In Conversation With Kathryn Allen Hurni

Interviewed by Timothy Frazier
Images by Kathryn Allen Hurni

TF: How did you get into photography?

KAH: Following my brother's suggestion, I took a photography course freshman year of high school.  He had gone through the same curriculum seven years prior and had a feeling I'd really like the photo teacher. This simple recommendation was the basis for a 20+ year journey into photography. 
Also: props to Gabrielle Russomango; my old photo teacher. My brother was right. Not only is Gaby a wildly talented artist, but she also encouraged me to explore and stay curious in my artistic practice.

TF: Tell me about your series, "House of Surprises/Twinsburg".

KAH: I  was asked by a fellow photographer if I wanted to come along and photograph The International Twins Festival with him.  It was a spur of the moment decision, and I really had no idea what to expect.  Only after I had attended the first time did I realize that Mary Ellen Mark had photographed the same event for her series, Twins.

KAH: The most compelling thing about events such as the twins festival is people's willingness to present themselves in front of the camera.  This project is less about twins, then it is about striping away the masks that people present to one another. 

KAH: For me, portraiture is choreographing a pose that bears witness to the moment before, or the moment before that.  An awkward vulnerability arises in asking a person to perform an act that was once natural but is now stagecraft. Suddenly the unconscious movement that lured me in, transforms into a self-conscious gesture before the camera.

KAH: Both states of consciousness reveal what’s behind the physicality of the sitter, but self-consciousness is directly related to a camera being present. I use the sitter’s self-centered state as a way to simultaneously recognize my photographic disruption and erase it.  After all, self-consciousness narrows the ability to think much beyond the personal, and in that state the sitter is once again is cast back to a place that holds little room to recognize my presence. The mask that came about with my approach cracks, and my presences as a photographer is both recognized and erased.  In this moment I am able to join them.

TF: Tell me about your series on Russia.

KAH: I generally don’t shoot with an outcome or concept in mind. I shoot intuitively and then dig into theme or reason through editing. What links all my work together, Translation included, is the ability to reveal something fundamental; photography may not be honest, but it has the ability to communicate the truth.

KAH: I naturally gravitate to people and places that are unguarded in a sense. They offer up something willingly, but unknowingly. This is especially the case while photographing in Russia. I had no real grasp on the language, and was traversing a foreign landscape. I had no real context to ground me, which left with me operating on instincts and impressions. This opened up the possibility to interact intuitively and naively while shooting. 

KAH: It’s amazing the kind of emotional collaboration experienced when asking someone to be photographed, especially without the use of a shared language.  This type of pure exchange is what I’m always searching for.

TF: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

KAH: Flying! Would be a tremendous boon to save on airfare.

TF: Future plans or upcoming projects?

KAH: I'll let you know when I have something brewing!

Kathryn Allen Hurni, born in 1984, attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she obtained a B.F.A. in in Photography. Since graduating in 2006, her work has been shown in several exhibitions in collaboration with Aperture Gallery, Manifest Gallery, and The Center for Fine Art Photography. She had her first solo show at Penn State University in 2015. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including T Magazine, DETAILS, WSJ, W Magazine, and is the recipient of the 2017 ESPY Photo Award. Hurni currently divides her time between her fine art practice and her commercial work as a freelance photographer. Hurni is based in Brooklyn, New York.