Kate Breakey has gained international recognition for her large-scale, richly hand-colored photographs. Her work has appeared in more than 70 one-person exhibitions and also held in many public collections. We talked with her about how she got started, and what her process means to her.
I am considered a mixed media artist, because most of the time I paint on top of my photographs. I started doing this about 30 years, when I found the little set of handcoloring oils that my auntie had used to tint photographs in the 1940’s, before color photography.
When I was in art school I studied painting and printmaking and later photography, just when it was newly recognized as an art medium. Since I loved paint, pencils, and inks it was a natural thing for me to start combining all these media with photography. I though it made it photographs more interesting and, in a way, more sensual.
I saw right away that something unexpected happened when you put paint on the surface of a photograph—it was changed in ways that have to do with our recognition and expectation. Photographs have certain inherent properties as reliable documents, as visual evidence you can trust.
By painting on that surface, exaggerating, embellishing, adding my own personal expressive gestures, I am changing the photograph's integrity and credibility, blurring boundaries, so that the image is caught between being a painting and a photograph, because no matter how much paint you add to the surface, the photographic qualities are always still there, perceptible under that surface. It makes you want to look closely, to search for clues, to see what is and isn't real, what is fact and what is fiction.
The other reason I like to do this is that by coloring a photograph you get to know every last detail, every shadow and edge. It makes you and the subject intimate.
A native of South Australia, Kate moved to Austin, Texas, in 1988. She completed her MFA at the University of Texas, where she also taught photography in the Department of Art and Art History. She's teaching in Santa Fe at the end of September.
The Hand-Colored Photographic Print
with Kate Breakey
September 30 - October 5, 2012
Kate's web site is www.katebreakey.com.