Karen Asher’s ‘ambiguous and chaotic’ photography offers a new perspective on life in Winnipeg, Manitoba
What do you love about Winnipeg? Have you ever left, or felt the need to leave and live somewhere else?
Winnipeg is small, isolated, funny, crusty and sort of cool in a down-on-its-luck, life sucks kind of way. The city is cheap and accessible, and the arts community is friendly and supportive. I love my cats.
I’ve felt the need to leave the city since I was a teenager, but it still hasn’t happened. I was born in Montreal, and I’m still mad at my dad for bringing us to Winnipeg as a child. I always imagine how exotic and metropolitan my life would have been if we hadn’t left. I did live in Japan for a year, and every day fantasize longingly (and unrealistically) about moving to New York. It’s an impossible, punky youth pipe dream.
How do you find the subjects of your work?
I find my subjects by asking the people around me — they’re mostly friends and acquaintances. Sometimes the idea comes first and I find the right person, sometimes I’m totally inspired by an individual and I start imagining a photoshoot. It’s pretty random and I just go with the flow. Winnipeg has a really great art scene and I’ve been lucky with people generously letting their guard down and trusting me to just create whatever I’m dreaming of.
Have you always had an eye for the surreal? How has your artistic vision developed over the years?
I’ve always been in love with raw moments that are complex and intense. My first three art crushes were Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin and Weegee, so it’s not a total surprise what inspires my personal aesthetic. I also love connecting with people, so that’s always been my focus.
Earlier on in my career, I made unconventional portraits that were probably a bit too pretty. With time, I’ve been more interested in trying to create an ambiguous, chaotic moment — I like art that is multi-layered and asks a lot of questions. My artistic vision is continuously evolving, and I’m becoming more and more interested in abstracting the figure to the point of absurdity.
What inspires you, creatively speaking?
Pretty much everything inspires me: youth, aging, dying, bodies, dance, music, film, jokes, isolation, depression, big cities, wandering the streets, being on buses… I’m a freaky emotional buffoon, so everything to me is extreme and ridiculous. I’m inspired by daily life, even just the boring stuff. I have a staring problem. I’m a freak. The end.