Today we feature the work and words of Lynn Karlin.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
After graduating Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I began my career in New York City photographing for magazines and book companies by day –waitressing by night. Five years later, in 1975, I got a chance of a lifetime and was chosen to become the first woman staff photographer for Women’s Wear Daily and W covering collections, celebrity interviews, parties and travel features. I went on to freelance for The New York Times Magazine, House Beautiful and Country Living. Ready to move on from city life thirteen years later, l left for a farm on the coast of Maine. This gave me a new appreciation and respect for the land and the enjoyment of eating seasonal foods and growing flowers. Fourteen years ago, I began a quest to honor these humble vegetables by elevating them to the place where they belong: on a pedestal. The images in my fine- art collection, The Pedestal Series, often feature a single species isolated to retain the simplicity of the subject while highlighting the complexity of its sculptural form. Two other photographic series followed later: The Tray Series and The Still Life Series, the latter reminiscent of 17th century Dutch Masters.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
There are two photographers from the early 20th century who have had the most influence on my fine-art body of work. Charles Jones’ passion was photographing vegetables, flowers and fruit that he grew. He used neutral backgrounds to document his harvest, with very simple arrangements, often lining up his subjects. These were done purely for his own pleasure, never exhibiting them in public. After his death, his discarded work was discovered in a box at a London antique market. A similar approach, but more architectural in design, can be seen in the wonderful images of plant life by photographer Karl Blossfeldt. My photography is a result of my admiration for and inspiration from these artists. Photographing vegetables, flowers, fruit and edible plants has become my passion too.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has inspired you.
While studying in college, I was introduced to the black & white photographs of Edward Weston. His Pepper No.30 from 1930 made a lasting impression. I intentionally have stayed away from photographing peppers; how could any image come close to the sensuousness and beauty that he depicted? I admire his sense of simplicity, form, light and his rich, dark background.
Is there an image that you wish you would have taken and can you still see it?
About twenty years ago on a press trip to the Netherlands with a dozen other photographers, we toured many colorful tulip farms. The farmer was there in this one particular garden. The photographers were huddled together photographing close-ups of the tulips or vistas of the vibrant fields, but one photographer had a different take. When we reviewed everyone’s images the next day, I thought what she captured stood out among all the rest. Her photo showed the old farmer’s hands holding a small bunch of tulips; his aged, textured hands against the delicate flowers taken in the warm, late day light was stunning. Sometimes one needs to break from the crowd and find their own story to tell. I often relate what I learned from that day to my students.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
Often, I work for hours in my studio, sometimes a day, to style one still life and it just doesn’t come together – so I walk away, do something else and return later for a fresh look. In a couple of cases, later meant the next day or even 2 days later and to my surprise sometimes I found the vegetables or flowers had wilted, gone-by, taken on a whole new form. “Radicchio Disrobing” is one example.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
Bringing back my ‘finds’ from the local farmers markets is always exciting. I work feverishly to come up with pleasing arrangements. I can’t always tell what I have until viewing the images on my computer. But when that one photo stands out among the others, my heart beats faster and it is very satisfying.
Do you have a process you use to print your work?
I would rather spend my time shooting than printing. I’ve had many darkrooms over my long career, in every possible space including a closet at college, so now I hire a master printer to make my archival digital prints as needed for exhibitions and orders. I supervise the first print of each new image and then he makes additional prints. It’s interesting to get his feed-back too after always working alone in the studio.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
I love to collect various dark backdrops and props with texture and a good patina. I find these at savage yards and antique shops. The local farmer’s markets and my prop room are where I get my inspiration for the day. A camera of course is most important, but having one that I am very comfortable with, in my case a Nikon DSLR, is essential. I believe the technical side of the work needs to be second nature. It frees you up to create.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I often need to rethink my subject matter in the winter months. Living in a cold climate, I don’t have as varied a selection of local produce to choose from. I will continue work on still lifes using kitchen utensils and flatware and try experimenting with household objects. I would also like to resume my portrait series, with humans not vegetables, which I started a couple of years ago.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Because of our complicated times, I seek beauty and simplicity which I try to capture in my photographs and share with others. Taking the time to really look around and appreciate even the small things can bring us pleasure and nourish our souls.