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Kate Breakey on Slowlight

Slowlight by Kate Breakey
Kate Breakey is best known for her graceful hand-painted silver gelatin photographs of flowers and birds. Hand colored with oil paint and colored pencils, each print is a unique work of art, none are exactly alike. Breakey's work exhibits a delicate attentiveness to the fine details of her subjects, beautifully lit and portrayed. These images have been collected in two books from the University of Texas Press, Small Deaths and Painted Light, but a new book of Breakey's work, Slowlight from Etherton Gallery shows a different side of the photographer's work. A collection of landscapes shot over 30 years of her career, the images in Slowlight offer a different side of Breakey's photographic vision, 
but captured with the same beautiful subtlety.

In honor of the publication of this new book from the photo-eye Gallery artist, I have asked Breakey to share a little more about her previously unseen landscapes, herself and the publishing of Slowlight. I hope that you enjoy our conversation.  --Anne Kelly


Anne Kelly:     You are known for your hand colored still lifes of birds and flowers – however you have been making landscapes for the past 30 years. What made you to keep them to yourself and what made you decide that it was time to show them?

Moon Rise Mid North Australia -- Kate Breakey
Kate Breakey:     Back in Australia where I grew up, that landscape was my first interest and inspiration as a young photographer. Vast open spaces have remained very attractive to me, so I’ve never stopped making those images, but I have many interests and many ideas and I can’t pursue everything all the time. One project -- the Small Deaths (birds, flowers) sort of took off – got me some success, a book, and so I got very busy and gave it all of my attention for many years. The hand-coloring is labor intensive – so it took all my time to make this work, and I wasn’t about to stop while it was providing an income – an income is a rare thing if you are an artist. Life is too short – there’s not enough time to do all the things I want to do. I’ve always wanted to print up and show this accumulated landscape work, I just haven’t got around to it until now because I haven’t had time.

AK:     You have been recording the landscape around you and over time your surroundings have changed. The images, however, have the same feel to them despite the location.

KB:     Well I think all these places have the same affect on me. Vast open spaces are haunting, humbling, so I end up making images that try to convey that.

Single Wave -- Kate Breakey
AK:     In both your still lifes and landscapes you focus on fragile details and highlights – that is what I see anyways.

KB:     I think being a photographer is all about seeing the details, the way light falls, the subtle visual things that most people go through life never noticing. I want to point it out, remark on how beautiful it is and hope that it means that I can inspire people to really look at the world, contemplate it.

AK:     You are a musician as well as a visual artist – do you feel that the two disciplines influence each other? If so how so?

KB:     Well, I can't claim to be a musician -- I’m a very amateur cellist, but I’d go as far as to say that the pleasure and joy I derive from playing this instrument is as satisfying as making visual art -- its actually much harder -- more disciplined and more immediate. As I am in a cello ensemble, I become one part of a larger whole, which is a collaboration. This is very different for me, good for me, since I’ve always worked alone. And realizing someone else’s vision, trying to play Bach the way he intended -- I love that. It takes me right outside of myself.

from Slowlight by Kate Breakey
AK:     The image pairings in Slowlight are quite interesting. Can you talk about them?

KB:     I spent a lot to time rearranging the pairings of images -- I changed my mind many times… It’s always a fascinating aspect of putting images side by side – on a wall in a gallery or in a book -- because you invent criteria for what should or shouldn’t go next to each other and in the end it comes down to what looks good together, what feels right -- which is hard to define. It could be shapes and forms that work together -- compliment each other -- or causes a little bit of push and pull visually, keeps you interested mentally -- I don’t know. In the end its all arbitrary, but as long as you take the viewer on a journey so they want to keep looking, moving through the images, stopping occasionally, this aim is what you have to use as the guide. It was really interesting for me to pair up images made on opposite sides of the world or that were taken 30 years apart because it made me see them differently.

from Slowlight by Kate Breakey
AK:     Anything you would like to share about the process of publishing a book?

KB:     It’s all great. It’s hard work, but really exciting to see your work in print. Books are collaborations too -- there’s a lot of people involved that you have to trust -- designers, editors, printer -- it always seems like a miracle when it finally comes together. I’m about to publish another big book of my photograms with University of Texas Press and the Wittliff Collection so I’m right in the middle of the decision making and all the anxiety… but I’m so lucky to have the opportunity, I can hardly believe it.

Purchase a copy of Slowlight here. View other books by Kate Breakey here.
View photographs by Breakey at photo-eye Gallery here

For more information on Kate Breakey's photographs, please contact Anne Kelly at photo-eye Gallery by email or by calling the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202