Viewfinder: Katrina d’Autremont
Photographer Katrina d’Autremont is based in Philadelphia but works mostly in rural areas across the country and down into Argentina. We talk photography, family, and the ease of small town parking.
Where were you raised and where are you now? What was your path?
Well, that can be the whole interview. My mom is Argentinian and my dad is American. I was born in Denver, but we lived between Denver and very rural Montana. We used to go back and forth between the two spots until my parents decided that they wanted to live somewhere a little less remote… and decided to move back to Denver for a few years to kind of figure out the next move. Then they ended up in Tucson, Arizona, which is where I spent most of my early years. And then we would go back to Montana in the summer. I currently live in Philadelphia.
I live in Montana, still, during the summer.
So that’s where “the other mountain” project takes place?
Yeah. And that series is actually kind of about that time period in my parent’s life.
How do you talk about this project to people who aren’t familiar?
Well, it’s still in process, so I’m always trying to figure out exactly how to talk about it. When I started it I was 31, and my mom was 31 when she had my brother, and I think, in hindsight, I was trying to figure out a way to get back to spending more time in Montana and being closer to that space. One way that that kind of happened to me is I say I’m going to do a project about something.
It started out being this thing about being at the ranch and the isolation of that space and being out in the middle of nowhere in some ways, and sort of how that’s lonely in one way, but in another way it’s very freeing because you’re in an empty expanse of space and living your own life. But then it kind of shifted as I spent more time there that I’m becoming part of that community. So it sort of expanded into this larger picture of a small town and kind of like the whole valley, how, I’m sure you understand this, but in rural areas are often not one town, it’s like a whole area because that’s what the population calls for, so it’s called the Ruby Valley. And everything runs along this river. But, it’s kind of expanded from this idea about being about my family and my ranch to like kind of this bigger idea of how small communities interact. But it’s not quite a documentary project, it still has that hint of the idea of people standing in for people my parents knew back in the day, or people who have been for my parents in general. Kind of this idea of characters from the wild west.
I noticed there’s only one picture of a person’s face, like really front and center. Is that on purpose?
I don’t know that it’s a conscious thing, but I think because people are acting as a stand in for somebody rather than the person themselves, because again it’s not a literal project like an editorial project or something where I’m trying to document one specific person or thing, so I don’t know if it was a conscious awareness, but I definitely have other pictures where it’s more straight on, but it never really works. I think part of it is also that I’m really interested in the idea of the in between moments of things, where things are neither here nor there. There was a show a few years ago at the MOMA that was called “Into the Sunset,” and they had this photograph of a cowboy who was getting either on a horse or off a horse. And because it’s an in between moment, you don’t know which one it is. I really love that idea.
That’s kind of what I’m striving for in some ways, sort of like a neither on the horse or off the horse. [Laughs] Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not.
That’s awesome. Maybe it’s like you’re both getting on and getting off of a horse at the same time. How about that? You don’t really know.
You never know.
How did you get started in photography?
Kind of a little bit on my own and kind of again sort of a weird progression, but I in high school we were allowed to take photography as an elective class, and I used to go into the dark room at lunch and listen to The Cure, and print really bad black and white pictures.
I didn’t have a lot of guidance, especially at that point, because we didn’t really have a serious teacher. And then when I went to college. I took a few photo classes but then I took some time off of college and kind of kept pursuing it on my own. And it was definitely something that I would come back to in a school of fashion, but then I really had to develop my own eye because nothing I had was a very serious technical guidance.
With your background of growing up in Montana, and a little bit in the Southwest, do you have a certain soft spot for shooting in smaller towns or more rural areas or isolated areas?
Oh, yeah, 100%. Yeah. I actually don’t shoot in Philadelphia at all.
Weird! Wait. Not weird… cool!
Earlier this year I was actually thinking about moving back west. But then I was, like, “I need the city to then have the country to be a balance to it.” But I definitely am much more, I hate the word, but “inspired” by small towns.
My favorite thing to do is drive around in a pickup truck with my camera on the passenger seat and just jump out of the car and [take pictures]. It’s funny because I was out there for a photo conference a few weeks ago, and I was just like, “Oh yeah, I’m home.” Like, “This is it.”
Do you think being in a rural area affects the way you shoot as compared to being in a city?
I definitely think that’s true. I think part of it is that people are more approachable. I don’t tend to be somebody who walks up to people and asks them to take their picture, but I like to be able to [photograph] people that I know. But I do think that, and it’s for a really silly sounding reason, one of the reasons that it’s easier to shoot [in rural area] is that when you’re driving around [a city], if you’re going to pull off somewhere, you’re probably pulling into somebody’s driveway, because of the population density. There’s just a lot more space, and it’s a lot easier to stop and shoot because of that.
The “Up North” work is great. The canoe, the wooden boat, etc. Talk a little bit about that.
My dad grew up going to a small river in Wisconsin and he and my mom, when they met, my dad was a river running guide because he really loved the river. That’s what brought them to Montana. They were going to start a family, but they were doing this sort of very outdoor lifestyle, and then they were trying to settle down and kind of be back to landers, but that didn’t really stick. My dad has a lot of family history in rural Wisconsin, so some of the “North” images are from up there traveling.
I love the picture of the net covering the food from “South” project. That looks very Appalachian to me, like church homecoming. If I found out that it was taken in Jenkins, Kentucky, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Yeah, I think it’s one of those things where you’re looking at something that kind of feels weird, but it also feels very normal.
What inspires you to start a project or to work on a project, what is your motivation right now, what gets you going?
Besides money. You can’t say money.
Right now I’m in a stage where I’m realizing that it’s okay to go backwards a little bit and say, “Wait, I want to play again with photography,” rather than thinking about it like, “This is how I know how to photograph.” Because I think that kind of ends up getting stale or not as fun. So right now I’m letting myself not take everything so seriously. I think that is a good way of putting it, like just, like trying to kind of figure out how to take portraits again, kind of get me excited. I went to a review conference in Montana and had to start printing some of the stuff from the more recent years in Montana that I don’t have edited, and I’m realizing that that is also an important part of the process, is to just get things like out of the computer and onto paper, and looking at them, and thinking about the larger dialogue of the work.
So I’m thinking about it more in the sense of like, “Okay, what do I want to shoot this summer? That I feel like is missing from the series.” But also how can I play with it again instead of it being it has to be this one way.
I think that’s a great idea about wanting to play again, just to get to the point where you can accept that every picture doesn’t have to be a home run, or it to be perfect. There’s some pressure usually that builds up when working like that.
I was with a bunch of different photographers and some people were more editorial and some people were more fine art and some people were more still life, or whatever, and [I was], like, “Oh, that’s a good picture! But it’s not mine and I don’t need to be the one to take it.” So, realizing that you can kind of be … You don’t have to try and force some other version of who you are.