Showcase: Inga Pae
The work of artist Inga Pae is bright and light and a positive feeling permeates her images. She is currently based in Colorado and works on projects that engage a wide variety of contemporary topics. Using her own vivid and spontaneous language of photography, she aims to inspire new conversations and connections.
Interviewed by Peter Hayes, curator of our media partner Pivot Art Gallery, an independent online project that features a new artist every month.
How and when did you first become interested in image making?
I discovered photography at age seven, developing prints in the bathtub with my father in Estonia. Based on reading numerous artist bios, it turns out that many of us caught the bug this way in the 70s and 80s.
Who are your role models and how do you relate to them?
I value the visions of many individuals who specialize in the field of photography, and the list is constantly increasing as I view new work. A few of my long time favorites include David LaChapelle, Phillip Toledano, Julia Fullerton-Batten, Julie Blackmon, and Jill Greenberg, just to name a few. In comparison, I recently “discovered” magnificent projects by Brian Christopher Sargent, Matthew Gamber, and Odette England.
Quite often I think to myself: “I wish I would have thought of that, it’s brilliant!” While I don’t wish to imitate anyone, I am selectively picking up on other artists’ insights and approaches to certain projects. Art succeeds and stays alive that way. A kernel of sensibility or perspective is passed on from one person to another and evolves in the process.
What is most challenging to you about the creative process?
In theory, a process starts and ends. For me it doesn’t end and this is a challenge. A project keeps moving in my head long after it is finished and new visual solutions keep popping up. It could take a year of incubation before a concept feels ready to shoot. I have learned to “just do it”, get it out of my head and on paper. With a few projects, I am now thinking of “sequel” work to deepen the study.
Can you describe your process? How do you make the images? Are they all digital? What tools and techniques do you use?
Yes, I use digital cameras. I am old-fashioned in a sense that I try to get everything “right” in the camera at the time of capture. I do minimal post-processing.
Much of your work has a narrative feel to it. How intentional is this? How do you come up with the situations in which your ‘characters’ appear – for example in the series “There is a Field”?
I think it is intentional. We know most of the time what we are seeing in a photograph and how it makes us feel. But what is the story? And we keep staring at the image as if the story is just about to reveal itself in full. There is room for fantasy and interpretation.
I draw influences from a wide variety of gestures in the contemporary culture– lines in a play, song lyrics, text messages, specific movements from a dance performance, for example.
Your overall aesthetic is clean and clear and bright. What are your motivations behind this?
Less clutter. Less is more. Our (visual) lives are so busy. Have you noticed that when you go to a museum, it feels as peaceful as standing on a mountain top? I think it’s largely because of high ceilings and a lot of white space – the sparse space gives you room to breathe.
I have thought of adding more “layers” to images, but keep coming back to the fact that all the layers are in the viewers’ mind.
Simplicity of a photograph has always compelled me to keep looking. An image can be clear the same way that language is. A word is precise, but its meaning can change based on the words around it. When a person looks at an image, they will always think of themselves, their own life experience. And even that perspective can change daily.
Though in a larger sense, most art can be seen this way, do you see your work as autobiographical?
Absolutely. I think there is a big difference between academic knowledge and experiential knowledge. The latter is what I draw from – it feels authentic to work that way.
What are your goals as an artist? Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
As the cultural and economic landscapes are changing, I am not sure if the traditional success milestones are as desirable in the future as they used to be. I am focusing on how I feel, rather than where to be in terms of achievement. (Of course, they tend to go hand-in-hand.) I currently feel as if I am in the middle school and happy to be learning, exploring. In five years, I would like to feel as if I am college graduate, comfortably getting a “hang of it”. And in 10 years I’d like to feel that I am well on my way – completely comfortable in my skin artistically, fulfilled with the quality of work, peaceful about my creative process.
When I hear “contemporary art”… I immediately think of art museums. I could spend days browsing exhibits and installations, not even come up for air. I find comfort and sincere joy in that type of immersion.
Specific to contemporary photography, I am an active contributor and consumer through contests, portfolio reviews, exhibits, and open studios – at many different levels. I believe it keeps the craft moving forward and encouraging everyone to evolve their work to new levels.
What is the most important thing you want viewers to come away from your work with? Who is your ultimate audience?
I would like the viewers to feel “in the know” and “connected” when they view the work. I want it to feel accessible, yet intriguing to new collectors — people who are opening up to different types of work and aesthetics. I believe that there is a crop of new collectors currently emerging, making the art scene a fun place to be.
What can you add that would help us understand you and/or your work better?
Perhaps I can tell you where the idea for the image “Gossip” came from. There is a magnificent monolog by Father Flynn character in the play Doubt. He explains to sister James that if someone goes on a high rooftop, stabs a pillow… and thousands of feathers spread wide and far….. one could never put ALL of them back. That is gossip.