Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Erin Karp. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Erin, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. What did your parents do right and how has that impacted you in your life and career?
I am so lucky to have the parents I do; they are both creatives who have been incredibly supportive and encouraging to both me and my sister along the way & to this day. My mom is a fashion designer and a college professor & my dad is an incredible abstract oil painter. I grew up wearing clothes my mom made & watching her create garments & costumes, like magic, from rolls of fabric in her studio. I also grew up watching my dad create paintings on blank canvases in his studio, in a home proudly exhibiting his beautiful art on its walls. My parents have always encouraged creativity & authenticity. My dad gave me his old Pentax Asahi when I was in high school & I learned to make photographs with that & to make prints in the darkroom at the college where my mom teaches. When I was applying for colleges, I applied to 12 schools, got into 11, & had no clue where I actually wanted to go or what I wanted to study. My parents suggested I defer from 3 universities and take a year off to work & to figure out where I wanted to be & what I wanted to do. I don’t know many parents who think that way, but I am forever grateful to them for that suggestion; not many 17 year olds know what they want to do with the rest of their lives, I sure didn’t. I wound up taking a year off, working as an executive assistant at an ice skating rink where Olympians practiced, & realizing within 6 months that I never wanted to work in an office again & that I was dying (& mentally ready) to go to college. With that said, working in that environment forced me to come out of my shell, forced me to be confident interacting with strangers, something I struggled with in high school. Taking a year off gave me time to make thoughtful decisions about where I’d go, ultimately, & I wound up making a choice that gave me an excellent education & kept me out of debt in a diverse environment; I even studied in Spain for 2 semesters (which absolutely changed my life) & I graduated fluent in Spanish & Summa Cum Laude. I went to college as an English major with a focus on creative non-fiction writing & a minor in humanities; I was reluctant to study art/photography as my major for fear of the “starving artist” trope, even though photography was a true love of mine. Instead, I took darkroom classes for other credits, loved every second, & learned a ton; my photography professor from college has work in the Smithsonian today. Some time after I graduated, ironically, after not using my degree in English, I decided that photography was what I really wanted to do in this life. I took a few classes at the International Center of Photography in NYC to transition from an SLR to a DSLR in 2009. It took me a little bit of time to find my voice, but now that voice is loud & strong. I started out shooting details in nature, often in an abstract way, & now find myself making architectural abstracts that highlight momentary juxtapositions of light, shadow, shape, & color. I still make my own prints. I’ve been exhibiting since 2009; since then, my work has been curated into exhibits by curators from the MoMA, the Guggenheim, & the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among many others; my work is acquired by collectors. One of my images just won Official Selection in an international photo competition that garners tens of thousands of submissions. Did I think any of that was possible when I was an insecure teenager trying to figure out my future while I still felt like a kid? It’s unlikely I would have embraced art as a career and a way of life if it weren’t for my creative, encouraging parents. There have been moments where I’ve faltered and questioned what I’m doing & why I’m doing it & then I’m reminded by my dad that we make art because we have to, because we have no choice, & that we must keep creating for our sakes and for that of others. I know lots of parents who encouraged their kids away from creative pursuits to be more “practical”; I am so lucky my parents encouraged me to pursue what makes me happy, to do what fills my soul with meaning.
Erin, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I’m a fine art photographer from NYC, though I’m living in NJ now, who learned on a 35mm film camera (an SLR) in a darkroom in the mid-90’s. I stuck with that SLR, a Pentax Asahi my dad used for years prior to gifting it to me, until 2009, when I reluctantly transitioned to a DSLR. The thought of working on a computer instead of in a darkroom put me off, but I realized I could still shoot the same way as I always had — manually, in natural light — & I could still make my own prints. So, the process changed for me, but the level of control I had over the image from shutter click to print was still entirely mine. As I mentioned previously when talking about what my parents did right, they are in large part the reason I got into photography as art. As the daughter of an abstract oil painter & a fashion designer, creativity is in my DNA. I tried to fight my purpose for a little while out of fear of failure, but a creative path for me was inevitable. While I’ve taken a few classes, I’m mostly self-taught, largely influenced by my father’s sense of color and abstraction in the way I see the world. I lived in Sevilla, Spain for a year during college, my first time in Europe, my first time traveling alone, in a country where I didn’t speak the language let alone know how to properly pack a suitcase, & learned that I am an adventurer, an explorer. Being there transformed the way I think & the way I walk through life. I found virtually everything beautiful in Sevilla: the architecture, the blue sky, the bougainvillea, the history, the colors, the people, the language, the food, the light, the narrow pedestrian streets, the Banyan trees, everything. Sevilla felt like home from the minute I moved there. My photographs are mostly architectural abstracts, a genre I gravitated towards naturally, but in large part because of my time in Sevilla. I consider my work a meditation on calm, particularly as I tend to make photographs of quiet moments in busy cities. Light, shadow, shape, color, & texture are all qualities I’m drawn to & I find beauty in moments others fail to notice. Passersby have actually stopped to ask me what I’m shooting, as they’ve found me photographing construction sites, for example, so I show them the preview screen on my camera & then they understand. My work is exhibited & collected throughout the country & is in corporate collections in NYC. I am truly proud to say that my work has been placed in exhibits by curators from the Guggenheim, MoMA, & the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. One of my newer photographs, Echoes of Denver, recently won a monetary award in an exhibit curated by a Metropolitan Museum of Art curator. One of my favorite images of Sevilla, Azul Violeta, just won an award in the abstract category of an international photography competition that garnered tens of thousands of submissions; receiving that news was a huge honor! I just learned that same piece is headed to Denver for a different exhibit next month. An artist hopes her work will be appreciated and recognized & I am most proud that people want to show my work & that people want to live with my work on their walls because they find it meaningful, because it makes them feel, not because an investor is telling them who or what to collect. That my collectors are regular human beings makes my heart sing.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
Compared to other countries, the arts are generally undervalued in the USA, by the government & by our institutions, so I think individuals have to actively pursue art. Visit local galleries, you’d be surprised by how much quality art there is right around you. It’s rather difficult to “make it” as an artist in the traditional sense; not every talented artist winds up in a museum, especially not while they’re alive, so expand your horizons & stay local! Also, unlike museums, galleries are free to enter, which means they are accessible to everyone; take advantage of that resource! Collect art that makes you feel good — whatever “good” means to you — art that makes you feel anything that you want to feel (maybe melancholy work touches your soul, for example). In my view, art should enhance your daily life, it should be collected because you love it, because you want to live with it, not because an investor or a financial advisor or anyone else tells you to acquire a piece because he believes that piece will one day be worth millions of dollars. That’s not the point of art. Art should touch you on a deep level, it should move you, it should make you think & make you feel. That’s the kind of art I collect & want to be around. If you discover an artist whose work you love, spread the word, even if you aren’t personally able to collect it! Tell people in your network about that artist, help expand that artist’s reach. We appreciate the support! Collect art from living artists, we need the money more than dead artists do! Prioritize art over things if you are new to collecting. I’ve met people who buy handbags for thousands of dollars, but whose walls are barren. Art enhances a person’s life, I don’t personally think purses do. Don’t be afraid to talk to an artist if you love a piece that might be out of your reach; we’re human, too, & you never know if a compromise or even a barter can be made to help you acquire a piece you really want. My dad paid for both of my brothers’ braces with his paintings, which were still hanging in that orthodontist’s office when I got my braces many years later. You never know what will come of reaching out to an artist and starting a dialogue. At the very worst, you may just have an interesting conversation!
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
I feel a childlike wonder when I see something beautiful or curious; the level of joy & excitement I experience when I come across a moment that I find worth photographing is palpable. I’m able to recall how I felt in the moments that I’ve made every single photograph that is meaningful to me, so the images wind up transporting me back to those moments and to those feelings whenever I look at them, no matter how much time has passed; what a gift! To have my interpretation of those moments resonate with others, regular people or gallerists, is a further gift. Humans innately strive to be understood; when people can understand you by way of your art, I think you’ve succeeded. When people appreciate what you create enough to collect it, to want to be around it every day, is gratification beyond comprehension. The thought that my work brings others any kind of emotion that they want to experience encourages me to keep walking through the world with my eyes wide open, making new discoveries. It also gives this free spirit an excuse to travel & to continue exploring!
- Website: www.erinmkarp.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karpitecturalabstracts
- Other: Feel free to reach out to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recording of zoom photo presentation I made in 2021 at the invitation of The Photocloser, sponsored by Epson, Photoshelter, AI-AP: https://www.projections.live/erin-karp
Jonsar Studios Erin Karp Clemence Mailly Seren Morey Tovah Yucht Lori Riley