Fabrik Media

Art

Locating Self: Photographer Katrina Umber

Encountering the work of photographer Katrina Umber, it was evident that as an artist she is constantly striving to live her practice. The quiet confidence exuded by her person is also embodied within her images. Her photographs reflect the witnessing of a mind dedicated to looking for and seeing the presence of ‘self.’ I experience her gaze as one that is humanizing and therefore discreetly compassionate in its recognition of the vulnerability encompassed by being itself. The fertile stillness of Umber’s work urged me to deepen my understanding of her practice.

Included Middle (Highland Park flight), 2011 © Katrina Umber

Included Middle (Highland Park flight), 2011 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: Working concurrently on multiple bodies of work, you explore what you designate a fundamentally ontological question, “in what ways is it possible to access the experience and emotions of other beings, if at all?” I sense this investigation as potentially being deeply empathic. Is it and if so, can you speak to how engaging in your particular practice has cultivated the subtlety of your perception?

Katrina Umber: My practice derives from responsive encounters, an engagement with life as well as with the photographic process itself. I grew up artistically with so much theory about the potential violence of the gaze. While I take these ideas very seriously, along with a recognition of my own agency as photographer and the vulnerability of my subjects – it felt so good to come across Kaja Silverman’s idea of a “look whose fundamental mode is one of affirmation.” I also sustain a mode of continual self-questioning and exposure as a maker and subject of photographs in my long-standing practice of self-portraiture.

Soft Mirror (fireshrine), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Soft Mirror (fireshrine), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: In my understanding, utilizing photography to locate presence as well as make it palpable might bring artistic practice and spiritual discipline closer in that faithfulness and regularity will yield insights not otherwise accessible. Your images contain the certainty of witnessing, of an “I” who is looking, seeing. Could you also share in words what presence means to you and what informs your quest, if I may call it that, to locate it?

Embodiment is probably the best word to describe this sense of “presence.” That and the idea of being as a constant state of becoming. I look for a confluence of the physical, psychological and metaphysical. I view my object-making as a process of cathexis. In giving these fleeting encounters a physical reality, I imbue these objects with my desire, emotional energy, and investment towards my subjects through the sheer amount of time and energy spent.

Soft Mirror (yellowpomegranate), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Soft Mirror (yellowpomegranate), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: Is there value that resides in making presence palpable?

I strive to create work that asks to be experienced rather than simply read, works that encourage the viewer to feel and to be aware of their relationship/s to it.

Included Middle (Datura flower puncture), 2012 © Katrina Umber

Included Middle (Datura flower puncture), 2012 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: An intimacy inscribing your photography renders time vulnerable to capture. I feel the quiet triumph of deepening life’s ‘blessed-ness’ as well as complicating it by truth’s simplicity. How did you first find photography and can you share some of the journey that finds you here, in your Highland Park studio?

My first exposure to art was at the public library in the art stacks. I discovered photography in my mid-teens and was grateful to find a tool to help me think through my life. At some point early on I made a decision that whatever occurs in my life would be the parameters I would make my work within. My journey is all there in my work. For example, U records 15 years of emotional attachment and changes within my family as well as in my own development as a photographer. I’ve made books of portraits of artists in communities that I’ve been a part of, and portraits of myself over the last ten years, which essentially trace me becoming a woman.

Included Middle (Jesse subway/stone acrobat), 2012 © Katrina Umber

Included Middle (Jesse subway/stone acrobat), 2012 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: Can you elaborate on your experience with digital processes in your work?

I still shoot exclusively with film. Digital processes entered my work through my book-making; scanning, lay-out, etc. Included Middle will be my first series of inkjet prints because the photographs in that body of work ask for that – shot with a split-frame camera, they are real time and space juxtapositions that point simultaneously to my movement in the world and the films movement within the camera, hence the paper moving through the printer.

Soft Mirror (blueembrace), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Soft Mirror (blueembrace), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: How does the materiality of time inform your practice of chromogenic printing?

I would say time is really addressed and built into all of my work in different ways. Analog photography is not instantaneous- I must wait to see each exposed image and then deal with how the medium transforms the bit of reality I photographed (along with my experience and memory of it). This delay encourages that which is beyond what I may have intended. Currently I’m inviting more contingency into my practice with Soft Mirrors – chromogenic prints that have been soaked, the emulsion and original photographic image is etched away layer by layer, making and unmaking the image/object simultaneously.

Soft Mirror (ultramarinevoid), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Soft Mirror (ultramarinevoid), 2013 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: You studied at Art Center as an undergrad, graduated from the MFA program at UCLA where you studied with Mary Kelly, Cathy Opie, and Jim Welling, and recently were a resident at Skowhegan. What is it like being an artist in Los Angeles right now with regard to community and how does this inform your work?

Conversations and studio visits with friends and colleagues like Catherine Fairbanks, Job Piston, Kelly Kleinschrodt, and my husband, artist Jesse Robinson, have been invaluable. I could easily fill a page with the names of wonderful artists who live and work in this city. We have great galleries, museums, weather, and affordable studio rent! There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Included Middle (Mom dance/porch succulents), 2012 © Katrina Umber

Included Middle (Mom dance/porch succulents), 2012 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: Technology continues to change so many aspects of our lives. What is the nature of your relationship to technology, generally and/or specifically?

It’s complicated. We are in a really interesting time. The rise of digital photo is the reason my favorite film was discontinued and at the same time technologies like ‘print on demand’ have made book-making and self-publishing possible for so many artists. Technology is another tool I am trying to use consciously.

Included Middle (goat milking/dark), 2011 © Katrina Umber

Included Middle (goat milking/dark), 2011 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: What places/spaces in Los Angeles inspire you?

I love the light, hills, succulents, and taco carts of Northeast LA! I’m challenged and inspired by my Yoruba African Dance class and the beautiful children I know.

Included Middle (Lake Wesserunset), 2011 © Katrina Umber

Included Middle (Lake Wesserunset), 2011 © Katrina Umber

Fabrik: You are participating in FLICKER, an exhibition of black and white monochrome works organized by Jan Tumlir at the artist-run Control Room. Can you share something about the show and the nature of work you’ll have in it.

Jan Tumlir is a LA treasure and I feel fortunate to be exhibiting in such good company with artists like Phil Chang and Kaari Upson. FLICKER will have two works from my Personal Affect Squares series, which were shot in a decommissioned county jail. The work looks at the intersecting spaces of the personal and the institutional and abstraction and subjectivity.

FLICKER, an exhibition organized by Jan Tumlir, opened March 15th and runs through April 28th at Control Room, 2006 East 7th Street in Downtown LA. More info can be found at www.control-room.org.

For more information or to view more art from Katrina Umber, visit www.katrinaumber.com.

Images copyright and courtesy Katrina Umber

Tagged

About Aparna Bakhle

Aparna Bakhle-Ellis is a writer enthralled by the consonance and dissonance of ‘being’ in Los Angeles. L'écriture féminine, outsider art, and altered states of consciousness rank high among her myriad interests. She is also Fabrik’s Managing Editor. 

View all posts by Aparna Bakhle →

Related Posts

Leave a reply

Fabrik as media platform connects and profiles influential and visionary innovators, features contemporary artists, distinctive galleries, trendsetting designers, discerning architects, and showcases emerging artists.
+ Emergent Presence
  • haleARTS presents “Icon” featuring Judy Ragagli
  • FM Fine Art Gallery presents “The Gift of Art”
  • Ruth Bachofner Gallery presents Audra Weaser “Elements”
  • OCCCA presents “ArtStart”
  • haleARTS presents “Pulp”
  • Room & Board presents Art & Home 2016