time and how hot it was in the room! Phoenix in the summer without air conditioning is miserable. My high school did not teach photography in the art department so I joined the yearbook staff as a photographer and also took all the art classes offered. I think my early photographs were mostly of people – really about moments and memory – a way of holding on to feelings of happiness and belonging.
Where did you get your photographic training?
Well, I was a restless spirit and tried various schools. I started at an experimental college in Southern California called Johnston College, located on the campus of the University of Redlands. It was a wonderful place but after my freshman year they cut my financial aid so I couldn’t return. I drove cross-country with my roommate, lived on Long Island for six months then returned to Arizona and attended ASU for a few years. The photo program there was excellent, but it was not a good fit for me. I was doing self-portraits at a time when the work of the New Topographics was in full force. I moved east, lived on Martha’s Vineyard for a year, examining my life and trying to figure out if I was committed enough to study art. Winter on the Vineyard was bleak and full of various temptations – so during that time I applied to the School Museum of Fine Arts in Boston/Tufts University and went there to finish my BFA. I had never lived in a large city before and found Boston and the Museum School very exciting. I did miss the open spaces and light of the west so after graduating I moved to New Mexico. I next attended the University New Mexico, in Albuquerque where I earned my MA and MFA. I have always been interested in blending photography with other media (paint, printmaking, encaustics) so the Museum School and UNM were good fits for me. I love learning and continue to take workshops whenever possible.
Did you have a mentor?
I really have not had one mentor. Since I went to so many schools I was fortunate to have studied with many excellent faculty in various disciplines such as art history, painting and creative writing. I would list the following people as having helped me along my path, encouraging me to find my own voice: in high school – Sylvia Orman, Nancy Tamute and Errol Zimmerman; in college – Michel Landa at Johnston College; Bill Jay, James Hacjek, and Earl Linderman at ASU; Bill Burke, Bonnie Donahue, and Sandra Stark at the Museum School; Betty Hahn, Tom Barrow, Patrick Nagatani, Nick Abdalla, and Douglas George at the UNM. More recently Dan Welden, Dan Burkholder, Jill Skupin Burkholder, and Diana Bloomfield through workshops.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
It would be hard for me to choose between Julia Margaret Cameron and Frida Kahlo. I have admired their figurative work for most of my life. Both women made amazing art at times when it was hard for women to be artists. Also, both worked in ways that was contrary to the popular style of their time. Cameron’s soft focus, close up portraits are intimate and emotionally expressive and not well received during her lifetime. Kahlo did small self-portraits at a time when the Mexican muralists ruled supreme. I admire their inner strength to follow their hearts and make the work open, emotional and vulnerable.
What hangs on your walls?
Well, not as much as I would like! I have a big box full of wonderful images by photographers and printmakers just waiting to be framed…. Up at the moment is a litho by Kathryn Polk, a cigar box bird painting by Ed Musante, an etching by Penny Batelle, a pastel kimono drawing by Nick Abdalla, a wall covered with Mexican masks and, since my studio is part of my living space, a variety of my own photogravures.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time and why?
I would say, “The Two Fridas” by Kahlo impacted me greatly, as did her other images, when I first saw them as an undergraduate. I was struck by the direct way she displayed raw emotion in her self-images. She spoke boldly of her experience as a woman in her small, intimate paintings. I had never seen anything like them before. Even with all the commercialism that now surrounds her work, I respond deeply to her images.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
This is the hardest question for me. I keep coming back to a very early self-portrait negative I made that was very over exposed so the figure printed distorted and ghostly. It was not what I had intended or expected but it had a beautiful mysterious quality that was powerful. This taught me to stay open and loose, to play with the medium and allow for happy accidents. That is a lesson I have to remind myself of constantly when I find myself getting too precious or predictable.
Please tell us about your series “Remnants”.
This series grew out of an exploration of my body that I started a few years back. My marriage of twenty-five years had ended so my world had changed in most everyway. Being single in my 50’s led me to examine my aging body and my place in the world.
The early images were extreme black and white close-ups of my skin shot with my iphone and then enlarged 32” x 32” and displayed in a grid of 4 so the final pieces were 64” x 64”, floated on the wall. The images had a bit of a grotesque feel – sometimes reading as internal body organs of monumental scale. After I pondered them I decided I wanted the work to transition to images that were more poetic, still about the aging body, but visually beautiful and seductive.
Around this time I took a printmaking class at the college where I work and fell in love with the photopolymer gravure process. I have always been drawn to manipulating the surface of my photos, adding color and texture. The gravure process was a natural fit for me and for these images in particular.
I was thinking about the effects time has had on my body and also how over time my connection to place and the land has changed. I grew up in the desert collecting dead animals, dried plants and rocks. I moved from the desert into the city and began to think more about my connection to the land. The desert landscape inspired me to seek relationships between the transformation of my own aging body and the processes of decay in the natural world. I pulled the camera back a bit, showing more of the body, but still somewhat abstract. I started including decaying desert plants and animals, emphasizing the interplay of texture, pattern, light and shadow, while working with the muted earth tones of the desert. It is my hope that these visual “remnants”—decontextualized close-ups of the human body and remains of plants and animals—reveal the subtle poetry of aging and decay and invite the viewer to see beauty in unexpected places.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I am not much interested in equipment – I use whatever camera or light source will do the job, though I do have a fondness for my old Diana’s. I guess I would say at this time the essential piece of equipment in my studio is my etching press – a requirement for making photogravures.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or the photographic world?
I would like to see more photographic artists concentrate on content instead of subject matter or technique. Also, the over sharpening and over saturation of digital images – sorry that is two!
What’s on the horizon?
I plan to continue to offer photogravure workshops and am interested in pursuing different venues. I usually work on a few bodies of images simultaneously, it makes me a bit crazy at times but I just can’t help myself. I am still making gravures related to the “Remnants” series, playing with more applied color.
I have started a new series of Gum bichromate prints, loosely titled “Flesh and Food.” The work is influenced by the cookbook , “Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses” by Chilean writer, Isabel Allende. She states that food, like eroticism starts with the eyes. My eyes are drawn to fruits and vegetables past their prime and to bodies that display the evidence of aging. The images in this series pair the aging body with foods believed to be aphrodisiacs.
The third series I am involved with are lumen prints, cyanotypes and gravures of botanicals (many of them invasive species) and other land images that question how we think of and relate to the earth and place. In all my work I strive to create images that are beautiful and poetic with elements of the unexpected.
Thank you Karen.
Karen’s work will be in the 2017 INPrint Exhibition at Photo Méthode in Austin this coming March.
To learn more about the work of Karen Hymer please visit her site at Karen Hymer.