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Greg Kaplowitz

Vibrant, Abstract Photograms

Greg Kaplowitz, a featured artist with SF Station’s local artist program, started with more traditional forms of photography before moving to abstract expressionism and photograms — vibrant, abstract photographs that look more like paintings. He recently spoke with SF Station about his artistic process.

SF Station (SFS): Where did your initial interest in photography begin?

Greg Kaplowitz (GK): I remember always having a camera. As a little kid, I had one of those — what were they called, 110 cameras? I used to take pictures with those all the time. I copied my older sister a lot, so when she started doing photography in college I picked it up as well. Throughout the 90s, I brought my old 35mm manual camera everywhere I went, but it didn’t become a serious venture until maybe the last decade when I decided to go to school and “learn it properly” — a.k.a. get a degree. [Laughs]

SFS: When did you transition from traditional photography to the more experimental work you’re doing now?

GK: I’ve always loved abstraction, but I also loved using a camera, and those two things didn’t really mesh very well. I had this idea in the back of my head that I wanted to make photographs like the Abstract Expressionists, Rothko, the New York School of the 50s. But I never got anywhere using a camera; everything always came out so literal. When I was thinking about what to do for my final undergraduate project, I saw a couple photographers’ work that really lit a light in me.

SFS: How so?

GK: One of the artists was Adam Fuss, who made photographs that looked like paintings. I was just kind of blown away by it. So the next thing you know I was obsessed with his work; he was doing photograms without using cameras. He actually exposed animals in the darkroom to create these beautiful, abstract pieces that were also very literal at the same time, so I took that as a starting point.

SFS: Were they similar to your own work, where you can’t tell what you used to make them?

GK: The ones I was attracted to were the ones where I couldn’t tell what the hell they were — until eventually I got cues from other pieces of his and I actually figured out that they were entrails. [Laughs] There was this really great, visceral moment. Here’s this beautiful image that looks like some crazy painting, and oh my god, these are intestines!

SFS: When I first checked out Untitled Landscapes, I thought yours were paintings, too. How do you decide what materials to use in your photograms? Is it just whatever is available in your surrounding environment?

GK: Kind of. I set up these strict rules in my head, for instance: It must be done in the middle of the night. I was working in the back area of my apartment building in San Francisco, and I said OK, I’m doing an interpretation of this environment. So without seeing what was around me, using only touch, I’d gather these elements and put them on paper. It was all through touch and guesswork, basically a blind process, both in what the actual objects were and how they were placed on the paper for developing. Eventually, I was able to guess certain things that would happen, but there would always be surprises, which was my favorite part.

SFS: In your artist statement you say you’re interested in keeping things open to interpretation. What do you hope that audiences get out of your work?

GK: I almost don’t even need people to know what I’m thinking with the pieces! I’m interested in people’s reactions before they hear about the process – that’s a more real, truer experience. I just want them to come to it with no context and see what it brings out in them, and their memories and interior landscapes.

Find more information on the SF Station local artists page