Katie Fenske pacing American suburbs

Katie Fenske is a 36 year old artist born and raised in Greenville, SC. She’s a production manager for a company that makes equipment for scientific analysis as well as a freelance for local publications. As a photographer, she’s drawn to the presence of others, but without those others being present, absence is most often the subject of her current work.

What got you into photography and what did you capture in your first pictures?
I got into photography when my daughter was born because, like most proud mothers, I felt with great urgency that her least movement needed to be chronicled. I filled many a memory card. When she became old enough to protest, I found a good bit of other things to document that never once protest, but she remains my favorite subject.

How have you evolved from those and why do you photograph today?
I photograph today simply because it satisfies my urge to create.

You have two different Instagram accounts, one for phone pictures and one for the DSLR ones. We find that the work is equally good, so besides the obvious technical difference between the accounts, do you feel there is a different intention in the work that comes from your phone and the one that comes from the DSLR?
The budpnq account (“bud-bud”) is where I share the photos I take and edit with my phone. I would say that I use it mostly to experiment with capturing space, light, and emotion on impulse. I often leave my camera at home because I don’t like to be burdened with it, but my phone practically stays mounted to my hand so if I happen to be driving past something that catches my eye, I’m ready. In some ways, my phone pictures have less importance to me. I realize that sounds awful. I just feel a little more freedom with them because of the lack of intention; therefore, there’s no pressure to get them perfect (not that that keeps from applying a little anyway).

“Half the time, I’m just experimenting. The other half, I’m drawing from previous successful experiments”.

When I grab my camera, I mean business. I am more focused and deliberate about what I shoot. With these shots, I am usually trying to convey some level of intimacy to help the viewer connect. Even if the viewer will only be myself, I want to be able to go back to that same emotional state.

The fact that you work with digital gives you the advantage to shoot boundlessly with instant results, would this be a reason why you haven’t experimented with film photography (which is slower, expensive, etc…)?
I am a patient person in that I give it generously to others, but with myself and artistic pursuits, I am incredibly impatient so shooting digitally definitely satisfies my desire for immediacy. I shoot on film sometimes, but only when I’m feeling particularly indulgent towards myself. And yes, the expense is a drawback.

You describe your work as comfort, calm & peace, unconsciously, do you feel it is an autoportrait of your character?
Not exactly. I tend to take photos of things I’d like to possess. On the surface, I am calm, yes, but like most anyone, I’ve got myself a strong current of worries and doubts running just beneath. Composing frames allows me to establish order. I’ve had people comment on the proliferation of my work. I think that explains it. I am also very much attracted to sadness, but I don’t attribute it to my character.

When you go out and drive, do you plan your pictures ahead or do you strive to shoot the most depending on what you find? Is your main incentive for these drives is photography or that instinct to discover new places and explore?
There’s definitely a call to satisfy curiosity that I like to answer now and then. My drives are mostly about photography, yes, but I don’t plan much of anything since I’m easily distracted. If I’m not actively shooting, I’m looking for something worth shooting in the future.

What are your favorite season and conditions to shoot?
All of the seasons. Spring for the newness and color. Summer for the visible humidity and late evening sunlight. Fall for the color and comfort. Winter because everything that was swallowed by green in the summer has been laid bare by the cold.

If it’s not golden hour, I like to shoot those rare times we get sun and fog simultaneously. My boss has been known to let me come in late to work just so I can. I’m also very into blue hour, especially when I have a patient human subject willing to be photographed.

You have mentioned a few photographers as influences (Whitten Sabbatini, Justin Thomas Burch), and people tell you that your work makes them think of William Egglston. Do you find also inspiration in other mediums?
I voraciously consume art with these eyes. I tend to follow painters and ceramicists more closely than photographers. I have a deep affection for folk art and naive art. I appreciate the unbridled nature of it and that it was created out of a need to express without regard to perfect technique, which I now realize, is how I take photos. Half the time, I’m just experimenting. The other half, I’m drawing from previous successful experiments. When I come across a particularly cluttered yard, I see it as an expression of the homeowner’s artistic nature, latent or obvious, and document it for future enjoyment.

That being said, southern culture seems to be one of you main subjects and inspirations. How do you intend to reflect it on your work?
The fact that southern culture is so much a part of my work is more because I am a southerner living in a southern portion of the US and less about intent. I would take pictures of northeastern or midwestern scenes the same way I take photos of southern ones. I’m most interested in quality of light and quirkiness of surroundings. I do sometimes think of my photos as little love notes to the place I grew up. For a long time, I didn’t like living here in Greenville, but I chose to search for reasons to love it and now I have two instagram accounts that do a fairly thorough job of declaring I do.

What is the tie you have with your photographs once taken: you take one and move to another or do you often come back to them? Do you store them in printed format?
I visit them quite often, actually, as I take them for my own enjoyment. I need to print more. I’m only just now making prints for a show I was invited to be a part of and I’ve got some great guys helping me learn about this part of the process. There’s a lot more to think about than I expected so it’s great having hands to hold mine through the experience. I hope to absorb some greater knowledge about printing so that I feel more confident doing it regularly. The satisfaction of holding an actual photograph of mine in hand is like no other.

Working on a limited body of work for a book or an exhibition, is that something you’d be interested in? Are you developing a specific project at the moment?
Whoops, I believe I just answered part of this above! I am definitely interested in working on a limited body of work, especially printed matter and exhibiting it. I like to stay open to possibilities and love accepting a challenge. I mentioned that I was working on getting a show together. It’s opening on April 1 and staying up through May 7th at a gallery downtown. Other than that, I am just keeping on with what I’m always doing.

And last but not least, can you give us some of your favorite photo-related website(s)?
I adore Ain’t-Bad Magazine. That’s about the only one I frequent with regularity (Instagram not included). And Whitten Sabbatini’s website gets a ping from me every now and again. It’s dreamy.

Enjoy Katie’s photographs on her new website, as well on her DSLR instagram feed and phone feed.

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