Kathleen Wilke’s underwater photographs have an ethereal quality to them that makes you want to just sit and stare for a while, letting your mind wander. And now, courtesy of DECORAZONgallery, you’ll be able to take them in starting Friday, when the Dallas mother of four has her first gallery show there. The show is a result of Wilke’s victory this summer on the North Texas stop on the Unseen Tour, a photography contest that seeks out undiscovered talent.
Landing your first gallery show is a milestone for any artist. For Wilke, it’s the culmination of a long road back to working after suffering a stroke less than two years ago. It was an event that changed both her personal and professional life, which she discusses as part of the Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: You’ve found a niche with underwater photography — how did you get into that?
Kathleen Wilke: I’ve raised four kids, and am still raising four kids, so I kind of stopped doing my art for a long time. But then I started up with portrait photography, because I studied photography and illustration in college but never did anything with it. That kind of took off because of the mom connection – I knew lots of kids who needed their portraits done. Then I had a stroke, two years ago this February. And during the time of recovery, I was kind of stuck at the computer and I still wanted to do my photography. But I felt trapped, because I couldn’t do anything.
So I just started looking around on Flickr – I know tons of people on there and I’ve been on there for years – and just from groups and looking at other people’s work I learned a lot through them and got interested in more of a fine art photography. There was an underwater photographer on Flickr who inspired me and I started researching underwater photography from there and I thought of the Lady of the Lake story. And I thought for sure that people would want to see that, especially if I did a local thing.
A&S: Where did you hear about the Lady of the Lake story?
K.W.: I’ve always known about that.
A&S: Really? I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never heard it.
K.W.: I first heard about it through a good friend of mine, whose kids are friends with my kids. She used to dress up as the Lady of the Lake and go out in the middle of the night to one of the docks, and her husband would take the kids out in the car to search for the Lady of the Lake. It would freak them out when they were real little.
A&S: What is it about the story that you thought would make it a good subject for a photo essay?
K.W.: I thought image-wise there was so much you could do with it. She drowns, she comes out and she gets a ride home – that’s basically the story. She’s a ghost, and people keep taking her home. It just fit in with what I wanted to try, which was underwater. I knew it would be unusual, because I had researched the Unseen Tour and what had been exhibited, and it’s all cityscapes, buildings – there was no story. And I thought this would standout.
A&S: Judging from your photos, it looks like you must demand a lot of your models.
A&S: How much direction do you give them when setting up a shot?
K.W.: I pretty much tell them what to do, and toward the end of the shoot, they like making up their own poses, and so I let them take a turn with it.
A&S: Do you do much digital manipulation of the photos?
K.W.: Not the underwater ones. They’re so easy to work with because the light just paints them naturally. The only thing I touch up is like the drains, the tile line – stuff that’s distracting.
A&S: Can you pass along any tips to someone who might want to give underwater photography a try?
K.W.: There’s all different ways to do it, and I kinda do have a secret way of doing it .. but I don’t want to tell! [laughs]
A&S: Well, you’d be the magician giving up the trick, I suppose.
A&S: When you’re not shooting underwater, you take a lot of landscape and floral pictures that have painterly qualities to them. Is it fair to say that you strive for a dreamlike feel in your work?
K.W.: That’s true. I used to draw, and I majored in illustration, too. Other than the underwater photographs, a lot of times it’s hard for me not to manipulate a photograph. There are so many things you can do with it now digitally. To me, a lot of straight photography is what you see, and I’d rather see something that’s created … that’s changed. Like a drawing. Underwater is a different story, because of what the light and the reflection do naturally. I could stay shooting stuff underwater – I don’t think I’m going to get bored with it.
A&S: Of course, no one would ever want to have a stroke or major injury like you had, but do you ever think about how going through that process led you to this new path in your career?
K.W.: Exactly — you said it. I really do. First of all, it did alter my view of everything – what makes you happy, how short your life could be. If you have a chance, do something that makes you happy. I’m not doing this hoping I’m going to be rich. I’m just doing this because I love it. Before the stroke, I would have thought, “I’m not going to make any money doing this,” and I would have gone the practical way with the children’s portraiture. But now I’d rather just be happy.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment. To see more of Kathleen Wilke’s photographs, visit her Web site.