Karen Olson’s was a selected artist for the 2021 Rfotofolio Call in the category 3-dimensional work by Ann Jastrab and Diana Bloomfield.
“I was drawn to these sculptural pieces from the first moment I saw them. They work on so many levels, and I appreciate how the artist so expertly managed to convey both vulnerability and strength in each unique piece. I love their fluidity and translucent quality. Each choice made— from the images themselves to the paper and their scorched edges, and the way they’re so artfully and beautifully shaped— all have meaning and work so well together. Conceptually inventive, imaginative, and fully realized, this is a perfect example of how all the thoughtfully chosen details perfectly create the whole.” Diana Bloomfield
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I am a driven creative and a student of creativity with a keen interest in neuropsychology and biology. My work is collaborative and immersive. I am currently working at the intersection of human emotion and the natural world, that is, how intimately connecting with nature supports interpersonal communication and mental health. I live in Midcoast Maine, an area rich with opportunities to explore and test my theories. I spend many hours softly walking the forests near my home, camera in hand.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I am largely self-taught, although I have taken advantage of many in-person and online workshops at Maine Media and elsewhere.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Several years ago I attended a Maine Media workshop where curator Sybylla Smith taught her creative curriculum “Concept Aware.” It was a deep dive into the world of photography projects, specifically how to reach inside and pull out a body of work that matters to you, has impact, and resonates with others. We explored the specific elements of imagery that draw us in and hold us there. This framework has strengthened my artistic practice and is the method with which I go about creating a project conceptually. My connection with Sybylla continues in the form of collaborations and inspiring sessions.
I must also mention another instructor and fellow photographer, Dawn Surratt. Dawn has had a strong influence on my process and how I see myself as an artist. This is especially true with regard to my object work but also with my work as a whole. I look forward to continued connections with Dawn.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Although I love all the works in Lauren Semivan’s series, “Sight’s Periphery”, there is one particular image that I keep going back to. As far as I know, it is untitled. Both abstract and figurative, the work is expressive and intriguing, employing an ephemeral sculptural environment, self-portraiture, and alternative process. I am in love with Lauren’s work. It speaks to my background as a multi-disciplinary artist. It’s one of those images that holds me still, exploring every subtle nuance.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I have to say, it is the image “Fire No Flame,” from the series “Between Two Worlds.” I almost did not include it in the series, I felt it was surely too raw and real to let out into the world. But I included it anyway because the entire concept was to share a deeply personal experience and encourage others to do the same. The piece was later accepted for a show at the Torpedo Arts Center on mental health. It was an honor that the image was used for the purpose it was created. I learned the more personal a body of work is the more universally relative it is. And this is indeed why I make the work I do.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Rfotofolio Call.
The work is from the sculptural series, “Hold Me In Truth”. This series is the second iteration of paper sculptures I began working on in 2021. The work began with a desire to create a three-dimensional representation of my forest bathing experience. The forms are ethereal and translucent, depicting the idea of an embrace. To create the sculptures, I employ ancient Japanese techniques combined with a unique process I developed allowing the Japanese papers to be formed and sculpted to suit the imagery. To create the photographs, I visit the same trees near my home day after day. Today I will visit them in the early morning sunlight, tomorrow, it will be the dull white light of an overcast afternoon. Season after season their delicate beauty supports me and holds me in truth. It is a delightful process to express sensory impressions from my daily interactions. The tactile practice of folding, crumpling, shaping, and burning, connects me to my immediate environment in a powerful way.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
That’s a really hard question! Do I love collaborating with models? Absolutely! This is my favorite thing to do. When two people create freely in the same space on the same project, a creativity explosion occurs as two minds in flow seem to exponentially come alive with discovery and clarity. The camera becomes a third mind in a way as it also acts as a collaborator. But I have to say I really love the editing process as well. And now there is this thing I do, playing with paper, sculpting it, burning it. It has become a bit of an obsession.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
We all have them, don’t we? Most of the time I have to come to a realization that I am pushing to create too tight of a perceived outcome or vision. If I try and fit into a narrow construct the work suffers. I have to let it go. So to pull myself out of this mindset and into a flow state I do something I am completely unfamiliar with. I bring in a sense of exploration with no expectations. Before long, I am back in the zone.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
As far as photography equipment I am definitely a fan of art lenses. I have used a variety of Lensbaby lenses over the years, which I love. Lately, I have been using a manual focus, 50mm lens made by Meike suited for the mirrorless camera I have. This sweet piece of glass allows me to quickly change both the F-stop and the focus located on the barrel of the lens. I can adapt to light fluctuations or adjust the depth of field smoothly and easily. It has proven to be a real advantage when working with a model or capturing scenery outdoors. Lightroom is hugely important to me for editing. For sculpture, it’s the culinary torch I use to paint with fire.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
Yes. I am working on an immersive and interactive installation designed to give the viewer a forest-bathing experience. It will include two and three-dimensional works but I also want to include cinemagraphs or video. This is totally outside my comfort zone. But I have had this particular imagery rolling around in my head for some time now, maybe this is the year it ends up on the wall.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Art is the way I see the world. When I look at a tree I see abstract forms and interconnecting lines, when contemplate a concept I see it visually. I have learned to lean into this, to explore the important things I need to understand about myself and the world around me artistically.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
Previous to the pandemic I worked figuratively. When the pandemic hit I started walking in the woods. Of all the work I had done previously, I had not explored landscape photography of any kind. Nevertheless, it was not possible to work with models for many months and I could not leave my camera at home. In time, I discovered a way to capture the multi-sensory experience I was having in the forest. It turned out to be a joyful practice! This new element has been an essential component in my recent work.
Overall, my practice has become more intense and more important to me. It has been essential in keeping me healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Thank you Karen.
To learn more about the work of Karen Olson please visit her site by clicking on her name.