ARTIST STATEMENT - PHOTOGRAMS
Karen Amy Finkel Fishof
My artistic journey is a multifaceted exploration of my identity, celebrating my personal story through experiences and realizations. As a female artist, I amplify the female experience and advocate for the dignified representation of women in art. Exploring my Jewish identity contributes to the ongoing conversation about race and minority perspectives. Historically, expressing Jewishness in art has been tempered by fear of antisemitism. As a female Jewish artist creating in the diverse landscape of Los Angeles, I explore the portrayal of my Jewishness while engaging with significant women's issues and current socio-political concerns. My photograms mirror my cultural awakening as I "think out loud "on paper.
Fully immersed in the vibrant 80s rock music scene, my passion for art graduated from New York City to Syracuse University, where lyrics made their way into my work either in the art itself or the titles. This use of text and "play-on-words" is a consistent mechanism throughout my work, driving strong narratives with tongue-in-cheek undertones.
I ventured to St. Martins School of Art in London. There, I honed my skills in creating large-scale figurative photograms, seamlessly blending my love for visuals with my musical influences.
In my pursuit of love during the "Material Girl" era, I faced challenges. A pivotal shift occurred in my late 30s when I embraced orthodox Judaism, not just as a matter of ritual observance but as a gateway to living a life with purpose. I transitioned from chasing the material to embracing the spiritual. As I evolved, my art evolved in tandem. This transformative undertaking led me to a belated and fulfilling marriage to an orthodox man entrenched in the secular music business.
With this union, I stepped into the role of a grandmother before becoming a mother, navigating the complexities of a blended family with three stepchildren, one already a parent. After a whirlwind wedding, honeymoon, and back-to-back births of two children, we traded the bustling streets of New York for the sun-soaked landscapes of Los Angeles. Embracing my new identity as a mother, wife, and grandmother to eight vivacious grandchildren, a magical discovery unfolded—the realization of my female essence drawing strength from historical Jewish women.
The focus of my art pivoted from harnessing the raw energy of music to capturing the profound insights and joys of orthodox family life. The powerful rock energy morphed into empowering maternal instinct. Overnight, I was thrust from my self-maintenance to providing meals for a family, running a large household, making decisions on schools, carpool logistics, medical care, and holiday planning; many times, I struggled but persevered and became proud of my competence. My art reflects the duality and growth between the loud, hard-rocking persona and the refined woman I was becoming. My strength shifted from a world centered around myself to having no time for myself. I needed to find balance. Each artwork narrates an epiphanous awakening as I built my character — questioning the belief system I was raised on.
I connected to new aspects of Jewish culture, music, food, holiday observance, way of dress, and to carry myself like a lady. My sensitivities awakened to my manner of speech, both in the words I choose to express myself and in the subject matter of my conversations. I discovered a sense of community I had never experienced - a world of connectedness and acceptance.
Rooted in integrity and conviction to my new truth, I gained confidence in my skin. My artwork began to address the inherent challenges women face, the differences and commonalities between secular and orthodox women, dispelling misconceptions and fostering a dialogue on shared experiences in marriage, childbirth, and parenting. I question whether private concerns hold public significance. I explore how modern women navigate traditional roles and expectations, addressing taboo issues often overlooked.
Having lived a remarkably bifurcated life, I appreciate the value of both sides of many issues. This duality of experience informs my artistic perspective. My struggle to reconcile the two distinct realities gains clarity through my artistic practice.
Judaism serves as my only reliable constant. It grounds me with solid roots and allows me to explore. We stand on the shoulders of righteous men and women who faced enormous challenges and responded with dignity and respect, providing me with a tremendous source of pride. As a member of the Jewish nation, I am embraced by communal values, strengthened by collective faith, grounded by tradition, bonded by shared history, suffering, and struggle for survival, and supported by the certainty of our promising future. Being Jewish has never been comfortable publicly. There is something supernatural about our existence. We are a nation, a people, a race, a religion, a country, a language, a culture, a faith, a belief, and a way of life; we are descendants of royalty, we share the same DNA, we are a family. I have found my place among my people, and their story is my story. What will be our next chapter? How does a modern woman fit into this discussion? My personal choice is to honor tradition while embracing the 21st Century.
Inspiration sparks not only from individual stories woven against the backdrop of history but from diverse sources—interior design, film, music, fashion, social media, current events, Torah, my kids, my community, personal experience, found objects, and trends —all of which are collaged into cohesive visual statements.
The heart of my art lies in the photogram process. It unfolds in the darkroom, where I meticulously arrange people, objects, and text on photo paper placed on the floor, expose the scene to light, and develop the paper through conventional methods. The entire creative process fascinates me from the moment of exposure to the revelation of the image in the chemistry. The absence of a negative delivers a rush of adrenaline, knowing that this is a one-time opportunity, coupled with the intrigue of watching objects interact with light in the darkroom. Persons and objects serve a double role. They are instruments in the imagery and declare a statement about the medium as the light reveals their inherent form. We are forced to recognize a new aspect of the person or object touching the surface, its unique construction. Each step in the process is a profound moment of discovery.
My aesthetic centers on the human body. I transform a three-dimensional human into a two-dimensional light impression while respecting the sculptural aspects of the human figure. These photograms are distinct, resembling painterly ghosts, and are born out of a process I consider as drawing with light. Each piece, an interplay of intention and spontaneous improvisation, is realized as its own unique story. We cannot help but form a human connection with the humanity we are facing. There is something about facing a replica of a life-sized human, to scale, that prompts personal reflection and bids the question, "What do I see of myself in this?" These individuals invite the viewer to enter their world. Stark figures drive the narrative forward with an uncomfortable edginess, utilizing photograms to imply novelty—a fresh approach to ancient tradition. While drafting these theatrical stills, I place myself into the scenario of the figure, exchanging my corporeal being for something lighter, floating through time and space, gaining new perspectives.
A presence remains of the figures, akin to the handprints on the Hollywood "Walk of Fame." You are aware that the figure had physical contact with the artwork. Therefore, the creation carries a tangible presence encapsulated within the paper—a departure from conventional photography or portraiture disrupting contemporary photography norms. Not only are the figures actors in a drama, but they are also portraits of the models and reflect their inherent personalities and physical features.
My visual accounting of contemporary women's issues lies at the intersection of gender and religion. These stories and legacies, both individual and collective, are a privilege, honor, and duty to share. I sense a responsibility and urgency to draw one's attention to the complexities modern women face navigating traditional roles and urge viewers to question established mindsets. Connecting through art, I define my cultural identity, confront stereotypes, and navigate the space between the secular and the sacred by shining a light on the humanity we all share.
I am currently working on multiple projects: a screenplay that delves into the rich generational tales of my ancestors, a portrait series capturing the essence of local Los Angeles artists, and a visually striking sculptural interpretation of my photograms. Stay tuned for exciting updates as these creative projects evolve.