“Kathy Chapman forwards the film in her plastic camera as she exposes it, like a DJ scatching an L.P. In these lovely romantic urban landscapes, buildings and bridges echo, repeat, and fracture, turning concrete and steel into something as dreamlike and repetive as memory.”
– Cate McQuaid, Boston Globe
The Photography of Kathy Chapman:
Recording Pastoral Quietude and Urban Rhythms
Photography by Kathy Chapman, Fort Point Art Community’s OPEN STUDIOS, 322 Summer Street, Fifth Floor, Boston, Saturday, October 14 through Sunday, October 15, Noon to 5 p.m. For more information on the open studios, go to www.fortpointarts.org To see more of Chapman’s work, go to www.kathychapman.com
The most compelling aspect of being introduced to photographer Kathy Chapman was the pleasure of meeting the artist herself. Chapman is a true firebrand with a hyperkinetic mind firing in a myriad of directions all at once. After spending the afternoon with Chapman in her Fort Point studio, I felt as if my mental battery was highly charged for the remainder of 2006. Chapman works in a gigantic studio, throughout which resonated strains of fellow Minnesotan Paul Westerberg of The Replacements fame along with other talented independent recording artists from the Boston, Minneapolis and NY scenes, about which Chapman enthused. Chapman’s cat Urma appears to thrive in the company of this one-woman art laboratory.
Chapman’s training as a photographer included earning a BFA at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She spent her 3rd year at the Epsom College of Art and Design, south of London. Chapman said, “I went to art school with and had school exhibitions with popular rock musicians. While living in England, I was exposed to Roxy Music, which probably influenced my work as a music photographer. Back in the States, I worked 15 years for the Boston Phoenix, covering local and national music and I continue to shoot music assignments for publications and CD covers.”
During and after art school, Chapman made 16mm films. She worked with the Twin Cities Women’s Film Collective to make the 1976 film My People Are My Home. The film is about Meridel LeSueur, a writer, feminist, socialist, and peace activist in the Midwest. The film is shown periodically on PBS and resides in Harvard’s Gutman Library, among others. Although LeSueur was a native of Iowa, she did her writing in Minnesota and spent her last years in Chapman’s hometown of St. Paul.
As far as photographers that Chapman admires, she cites Diane Arbus without missing a beat. Arbus is the classic street photographer, and Chapman considers herself part of the street photography school. She also admires the work of French street photographers, which include Henri Cartier-Bresson. Bill Brandt is another photographer that Chapman respects. Brandt is noted for his high contrast images of British society as well as his distorted nudes and landscapes. “I also admire my teacher from MCAD, Tom Arndt, who has photos in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.”
Kathy Chapman reveres Irving Penn for his portraiture. Portraiture is also a strength of Chapman’s. She uses her keen perception to record the moods and emotions that she reads on the faces of the teens and young mothers she has photographed on the streets of South Boston. Yet it is her skill of composition that is transcendent. As your eyes trace the geometric design of each perambulator, as you deconstruct the photograph, you are stunned by the beauty of the individual elements!
Chapman says, “In the 80’s I worked on a series of photographs of young mothers and their babies in decorated carriages strolling on the streets of South Boston. I followed my young mother series with a series on teen gang members. I was interested to see what the boys were up to.”
When I asked Chapman to describe a black and white photo of teens dancing in the street, she replied, “It was a Halloween street dance in the West Village. Because this photograph is black and white, it emphasizes the design and movement of their bodies.” The photograph is gorgeous: the beauty of youthful freedom is an image one doesn’t want to release.
Chapman says that previous to 9/11, her photographs had been dark and angry. After 9/11, she switched, putting more emphasis on the value of life. Chapman elaborated, “I wanted my photographs to be more life affirming. I worked to make beautiful pictures, photographing the gardens of Essex and Manchester on the North Shore of Massachusetts. I want to capture a peaceful, meditative feeling. But, lately I’ve also been shooting darker images like graffiti, graveyards, and chain link fences with a Gothic feel, places where people get the feeling of being locked out.”
For her multi-image work, Chapman uses film, not digital, and composes as she shoots. She does not manipulate her images in the darkroom or in the computer. One of Chapman’s most powerful photographs is also one of her most popular. The photograph of clocks is titled 57th Street, NYC. Wild, colorful graffiti shots taken in the back alley behind her studio are also among my favorite photographs of Chapman’s. Graffiti, like symbolist poetry, lends itself to interpretation. In the one shot, the figure of a head looks like a combination of a hornet’s head, a biohazard sign, and a gas mask.
In fact, Chapman came across her current technique by accident, much like a Hip Hop DJ may have discovered scratching an LP which evolved into a groundbreaking urban art form. When shooting photographs, Chapman tried forwarding her film as she exposed it. Like that Hip Hop DJ, Chapman stumbled upon a new art form and the repercussions or “secondary gains” were priceless. Art that is aesthetically pleasing is one thing, but art that is ground breaking is something of even greater value. Moreover Chapman is not only talented; she is an artistic pioneer! Chapman’s mission as a photographer is “to answer those pesty questions by investigating life through visual language.”
For Chapman, the role of art is “to express beauty, to entertain, and to reveal alternative viewpoints.” Chapman shoots a wide variety of subjects. Be it a commercial assignment or a more personal creative project, Chapman is passionate about her photography. This is one of the aspects that struck me hardest about Chapman: the words apathy and boredom don’t seem to fit into her vocabulary. She works on many different levels, shooting weekly magazine assignments that include portraits, gourmet food, location, and environmental work, corporate work and live music. Chapman, who does not seem to have any spare time, makes greeting cards for fun. She enjoys teaching photography and has mentored teens at Artists For Humanity and taught at the Belmont Hill School.
Other than Chapman’s electrifying mental energy and unabated enthusiasm, what impresses me most is the way that she uses her camera as a key to unlock the dichotomy of beauty. The light, ethereal, and meditative facets of the Essex and Manchester gardens of Massachusetts’ North Shore; the brittle Minnesota saplings in winter, streaming, overflowing with sunlight; the dark, oppressive and angst-filled facets of the graffiti photos; the Gothic melancholy of the gargoyles; the heavy tone of the twisted, rusted iron bridges; the graveyards and the chain link fences, evoke a mood that is ominous and forbidding.
Nancy L. Foster, ARTSCOPE Magazine September/October 2006