Mexico Lindo / Beautiful Mexico
Kate Breakey was born in 1957 in Adelaide, South Australia. She is best known for “Small Deaths,” a series of hand-colored images of the remains of birds, small creatures, and plant life that—paradoxically—glow with life. Her photoworks have appeared in scores of one-woman and group exhibitions in the U.S. In 2004 Breakey received the Photographer of the Year Award from the Houston Center for Photography. She is also the author of “Painted Light,” a career retrospective of her luminous work, and “Las Sombras / The Shadows.” Breakey currently lives and works in Arizona.
All my work is about the natural world—about being fascinated and marveling over it, having a sense of wonder. This is how I express love.
DANIEL LEVIS KELTNER: Did you come to San Miguel de Allende expecting to shoot a new photo series? Was it your first shoot in Mexico? What do you find most compelling about the Mexican landscape?
KATE BREAKEY: I came to San Miguel on holiday in the late 1990’s having never been to central Mexico before. On the long drive through the countryside from the Leon Airport, I was struck by the beauty of that landscape. Year after year I came back—always in June when it was very dry, usually just before the rains came. I think this landscape with its rolling hillsides and gorges, the Huisache trees, and the huge cacti is striking—different from anything I’d seen before. It’s also a ragged scruffy landscape, and as an Australian I am drawn to those, I find them more interesting than lush, or pretty places. I’ve shot hundreds of rolls of film and only recently begun printing it.
KELTNER: The printed photos have a gorgeous yellow glow, which adds to the timeless and profound rendering of the landscape. How did you approach coloring this series?
BREAKEY: This work is digitally printed from scanned medium format negatives. I make them ‘golden’ to emulate the variable sepia tone I would otherwise use in the darkroom. It gives them a warmth and suggests they could be pictorialist (vintage) photography from the turn of the century. Most of these images were made in the late afternoon when the light was golden, so I think it is appropriate.
KELTNER: Texture and light seem critical to understanding these images as aesthetic creations. Do viewers of your work need any special “reading” skills to be able to appreciate your work? For instance, you’ve described yourself as a “sensualist.” Must your fans also be sensualists? With what in mind what do you hope to leave your viewers?
BREAKEY: The series is part of a much larger body of landscape work that I’ve only recently started making, drawn from 30 years of negatives taken all over the world that I’ve never printed before. I’m scanning these negatives so I can adjust them and print them digitally. I have realized that they are very much a history of my travels and my attraction to places that are vast, or grand, or wild, messy, empty, haunting—places that have taken me outside of myself and made me appreciate my place in the universe (as a meaningless speck of dust)—places to get sort of visually lost in. So I hope viewers can get lost in them too. I like to print them large so you can fall into them, ‘become one’ with the texture and light. I don’t think it takes any skill to do that if you are visually aware.
KELTNER: After countless shows and three well-received publications, “Small Deaths,” “Painted Light,” and “Las Sombras,” what do you consider your most important contribution thus far to the art world or the world at large?
BREAKEY: That’s hard to say, I don’t really think in terms of contribution. Making images is an obsession that has little to do with my perception of their affect in the world and more to do with a personal need to make sense of my own existence. All my work is about the natural world—about being fascinated and marveling over it, having a sense of wonder. This is how I express love. If people can relate to the work, are moved by it, I’m very pleased—it means I’m not alone. I’d like to think my work motivated people to take more notice and care of this planet.
Special thanks to The Wittliff Collections.
Daniel Levis Keltner, Managing Editor