You know local artist Karen Asher’s work is impressive when her first solo show garners glowing articles in The National Post, Border Crossings and Canadian Art magazine. Her photographs draw in viewers through her ability to capture the strange beauty in people and environments. Whether it’s a grinning man with nasal tubes holding a melting ice cream cone or a dramatically lit image of her father soundly asleep, her photographs strike a chord of familiarity while giving a glimpse of emotions and characteristics that often remain unseen. We peek through Asher’s lens to find out more about her artistic practice.
How would you describe your work?
I photograph the people around me. From friends, family and strangers to exes, acquaintances, neighbours — nobody is off limits. I’m really fascinated by the human condition and curious about most everyone. When all goes well, unique, everyday moments become frozen in time and blown up into large-scale images.
What goes into making one of your photographs?
My process is really broad. I either set up photo shoots or just hit the streets. I like to find the subtlety in the spectacle so I’m always watching, looking and staring. Sometimes an idea takes lots of planning; sometimes it just unfolds before my eyes. I still prefer shooting with an old-school medium-format film camera but times are changing, and I’ve recently purchased my first fancy digital SLR camera. It’s definitely not as romantic, but I foresee less darkroom time and more computer usage in my future.
Who or what inspires or influences you?
Everyone everywhere inspires me. I kick myself anytime I leave home without my camera. Humour and the ridiculous are also pretty high on the influence list. On the admiration front, I love all the great photographic heroes. Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Weegee — they don’t make them like they used to. I love the candid, direct, haunting quality of their work.
What are you trying to say with your work?
Essentially, I’m trying to capture an everyday moment in an intriguing way. Because photography has this amazing ability to merge fact and fiction, I try to take a genuine, authentic moment and push the surreal, so you look at it in a different light. I love when raw, real moments become fantastical. It’s also important for me to create an air of mystery in hopes that the viewer is left curious or questioning. I think a sense of ambiguity adds layers and makes the image more interactive.
What is it like being an artist in Winnipeg today?
Other than the isolation and often frigid climate (which actually probably helps the creative juices flow), Winnipeg is a fantastic place to be an artist. People are funny, rent is cheap, and there are tons of supportive organizations and artist-run centres. There is character at every corner and loads of friendly folks.
– Stacey Abramson