The Kat Kiernan Mixtape
I am most interested in photographs that transcend the subject matter and are “about” things rather than “of” things.
Photographer, gallerist, publisher, and editor Kat Kiernan is truly a force of nature. Her name is synonymous with excellence in photo opportunities and she is making quite a footprint in the photo world within a short period of time. The Kiernan Gallery offers regular calls for entry that allow emerging and established photographers a chance to have their work seen by significant jurors and end up on gallery walls and Kat has recently taken on the title of editor and publisher with her terrific magazine, Don’t Take Pictures. I am thrilled to participate as a writer in the current issue with an article on photographer Heather Evans Smith.
Kat doesn’t stop with being “just” a gallerist and publisher, she also manages to find time for her own work and she continues to think outside the box, creating new ways to provide exposure and education for photographers and photography devotees. Kat is at the beginning of what undoubtedly will be a long, rich, and rewarding journey as a mover and shaker in the photo world and it’s time you get to know her. And so, with great pleasure, I present The Kat Kiernan Mixtape!
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
I grew up in a small town on the coast of Maine and my previous work has been heavily influenced by that nautical lifestyle. I had planned to major in writing in college until I received a college recruitment booklet that asked, “What is it you do without anyone telling you to?” At that moment, I realized it wasn’t writing; it was photography. Of course I do still write on a regular basis, but rarely without a deadline.
I received my BFA in photography with a minor in art history from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University (now called Lesley University College of Art and Design.) I studied under some amazing photographers, but I don’t think I experimented enough with my work. Now that I am out of school and have more than 14 weeks to produce a complete body of work, I am exploring with more processes and ideas. It’s wonderful.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I wear a lot of hats. Depending on the day my title is Owner and Director of The Kiernan Gallery, Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures, Photographer, or Writer, and sometimes I am all of these things at once. Because of all the titles and hat-wearing, there is no typical day.
Wednesdays through Saturdays I am generally in the gallery. Once a month I de-install and hang a new show. At the close of each show, I personally email every artist with photographs of the installation and any stand out comments about their work. Our opening receptions are a few days after the show goes up. The rest of the month I prepare for upcoming exhibitions, design catalogues, and email, always email. These days I also spend a great deal of after-hours time on my new project, Don’t Take Pictures. I write online content three times per week in addition to editing and managing the biannual print publication. I also spend a lot of time looking at photography.
When I am not in the gallery, I try very hard to make time for my art. I am currently working on a new body of work that I am very excited about. It’s a new direction for me as an artist, and I hope to release it this spring.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I am most proud of Don’t Take Pictures. It expands on my work with the gallery, and its distribution reach (online and in print) provides even more exposure for artists. It is also very collaborative. I work with an excellent design team, Union Jack Creative, who are responsible for the elegant look of the print magazine, and I work with great writers who bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table.
I am also very proud of The Kiernan Gallery’s pop-up studio salons. Twice per year we convert an artist’s studio into a gallery of their work for one night only. The goal is to combine the energy of an opening reception, the excitement of meeting the artist, a behind-the-scenes look at their workspace, and a first-hand look at how the work was made. We have something for everyone’s budget: original works of art, books, and raffle tickets. These events are very well attended and create a connection between patrons and artists that would not exist otherwise. Those in attendance feel comfortable coming back to the studio or emailing the artist, helping to create a supportive community for the artist in their own area.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
What I look for depends on what the artist’s goals are. I am there to help them as best I can. I start every review with, “What are we looking at today?” to give the photographer a chance to tell me who they are and why they are there. Am I critiquing work in progress, or evaluating a finished project in need of marketing strategies? Presenting one completed body of work and one in progress is a good idea. It gives me more context about who a photographer is and where they are going. I take notes at the end of each review. If I know someone I think would be interested in the work, I will send an email when I get home.
I am always on the lookout for people to feature in Don’t Take Pictures. There is no particular genre of work that I won’t consider featuring. That being said, I am most interested in photographs that transcend the subject matter and are “about” things rather than “of” things.
I love looking at prints. I have a true appreciation for a well-crafted print, and it is always important to remember that prints are what ultimately hang on the wall. Having loose prints gives me the opportunity to reimagine the sequence of a body of work.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Before deciding to attend a review, spend time researching each reviewer. 20 minutes is an incredibly short amount of time, and it’s best not to waste it with the reviewer explaining who they are, what they do, and how that relates to your work.
I also recommend that photographers have a clear idea of what they hope to get out of each review. Understanding their work and goals will save a lot of time. Be upfront about what sort of review you are looking for. In that same vein, keep expectations realistic. It is rare that a photographer walks away from a table with a show or a book deal; these things take time. Don’t come out and say, “So will you give me a show?” This puts the reviewer in an awkward situation. There are so many things to consider when deciding to work with an artist that cannot be covered in 20 minutes. I would like to add that being defensive is never a good move. It’s okay to disagree, but it should be done respectfully. Be sure to stay in touch, and follow up in a few weeks thanking the reviewer for their time.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I opened The Kiernan Gallery when I was 22. I used to be shy about my age, but I am proud of what I have accomplished since then to help other emerging artists further their careers.
And because it’s a Mixtape, what is your favorite band, song, and do you dance?
I find that I am very seasonal in my tastes. Last summer I jumped on the new-folk revival bandwagon. In the fall I was inexplicably obsessed with songs in French. The last concert I attended was by Sigur Rós in Charlottesville, and it was everything I wanted it to be.
In high school I was very into swing dancing and had a wonderful dance partner that I performed with. Now I mostly dance in my kitchen with my boyfriend and we do that often. It’s not anywhere near as choreographed as my swing days, but it’s equally fun.
As this is a Mixtape, I now put down my headphones and hand the turntables over to Kat….
First, thank you Aline for all that you do to support the photographic community. I appreciate the opportunity to share a bit about myself and my projects with your readers.
March marks the release of the second issue of Don’t Take Pictures, a biannual print, online, and tablet-ready magazine. The title, Don’t Take Pictures, is a reference to the language of photography. The term “making pictures” has recently begun to replace “taking pictures,” and the publication focuses on the creative process involved in the making of photographs. Each issue features six artists, a book review, and articles on the business of being an artist. Subscriptions and individual copies can be purchased at www.donttakepictures.com. Issue 2 contains an article by Aline Smithson herself!
After the launch of Issue 1, it became apparent that there was a demand for more timely content than our biannual schedule could accommodate. We have since re-launched our website to include more regular content. We publish multiple times per week, including serial columns that highlight trends in art business, the relationship between design and photography, exhibition reviews, video, and new work.
In addition to the published content, Don’t Take Pictures sells an exclusive edition run of an image by an artist featured in the magazine. Working with the artist, we select an image, which is then hand-printed by the artist, signed, numbered in an edition no higher than five, and priced below $200. Because we believe in helping emerging artists build their careers, the full amount of the sale goes to the artist.
Stay tuned for the official announcement of The Kiernan Gallery’s third annual Portfolio Showcase exhibition. This show will present the complete bodies of work of four photographers. Each selected photographer will be featured on The Kiernan Gallery’s blog and website, and will have their own electronic show card designed by the gallery. All photographs and artists statements will be reproduced in an exhibition catalogue.
Our next pop-up studio salon will take place at John Grant’s studio in Charlottesville, VA on May 3.
Some examples of wonderful photographs that have graced the Kiernan Gallery walls:
Thank you Kat, for all you do for photography and photographers!
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