Today we are pleased to share the work and words of Sara Silks.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I often joke that I was born, raised, and branded in Kansas City, which was best known for being a cattle town at one point in history. I would describe my childhood as one of renegade youth, where little or no supervision during the Ozark summers led to investigations, discovery, and a spirited “oneness” with the land and waters around me. I enjoyed endless hours of exploring and quiet observation, often alone from the age of eight onward, and an awareness of this “oneness” has seeped into my very being, almost as part of my DNA. Family circumstances and my mother’s illnesses kept me near home, and I attended the University of Kansas for undergraduate BA degrees in Visual Arts and Art History, and my MA in Art History. The Kansas City Art Institute and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art were both important resources for me as a child and also figured in my education. I still live on the outskirts of the city and have my studio in my home.
How did you get started in photography?
My mother always encouraged my artistic leanings, and I became the family paparazzi at an early age. I remember my great joy in capturing the image of my diva older sister with orange juice cans as rollers in her hair, and it hooked me. My work matured with time, and I include drawing, painting, and printmaking among my interests.
My grandfather gave me a small Kodak instamatic camera, and my grandmother gave me an antique Kodak 1A pocket folding camera that had been in her family, which I still have today. I used both until I was older, but I generally turned to drawing to express my creative impulses.
I taught photography for many years to support my own work, and it gave me much in return. I learned to discipline and manage my time, and I was allowed to experiment with film, analog, alternative, and digital processes every day. I look back and realize how much I was growing as an artist, even though I did not produce much personal work during those years. I will often tell people when they ask how long it took me to make something that it was “twenty years in the making.”
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Ten years ago, I took an Advanced Alternative Processes workshop with Christopher James at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. His mentorship and the fabulous alternative photographic work that I saw at the Verve Gallery (Josephine Sacabo, Elizabeth Opalenik, Jennifer Schlesinger, Caitlin Soldan) inspired and motivated me to continue my studies in alternative processes, and I credit that with where I am today.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has inspired you.
There are so many, this is a tough question! I think I’ll answer with a time in photographic history that inspires me….I’d love to be a fly on the wall for some of the shoots that Sarah Moon did for the fashion industry, especially when she was using the large Polaroid format. If I were lucky enough to be in a club, it would be in New York City in the early days with Mary Ellen Mark, Ralph Gibson, and Larry Clark. I would, of course, be much cooler now.
Is there an image that you wish you would have taken and can you still see it?
One time in Hawaii on the road to Hana, my film did not advance. I lost some tremendous
waterfall images. I can still see and feel those, and it is especially poignant now, with the natural disasters and fires affecting Maui.
Click on images to see a different view.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
I work every day consistently on something related to photography or the art that I am making. I have several things going at once, and am never without “homework.” When a piece doesn’t come together initially, I tuck it away and come back to it later, or move on permanently from it. I get so much joy from following my ideas, and I have so many pent up, that I never feel stuck.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
The inspiration for my work comes from the geography and topography around me, both literally and metaphorically. I am always taking photographs as response to what is happening around me. When I begin a piece, the work appears, forms, and refines. The images that excite me the most are the ones in which some kind of visual tension is created by the elements within the image. Sometimes these are straight photographs, other times it could be in a combination of photographs. I would describe my work as both project and process based. Because I am always taking photographs, when I sketch or journal, I revisit these visual moments as my tiny diary of memories
and history. I begin with an idea, and then let the creative process take over, trusting that something magical will happen. I get a great sense of “completion” when I know an image is just right, the light in the image is perfect, and it is finished.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
I use large format and medium format film photography, antiquarian processes, and digital tools in my work. I have a printmaking and drawing background, and I try to incorporate those into my work as I grow as an artist. A sense of humor and the idea that failure is really just a path for invention might also be important in my toolbox.
What challenges have you faced as an artist?
The scope of the job is so much more that taking or making a photograph. The production,
promotion, exhibition, sales, and business side of the profession can be time consuming and overwhelming. Making the work is my focus at the moment.
I also began my current work later in life after having a great teaching experience. I do regret not doing more personal work earlier, but I also know that my work has matured more quickly because of my life perspective and experience that I did not have as a younger artist. Being in this profession requires a tough skin and resilience, as well a certain confidence and drive to keep going. Success is a long-term goal that requires maintenance and redefinition.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Photography has provided me with a wonderful way to explore all the atmospheric layers of the world around me. It is one tool that I use initially to speed up my artistic process. It creates the underpinnings of much of my work that I could not create as quickly by drawing or painting. I also like the history of the medium, and watching it evolve and change.
What’s on the horizon?
I feel like I have been a Ph.D student for the last decade, trying to catch up on what is current in my field, things I missed during my master’s work so long ago. I have buried myself in the history books published by MoMA in New York, and have tried to see as many live exhibits as possible. I also have attended Photo Reviews like Photolucida, where it is possible to see and interact with many curators and gallerists, and other artists.
Most recently, I have looked for writing and art theory on current photography, and have found books by Charlotte Cotton and Lyle Rexer to be very helpful to my particular needs.
I am also working on different projects concurrently, and shoot every day or work in the labs daily. At the moment, I have a series of 16×20 gelatin silver photograms that I am enjoying adding mark making to, and that are deeply personal. I have a book that is called “The Summer of Thirteen Puppies” which is forming, based on a memorable summer in the Ozarks of Missouri. I have a daily practice which I post on Instagram, and it has continued to spark new thoughts and ideas, and acts a journal of sorts.
I will not have enough time to make everything that I have been storing up during my teaching years, I am afraid!
Thank you Sara.
To learn more about the work of Sara Silks please click on her name.