Karine Laval is, in a sense, haunted by water. The French-born, Brooklyn-based photographer swims, sails and surfs in it. But most important, she photographs it – pools in particular – in a breathless fine art way that conjures Hockney and Hollywood. Her new “Altered States” series, on view at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in Manhattan through May 24, flows from her earlier work in a new direction. (You can also see her photographs at everythingbutwater.com.)
There’s more on Karine and Everything But Water – the swimwear company that has stores in The Westchester and Greenwich – in WAG’s May “Heating Up” issue. But in the meantime, we thought we’d tantalize you with some of her images and a portion of our interview:
The New Yorker has described your work as painterly and revealing, almost dreamlike. How do you achieve these effects with your camera? Do you go digital or are you old school?
“My process is analog from shooting films to printing the works myself in the darkroom, until recently. I now have to print the work digitally because old-fashioned darkrooms are disappearing. But also I print my work in larger scale now, and it is very difficult to handle the paper in a darkroom without damaging the print. So I would say that my process combines both analog and digital now. However, the painterly and dreamlike aspect of the work – as often described – is still very much the result of an in-camera and chemical process. The choice of the film, the way I decide to expose it (often overexpose it) combined with the shutter speed, and the chemicals I use when I process the films all contribute to the aspect and mood of the final image. I never manipulate the image digitally. All you see on the surface of the photograph was in front of the camera, but it’s been altered through the transformative power of photography.”
Have you been inspired by a particular water artist or water work?
“When asked about my influences, I always have a hard time answering as I find inspiration everywhere – in the world surrounding me, in my travels, music, dance, cinema, painting, conversations and many other things. My obsession with water and the first project started ‘out of the blue’ – so to speak – and was not triggered by the work of another artist or water work. I even discovered David Hockney’s paintings of pools after someone pointed out to me the connection with my ‘Pool’ series. However, there is another element I’m particularly interested in and that plays an important role in my work – light. Some of the artists who have worked with this natural element and whom I find inspiring are James Turrell, Dan Flavin, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Bill Viola and Ólafur Elíasson, to name a few.”
You also make videos and mixed-media works. Are these as concerned with water images?
“Not necessarily, but they have an organic and fluid aspect to them, particularly my videos. I see a parallel between the surface of the water and the surface of the computer screen and the way they contain light and movement. It therefore feels natural to me to use the computer screen in a similar manner I have used the surface of the water – as a distorting lens to generate images of transformed reality. Also, both water and the screen have a shimmering and seductive quality one can be drawn to. Most of these new works are abstract, but somehow they are still connected to the body and the notion of performance and materiality. But there is much to be developed here, and it should be the subject of another article.”
Your work is featured on the website of Everything But Water. How did that come about?
“The owner of the company (Sabra Krock) contacted me after a curator I think introduced her to my work.”
Your public pool images have a Euro feel while your private pool images seem to be set mainly in the United States. Do the U.S. and Europe view water, pools differently?
“All the swimming pools I photographed in the “Pool” series were public pools from various European countries – France, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia, Germany. Europe has a very strong culture of public bathing harkening back to the 19th century. The experience of public pools there is also quite democratic, which doesn’t seem to be the case in the US. Without pretending to make generalizations, I think there is a stronger sense of individuality in the U.S. so it made sense to me to focus on private swimming pools when I decided to work on a new pool project here. I shot the “Poolscapes” series exclusively in the U.S., mostly in California. But there are also a few pools shot on the East Coast in Long Island.”
For more, visit karinelaval.com.