Photography & Digital Arts


Karen Moe: Politically Emotive Photographer: Photography That Strives to Remember what has been Lost

Photography, especially in an age in which the camera is a ubiquitous object and every image or event is consumed and re-produced through the lens, has been denigrated as an artistic pursuit. Photographers are rarely as widely known and respected as other artists who work with paint, clay or other media. However, photography has the immense potential, because it both captures and transcends the moment, the ephemeral, to work within the parameters of beauty in order to make subtle and haunting political statements about the world in which we live.

Karen Moe is a Vancouver photographer who is aiming to do just that. Through all her photographic projects, she desires to celebrate the liminal, reclaim the lost and provide a way into what is often unseen.

Karen Moe's Biography

Moe is a self-taught photographer who was born in 1966 in Vancouver, BC. While she has taken several courses in her art over the years, her degree is in English Literature and Feminist Cultural Studies.. She is also a singer/songwriter who has performed in the punk rock band Mizmo as well as embodying the transgressive diva Karl Lesley. Her roots as a photographer are in the laborious techniques of the darkroom and she has only recently begun exploring digital photography. She has been producing photographic sequences for the past eleven years that focus in on different aspects of gender, eco-feminism and the rejected spaces and objects in the urban environment. At times Moe will combine her theatrical and musical skills to produce multi-media performances with her photography.

Karen Moe's Photographic Projects

Her first sequence emerged in 1999 and is known as Heuristique. In this series, Moe drew from her own naked body as the subject matter for a visual discourse on knowledge and obfuscations in patriarchal cultures. Using silver gelatin, Moe exposed the way women are taught to see their bodies, in essentially decontextualized pieces.

Her second two projects center on Havana, Cuba, where Moe spent time traveling in 2000. The initial one attends to the textures of Cuban walls which, in North American culture are seen as art, but in Cuba are viewed as flawed signs of poverty. The second sequence focuses on stray dogs or perros. Again, the dog is valorized as a pampered domesticated being in North America, but in Cuba is often seen as a pest or a menace. These latter photos are also part of a 2008 collection of sonnets by Joe Rosenblatt and Catherine Owen called DOG. Moe calls this exploration the "turista" genre, one in which she can question her subjective position as a safe first-worlder.

In 2000-02, Moe collaborated with poet Catherine Owen on a book titled Cusp/detritus: An experiment in alleyways. This work commemorated the lost male in patriarchy, the man who turns to drugs, homelessness or sinks into mental illness as a result of being incapable of finding a place in the "system." Moe took photos of crushed suitcases, rotten apples, discarded furniture and other remnants of urban decay.

Perhaps Moe's most politically charged work is 2005's Lethe: A mock metaphysics. In this shocking and moving sequence, Moe again snaps her body, but here she has transformed it into three archetypes: Constable Hold-the-Tits, the epitome of patriarchy, Poopsie, the girly-girl, and She-Doggy, the transgressive rebel. The giclee prints feature montages of the three characters in various positions, inscribing a grotesque, disruptive and painful narrative of forgetting, sublimation and rupture.

Moe's newest works turn to nature to engage with its beauty and dismissal. Beginning with Wind (2004 onwards) and Sea Surfaces (2006-2008) and continuing with the ongoing Wilderness (2008-present), Moe shows us the textures of the ephemeral and yet crucial aspects of the natural world, most recently attending to the invisibilization of the domestic farm animal in her first digital project. Here Moe valorizes the oft-eaten cow, pig and sheep through language and framing devices that include the incorporation of petals, blackberries and ribbons.

Karen Moe continues to re-define photography's potential as both an artistic and a political medium.

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