Saturday, October 24, 2015

KLEA McKENNA | Contact: Direct Reflections of Landscape — Featured Interview @ lensculture

For the past few years, California Bay Area artist Klea McKenna has focused her attention on photograms—an image created directly on a light-sensitive surface, without the aid of a camera. By responding deeply and personally to particular locations, McKenna produces large, immersive works that, though seemingly abstract, retain a direct link to the environment that produced them.

Her work is beautiful yet entirely mysterious. Each photogram (which is unique) seems to hold a silent secret that pulls us in deeper with each passing moment. Managing editor Alexander Strecker had the chance to sit down with McKenna and find out more about her work and the lessons she has learned as an artist.

LC: Walk us through constructing one of your photograms, say your "Rain Study" series. You take a piece of photo-paper, you bring it outside and...?

KM: For my "Rain Studies," I work at night, outdoors, in the pitch darkness. I need to work far away from civilization and on nights where there is no (or very little) moonlight. Lately I've been making Rain Studies in Hawaii and I try to schedule my stays to coincide with the dark of the moon or to work at night when the moon hasn’t risen yet or has already set. And of course, it has to be raining!

While I work, I have a covered area that I can keep my supplies under, a garage, barn or when I'm in Hawaii I work out of a shipping container in the forest. I run in and out of the rain and my work station and make exposures using flashlights.

The things that affect the finished image: every storm is different and there are different-sized raindrops and different patterns that the drops make. The part I can control that affects the image are the angles: there's the angle of the light to the paper, the angle of the light to the rain, the angle of the rain to the paper. After all, if you think about photography—the film and the camera, enlarging in the darkroom—the relationship between the substrate and the light is almost always perpendicular. If you change that, a whole world of possibilities opens up.

When I'm in Hawaii (or really anywhere working on location) I work completely blind for a few weeks. It's like the entire outdoors become my darkroom—but since I don’t actually have a wet darkroom out there, I can't develop anything. Two weeks is usually the psychological limit to how long I can work without seeing any results. After that, I start to doubt myself and ask, "Maybe this is all just gonna be black...what am I even doing?" 

LC: What inspires you to pick the locations that you choose?

KM: The landscapes I choose are places that hold some personal significance for me or mark a collective history that I find interesting. Although I'm very thoughtful about where I go, in the end, my aim is to make my materials interact directly with the place, to figure out ways to make the landscape imprint on my materials. I'm trying to orchestrate an interaction—but mostly I'm trying to get out of the way.

A few years ago, I went back to Hawaii where I had spent much of my early childhood. Since my dad had died a decade earlier, I hadn't been back much. But I decided to return to our family house—way up in the middle of nowhere, off-the-grid and adjoining a forest preserve—and just bring all of my light-sensitive materials.

The way I work is rooted in a deep observation of the landscape and of nature. And each work comes out of direct contact with its surrounding environment. In that way, it's totally photographic: there's a direct reference to reality. Even if the work appears abstract at first glance, it's actually hyperrealistic in some cases.

Read full interview @ lensculture

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