May 7(Used Bathwater) © Galina Kurlat

Today we are pleased to share the work of Galina Kurlat.

Please tell us about yourself?

I was born in Moscow in 1981. My family, along with many Jews, moved us to the US just before the fall of the USSR. Although I assimilated quickly, I have lived in-between identities for most of my life, like many people who have left their homeland. It is from this liminal space that I engage my subjects. Using analog photographic techniques, I explore themes of intimacy, identity, and uncertainty.

I currently live and work in Brooklyn, NY.

Where did you get your photographic training?

 I attended the Art Student’s League in NYC from an early age, where I took classes in; drawing, painting, and sculpture. Unfortunately, by the time I attended high school, I wasn’t a great student and spent more time skipping class than attending. My only saving grace was the darkroom. It was there that I would spend long hours printing under the meditative glow of the red lights.

My fascination with making photographs led me to pursue a degree at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.

Who has had an influence on your creative process?

 I look toward a mix of photographers and visual artists for inspiration. These include; Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kiki Smith, Sally Mann, Halim Al Karim, Chris McCaw, Sarah Moon, Mark Rothko, The Starn Twins, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alison Rossiter, and Minor White.

Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.

Last summer, I visited Yossi Millo Gallery in NYC to see the new Alison Rossiter exhibition. Early on in my career, I viewed her Quad pieces and felt an immediate connection to her evocation of time and history through the selective development of expired papers.

I was especially moved by her large-scale prints made with Gevaert Gevaluxe Velour’s paper during my visit to Yossi. I was so excited to hear the paper came from Pierre Cordier’s personal paper collection. These monumental photographs were selectively developed halfway, revealing 90 years of marks, light leaks, and layers of density. The other half of the paper was left undeveloped but had gone through the stop bath and fix. This technique and her abstract imagery connected so profoundly with my ongoing search for both presence and absence in a photograph and the latent potential in analog imagery.

What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?

My work has been primarily representational, with a nod to abstraction using degradation of film and the passage of time. In 2020, I experimented with abstraction using sunlight and silver gelatin paper to create one-of-a-kind lumen prints. Although I had been getting closer and closer to full abstraction previously, the portrait or figure was a familiar territory that I was not ready to let go of.

But as New York City entered lockdown, my partner and I left our studio in early March with only a handful of art-making materials, and experimentation in our Brooklyn apartment hide-out seemed inevitable. I remember those first few lumen prints made under our window light; some exposed for a few hours, others days and days, their surface marked with the traces of our bodies. I have worked with black and white imagery most of my career, but as these tiny prints began to blossom before my eyes, I knew this would be my new visual language.

Please click on images to see a different view.

Please tell us about your lumen work and the inspiration behind it?

This series began early on during the Coronavirus pandemic. I found a combination of my and my partner Adam’s hair in the shower drain. Since my early college years, I have had a fascination with the evidence our bodies leave behind in our intimate interiors. As we spent so much time together, it became the right moment to experiment with this concept.

Using the materials available to me, I made a lumen photogram of these remnants. Hair, spit, blood, urine, and nail clippings left their marks on the surface of photographic paper. This distillation of the body’s presence seemed like a breakthrough, an affirmation, evidence of existence, and a (self)portrait unlike any I’d made before.

After so many years of working primarily in black and white, I enjoyed the monochrome yet lush palate of the silver paper when exposed to sunlight. My early prints were small experiments using only window light, exposed for hours and sometimes days. I made these images in the interiors we occupy with consideration to the light we experienced, day in and day out.

What part of the image-making process do you find the most rewarding?

I am interested in the potential of analog photographic processes. The latent image revealed in a darkroom, the surprising effect of sunlight on silver gelatin paper, the slow change of an improperly treated negative as information degrades, revealing something temporal yet new.

Unlike other visual mediums, photography is burdened with the responsibility (however flawed) of representation and documentation, but this is only one aspect of the medium. I am most excited when the photographic process I am using integrates with the subject or becomes the subject itself.

How do you work through the times when nothing seems to work?

I hope to stay open to the creative process’ potential and possibilities. I trust that the work will take me in an exciting direction. Trust can be challenging, especially when working in a new series or process. But I find that making work whenever the possibility arises helps me pass through the doldrums of the creative process.

I wish I could say I make photographs consistently and within a dedicated time frame, but that is just unrealistic. Most of my work happens during carved-out hours, in between other obligations. When I cannot make it to the studio, I try to create within my domestic setting. You will find me often setting up a few lumens before my morning coffee.

What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?

I use traditional darkroom techniques, including wet collodion, expired Polaroid film, and lumen prints. Using analog photographic processes, I allow chaos and uncertainty to take on a critical role in my image-making. By relinquishing some control to the medium, I hope to create a space for collaboration between myself and the process.

Time is an essential element in my work; I am interested in extending the time it takes to make a photograph from a fraction of a second to hours, weeks, and sometimes years.

In some ways, this work is part personal performance, part painting, and part photography. The mark-making and surface disruptions are, to some degree, unpredictable, but it’s this uncertainty that ultimately excites and inspires me.

Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?

Currently, I am working on layering the lumen prints using translucent materials; I am in the experimental stage of this process.

How does your art affect the way you see the world?

In my experience, being a female artist in the U.S. can be a frustrating and a challenging career choice. I have worked one or two side jobs in addition to my creative practice for most of my life. Teaching, shooting commercially, and bartending along the way.  But I would not give up my artistic practice as it is an integral part of my identity, regardless of its challenges. I believe being an artist gives me a kind of wild permission to embrace chance and possibility.

Has the pandemic influenced your work methods ? Or has it?

Charting The Hours is a distillation of my portrait-making practice. In early 2019 I was already moving towards abstracting the figure using “improper” collodion techniques, often obscuring the sitter’s identity with chemistry. However, once NYC entered lockdown, this experimentation was fast-tracked. Although the body is my primary subject, I learned that this imagery could reach beyond representation. In the case of Charting the Hours, the abstract imagery becomes a subversion of figurative photography and an ongoing investigation of the body as both vulnerable and ever-changing.

Thank you Galina, to learn more about the work of Galina Kurlat please visit her site by clicking on her name.

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