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Why bother?

Kate Breakey’s book is out. It’s called Small Deaths and it’s available now at a bookstore near you, I suppose.

One of the earliest memories I have of Kate is working in her darkroom. (She used to live and work in Austin, long before she went “NY” and garnered a book deal.) I’m certain the book does not do her prints justice. They are approximately 4 feet by 4 feet in size and quite striking if you see them in person. I can remember standing in her darkroom “helping” although, at the time, I didn’t think I could possibly be much help. At the time, I wasn’t very good in the darkroom and I was quite unsure of myself as a photographer. She prints her work on canvas, later stretches it out, guessos it, and then spends many days (even months) painting on top of her photographs. The word “painting” doesn’t even suffice. She spreads layers upon layers of paint on them, much like plastering or applying putty. The end result is indeed quite striking.

I can remember standing in that darkroom with four other photographers, pulling one of her canvases out of the chemistry. Her prints are so large, she uses kiddie pools to develop and produce them. I remember thinking her entire process was quite labor intensive. Once we (all four of us) produced the print, she was happy. She proudly announced that, “now she can spend countless hours painting on it.” I asked her at the time, “why bother? I mean, if you are going to call yourself a photographer and paint so much on your end prints, why not just call yourself a painter and do like the rest of them. Get a projector, zap your artwork on a canvas, trace it out in pencil, and then paint. Why not call yourself a painter and just go for the paint instead of calling yourself a photographer and going through this big ordeal?” She never did give me a straight answer. But, a few years later, I had an opportunity to see her work in a gallery in Austin and I knew why. Sure her process is labor intensive, difficult, seemingly impossible at times. Sure it’s a lot of work to produce something that may or may not sell. Sure she’s photographing dead things which sometimes relegate themselves to the obligatory “eeewww” response. But, I will never again ask “why bother?” after having stood in a room full of them. Her work is beyond compare and her artistry is entirely unique. She ownes her process and she’s mastered her vision.

If you ever get a chance to see an original Kate Breakey print, do yourself a favor and grab that opportunity. You won’t be disappointed. You may ask many questions, but you will not come away asking, “why bother?”

Until next time, this is Carol, the Carol in “Carol’s Little World” signing off.

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