Portfolio 2020 Artist Spotlight: Karen Bullock

As The Atlanta Photography Group’s Portfolio 2020 exhibition enters it’s final weeks, we would like to share Spotlight Interviews conducted with each of the eight artists chosen to share their work by esteemed juror Sarah Kennel – today we would like to introduce Karen Bullock.

Karen Bullock is an emerging documentary-style photographer living in Alabama. Primarily self-taught, she photographs intuitively but has also learned much from mentors and friends.

Karen’s work, “Presence Obscured” was selected for Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 200, 2019. Her series, “See Me”, was included in the 2018 Rfotofolio Selections. In 2017, she was awarded a grant for her work in portraiture by the Mobile Arts Council in Alabama.

Karen founded Central ArtSanctuary in 2019, where she curated and installed the group exhibition, “Picture Your Story: Visual Storytelling with a Southern Bent”. The show included selected works on loan from The Do Good Fund, Inc and from individual photographers.

In 2019 Central ArtSanctuary & Central Arts Collective, of which Karen is also a member, received the Mobile Arts Council Arty Award for Cultural Innovation.

I sat down with Karen to discuss her work, Presence Obscured, and her process:

How would you define your style?

People have said the photographs in my current series are quiet. As the images are created mainly in silence with still subjects, that makes sense. Photography is also meditative for me, like a prayer, everything else disappears. My mind clears of any distractions; there is just me and what is in front of me. Yet, I love vibrant colors and when working with black and white, deep contrasts, so I think that is a balance to the quietness. In short, ‘quiet with pops of light or color.’

Robing Room. Alabama – 2019 ©Karen Bullock

Tell us a little bit about your process and how it might set you apart from others?

Everyone has a unique eye and perspective if they allow themselves to explore it and express it.

Occasionally I use fill light, but I am excited by found light when I walk into a room or I am outside, and I see magical shadows or colorful light. So, that is what I use most in my photographs.

As I mentioned earlier, it is an intuitive process for me. Sometimes I take road trips and wander just to see what I will find; other times I go to a specific place. If I have time, in an empty sanctuary for example, I will walk around in the quiet for a bit, take everything in, and look for what is speaking to me visually. I don’t know if that makes me different but that’s what I do.

How does the idea of creating a full body of work influence your outcome and do you usually work with a project already in mind?

My photographs are more intuitive than planned. I enjoy seeing the way some photographers sketch out their ideas before creating the image. Sometimes I think about that, an idea or hoped for outcome, but many times I am surprised by what I find and come away with something different than I had envisioned.

Yes, creating a body of work influences where and how I make photographs, but I don’t always start with a project in mind. I enjoy street photography, travel, wildlife, etc. Animals in captivity tug at my heart as does climate change and deforestation, so I photograph whatever calls out to me. Sometimes it develops into something deeper and more involved and becomes a series. Other times it is a standalone image.

What do you hope your work achieves and what are you most proud of in this body of work?

The work is deeply personal to me, so I make it for myself, to express and explore my feelings and thoughts about grief, loss, trauma, faith, & hope. It is interesting to me the way others connect to it. People have often said, “I’m not religious or I’m not Christian but I get this. There is something here.”

In my artist statement, I share that sometimes it feels like God is in another room. Now, whether we believe in God or not, we are all going through something like that—this time of distancing, that feeling of not being able to get quite close enough. I hope, somehow, it helps people explore their own feelings during this time of crisis.

The work is not in the least irreverent for me, rather it is like a love poem but sometimes I see things I think are funny or a little off and I love that. It is representative of our humanity, our imperfection. I’m thankful that people have responded to that humor as well and have understood it.

What I hope to achieve, is to share my heart through photography. I don’t have a specific thing that I want people to feel or learn or take away from this series; if they connect to it in some way, if they want to look at one of the photos for a while, if there is an emotional response or it inspires thought—that is enough.

What am I most proud of in this body of work? Some days I think to myself, what can I possibly find that is new for this series? It doesn’t feel complete yet though. I’m proud that I have been able to stick with it and that I continue find and be surprised by each new photograph I create. I’ve found ways to continue the work even now.

If you could tell your viewers one thing, what would you tell them?

These are strange times. I might say, “Wash your hands and stay well.”

Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to look. I’m grateful, especially if the work inspired you to look deeply or sit with an image for a while. Be well.

By Donna Garcia

Learn more about Karen Bullock and check out Portfolio 2020 .

Grandmother’s Prayer Card. Georgia – 2019 ©Karen Bullock

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