Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published on our previous platform, In the In-Between: Journal of Digital Imaging Artists, and the formatting has not been optimized for the new website.
Armed with an iphone and an imagination, Karen Divine creates surrealistic scenes crafted through photographs and illustration. She brings to life a world of color, symbolism, and imagination that are often reflections of her own personal experiences.
Gregory Jones: First off Karen, you describe yourself as a self-taught artist, how did you get interested in photography, and how important was it to find mentors to help guide you through your early years?
Karen Divine: In the early 70’s I moved to NYC to pursue modeling. Eileen Ford said yes and it seemed like a potentially good source of income. Within six months I realized that the idea of creating images was far more exciting so I returned to Boston, bought a Nikkormat and signed up for a darkroom class. Over the next 40 years I studied art wherever I could, painting, drawing, woodworking, ceramics and photography. A mentor was anyone who could teach me whatever I wanted to learn at the time and that still continues.
GJ: Your work is made primarily through the manipulation of pictures made on your iphone; tell us a bit about your process and why you decide to work in this way?
KD: Initially I shot single images like everyone else but I wanted to create what was in my mind and not what was in front of me. I was a painter at heart yet loved the ease of photography. My first experience in photo manipulation outside the darkroom was in the 70’s with Polaroids, the SX70, then emulsion and gel transfer processes.In 2001 I took my first Photoshop Class and it instantly became my Pandora’s Box. I could change my mind and undo my decisions at any moment, thereby eliminating the fear of making mistakes.
I spent hundreds of hours playing, and while conscious decisions are necessary, I learned to follow my intuition. I then studied gel transfers and mixed media using my photographs. When I shifted to the iphone, compositing was already embedded in my process and I simply had to change my approach. With the iphone there is no history palette and images flatten automatically after each placement requiring careful thought before moving to the next step, similar to working with watercolors. I could now create anytime, anywhere and that for me was another form of freedom.
GJ: In many of your pictures your color palette is rich and lyrical, and figures are suspended in space with no grounding, much like drawings made by children. There is also a great deal of imagination and a sense of play. Particularly in your series, Not Just for Kids, you seem to make images with a type of child’s wonder, do you agree with that? Where do you think this type of inspiration comes from?
KD: My Not Just for Kids series was created in Photoshop. It was my first attempt to create an image around someone else’s story. I wasn’t sure I’d like having boundaries yet welcomed the challenge. Embellishing it with my own ideas, the images took on a life of their own.
As we move through our life, so many elements affect us that we tend to miss with our conscious minds. If we allow our intuition to move us, our work becomes an expression of these influences. I am constantly inspired by other artists, by things I see around me, colors, forms, photographs, even parts of a painting or a texture on a wall.
As Rilke expresses beautifully in Letters to a Young Poet: “Depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and beliefs in some kind of beauty, depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory.” I have learned to step out of my way, quiet the critic and allow the process to happen, revealing to me a story. For children, this is a natural process, they haven’t yet learned restraint and that is extremely important in creativity.
Chagall is my muse, as well as the works of Paul Strand, Duane Michals, Sally Mann, Christopher James and Keith Carter. In Mexico I discovered the surrealist painter Remedios Varo and later another beautiful book called Tantra Song by Franck Andre Jamme. Recently I saw films by Stan Brakhage whose alternative film-making was a mesmerizing composite of many single frames. The list is endless and includes many international iphone artists who share their work online.
GJ: You made a series of nudes with the intent to learn how a female figure may be represented from a woman’s point-of view, as opposed to the typically male-dominated tradition. Please tell us more about this project; did you come to any conclusions with your results?
KD: My original question asked: “Are we shooting the female form for its lines and shapes that make an image visually appealing or is the image a reflection of our own sensuous or objective being?” In answering these questions, I discovered a woman, playful, sinuous, and provocative, a bit off in her antics and movements, confident, doubtful but always wanting to present herself in freedom. The work became more about discovering my female side and less about comparing male/female perspectives. [Artists] show a reflection of a part of ourselves, how can it be anything else? I quickly discovered what was lurking in my psyche in regards to my own naked self.
GJ: I’m also drawn to another series of yours, Strange Things are Happening in Barbara Hepworth’s Bed. Each picture advances a narrative about one particular character. The imagery is comical and charming, and you employ symbolism with several objects related to domestic living. The series goes on to introduce some other characters and becomes to me a sort of silly and cerebral imaginary tea party.
It’s hard to look at these images without considering them as self-portraits, despite the fact that you modeled the character after the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Can it go both ways?
KD. On holiday in England, I went to visit Barbara Hepworth’s studio in St.Ives, Cornwall, and took a simple picture of her outdoor studio with a daybed. I was using my iphone at the time and the image was simple and provocative. I wondered about all the things that might have happened in that room and so began the story. And yes, most of the images I created over the next few weeks during my holiday were actually metaphors for things that were happening to me at the time or memories from my past. I made the image of a character smoking in bed which lead to a fire and her ultimate demise, but I was not ready for the story to end so I brought her back after life, reversed some of the colors in the room and “strange things” as the characters became known, carried on.
With a rather perplexed look on their faces, they began a new, uncharted journey. They put on their dancing shoes and searched for a dance floor; staged an opera; gathered for a party and sought out treasures. The last piece of the series called Discovering the Collective Unconscious have all the characters wandering on a map and in the legend they are given their archetypal name, their role in the story. This final piece was composed in Photoshop.
GJ: Last but not least, what’s coming up for you over the next year, photographically or otherwise?
KD: I have more ideas than I can manifest and I work every day. I want to create large mixed media pieces using my photographs, I have been invited to teach about the creative process on the iphone at the Santa Fe Workshops in March of 2013 and I will be teaching iphone in Denver at Colorado Photographic Arts Center in the fall. I have created large murals for kids’ rooms and fabrics with my images. I just shoot my life, stay present and watch what develops. The opportunities are endless.
Karen Divine has been shooting images since 1972 and has won numerous International Awards including: Discovery of the Year with the International Photography Awards in NYC 2011, First Place in Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Julia Margaret Cameron, Prix de la Photographie Gold Award, Eyephonegraphy #3 in Madrid on Touhttp://www.inthein-between.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=69&action=editr through Spain 2013, WPGA Pollux Award First Place, exhibitions in Atlanta, NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boulder, CO, Texas Photographic Print Program, and the Center for Fine Art Photography just to name a few. Karen resides in Boulder, Colorado and will be offering iphone workshops in Denver this fall and at the Santa Fe Workshops in 2013.
Interview written by Gregory Jones
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