What she does: Focusing on converging the organic textures she sees in the everyday with the organic methods she uses to capture them, Galina Kurlat approaches photography with a distinct technique, one that is less about the story the pictures tell than it is about the process she uses to make intangible realities tangible.
Her Remnants (scars) series as well as Reclamation (landscapes) are both photographed using black and white Polaroid Type 55 Positive Negative film. A peel apart film which has recently been discontinued, this film can either be cleared to create a traditional negative or allowed to decay over time -- not clearing the film can create natural, one-of-a-kind images which blur the line between beauty and decay.
"The [Type 55] negative has corrosive chemistry on it, and it eventually burns through," Kurlat says. "And if you let it sit in that chemistry for months, or years, it will change...it's degrading the image..that's when I like to pull them out and revisit them, and each time, it looks very different."
Both her Specimen series and her most recent series, Self Portraits, are photographed using the rare method of coating a glass plate with collodion and exposing the plate while it's still wet, producing ambrotypes which appear on the glass in the form of a negative until backed by black velvet, which then renders the positive image.
"What's amazing about shooting in this way is that it's organic...in the same way that Type 55 is...and with collodian, because of the way that you pour the chemistry onto the glass plate, you have a signature -- a fingerprint -- with the way that the images look."
What inspires her: Painting and drawing from a young age, Kurlat began studying graphic design at the Pratt Institute, where she quickly realized her interest lay in shooting pictures and spending long hours in the darkroom more than going to class.
An ongoing project beginning with her thesis, Kurlat started shooting scars, stretch marks, hair -- textures of the human body that she sees as abstract impressions of the figure, rather than the form as a whole.
"I was really interested in skin and how we show our wear," she says. "I don't necessarily want you to know this person -- but I do want you to see -- and maybe that becomes more of a shared experience, because there isn't that identity...I'm definitely more interested in the image, and the process of taking the image, than telling a story about somebody."
When it comes to influences, it's the chicken and the egg thing, she says.
"After I figured out what I wanted to do, it was interesting when I went home to my high school room...looking around at all the photographs on my wall, before I knew anything about photography, were of this process -- Joel Peter Witkin, Sally Mann, Minor White, Chuck Close, Michael Mazzeo, Sarah Moon, and Jody Ake, who later became my mentor -- all people who I was floored by with their work...this is what I had been looking at all along."
Why she enjoys it: "When you shoot yourself over and over again, it becomes really meticulous, you kind of let go...and it's spending a lot of time by yourself, normally not something I would do...having to spend that time by myself has almost been more important than the images -- you're just there in that space -- and it becomes very close to meditating, at least as close as I've ever got to it."
Kurlat moved from New York to Houston in 2009, where she began to discover the same forms found in the landscape as she did in her work with the human body.
"Moving here was visually very different than New York," Kurlat said. "Because things are allowed to decay, to break down and fall apart...and I don't want to oversimplify it...I love the aesthetic of decay, I love the texture, but I think for me it's very much about being in those places, being able to spend time there."
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If not this, then what? "I don't know what I would do. I don't think that's ever been an option for me...I certainly wouldn't be happy, whatever happiness means...sane, I wouldn't be sane-ish," she says, laughing. "There's always the thought 'well maybe I could get a real job at some point,' but it's never been a serious thought. I've never wanted to do anything besides this...making the effort to live honestly with yourself, that's what I'm striving to do."
What's next: Kurlat's series Reclamation will be featured in "The Big Show" at the Lawndale Art Center June 30. Her newest work, Self Portraits as well as Remclamation, will be featured in a solo exhibition at the College of the Mainland in Texas City during October of this year.
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