Dark Ladies is a series of interviews that will bring you into the minds and hearts of the strongest, most interesting, beautiful and creative ladies the dark side has to offer.From Photographers to musicians and writers we will speak with female artists from all over the world about what motivates them and what haunts them… This is the second installment.
Next in line is the magnificent Karen Jerzyk. Her art will follow you into your dreams and make you think for hours. She is a self-taught photographer from the Greater Boston Area. She started with band photography in 2003 and in 2008 she ultimately decided to focus on working with models and staging her own scenes and ideas.
So without further ado… Karen Jerzyk:
1- What inspires you to create and take up your camera?
A whole slew of things. It changes drastically, from internal and external sources. Most ideas are just from life experiences- trying to show in a picture how I feel, or what I was thinking, or how I wish things could be. Sometimes it comes from reading books, listening to music or watching a movie (I’m much more inspired by cinema than I am other photographers). The biggest drive I have are the catty, shit-talking, terrible people that muddy up the whole “scene” (for lack of a better definition). I had gotten arrested for trespassing back in 2014 (another photographer called the cops on myself and my best friend who is also a photograher) and I’ll be honest, seeing everyone who wanted to see me fail laughing, cheering and posting horrible things about me on threads gave me an exuberant amount of drive. I thought “these fuckers seriously think they’re ‘getting me out of the picture’ with their shittiness?” Douchebags are ultimately the biggest fire under my ass. While I was waiting out my court date I took up doing a ton of self-portraits in my basement (I didn’t want to get caught again before court). It was completely different from my other work and I would post it as a big “fuck you” to all these people to show them that I’m still here, I’m not going to crumble or cry or give up because of a tiny little arrest.
2 – Do you go out with ideas in your head or do some of your pictures get taken spontaneously?
Typically I like to have an idea 100 percent planned out before I shoot, but sometimes the circumstances don’t allow that. For example, sometimes I’ll scoop up a model and we’ll go scouting for locations. If we find something, we go in, clean stuff up, arrange furniture and all that, and I sort of think of things spur or the moment. A perfect situation for me is being able to see a location (in person or photos) beforehand so I can plan everything out. I’ve been doing much more elaborate shoots the past year or so, but sometimes I miss the rawness of shooting someone spur-of-the-moment. I usually go with the flow- however things falls into place is how they’re going to be.
3 – In your evolution as a photographer and artist… how did you find your aesthetics and style, how did you evolve from the first tries to the point you are at now?
When I first started shooting models in 2009, I had no concepts, no direction, and basically just no fucking clue all around. My photos were so terrible. I would literally just meet up with someone and walk around taking their photos. One day I randomly saw a photo of an abandoned theater at a mental asylum in Connecticut and I was just like “What the fuuuuuck”. I had NO CLUE places like that existed. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. So, my locations got better, but my shooting style really didn’t. I’d bring models to abandoned places and just throw them up against peeling paint and shoot random photos. Eventually I started making my own costumes and all that. Years later, after always shooting vertically, I started choosing horizontally because it looked more cinematic. I also got ballsey enough to start setting up furniture and creating full scenes in these locations, something I got a lot of shit for from other “urban explorers”, probably because they were too lazy to do t themselves. It’s very dirty, dangerous (pulling furniture across rotting floors) and time-consuming, but I always wanted to make the best out of the locations I was in. From there, I started sketching out concepts and learning new techniques, which is where I am today. I’ve just added and changed a bunch of elements over the years, and I’m still learning and trying new things. I never want to say that I’ve reached my greatest point because that’s almost like admitting defeat. It’s like saying “I give up getting better and learning new things”. I always say, if I don’t look back at my work from six months ago and think “what the fuck was I thinking when I took this?” then I’m doing something wrong.
4 – Your photographs portray some quite odd and and haunting vision that is equal parts spooky and fascinating, what inspires you to the imaginary worlds you create with your work…
My father passed away unexpectedly in 2011 and that completely turned my world upside-down. I saw so many things differently, especially people. When you deal with something that serious you see how petty and cruel others can be. There’s also a flip side to that. People I hadn’t seen in years were caring and supportive. I also looked at living spaces much differently. My father had collapsed in our tub due to a heart attack/stroke. The paramedics came and pulled him out of the tub, and I remember seeing them drag my fathers naked body out of the bathroom onto our dining room floor, where he slipped out of their hands. His head slammed onto the floor. Sometimes it plays over in my head in slow motion. I remember thinking “How can I live in this house with so much trauma in the air? How can I walk between these walls with that kind of energy?” I think that’s when really realized how places- especially houses- are like books without words. So many chapters and twists and turns. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating because the locations I find tell their own stories, there’s really not much I have to do on my end to create something visually compelling that also tells a story. A lot of my work is an extension of what I was going through during and after his death, sometime paired with other life experiences like growing up and being made fun of. I can’t remember a day in my life that I’ve felt pretty. Admittedly, I yearn for t but it never comes. I could pretend, but I’ve never truly felt good about myself. So I combine that with the heaviness of the story being told through a location matched with that of the model who’s thin and pretty (what I wish I could be) and they’re in this scene that is basically emulating how I feel. I never consciously go into a shoot thinking it will look scary or terrifying or “like a nightmare” (a phrase people say to me all the time about my work), it just sort of happens
5 – What does darkness mean to you?
To me, it is what t is: the opposite of light. There’s a stigma with a lot of people about “darkness”. It’s always “why are you so morbid”, “aren’t you ever happy?”, etc etc. I don’t think it’s healthy to be overly obsessed with ANY end of the spectrum, but I absolutely believe that everyone should explore both. If people don’t introduce themselves to as many aspects of life that it has to offer, they haven’t truly lived. I absolutely love living animals, but do I also love taxidermy? Absolutely. Do I have a sense of humor about death? Of course. Do I read up on a lot of morbid shit? Yes, simply because it fascinates me and it’s a part of life. Darkness is always looked at as negative, but there’s a lot of ideals and events and things that are considered “dark” that brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. It’s all a matter of perspective.
6 – What kind of people do you enjoy working with?
Most definitely down to earth people. Despite the picture that’s been painted about me through social media (usually by people I’ve never met), I’m the most laid back person ever. I like being with people who are up for adventure- you know, like traveling and getting arrested. People who are focused on their art and who will go to the ends of the earth to achieve it. People who trust my judgement without questioning the outcome- having faith in me is huge. Models who can emote. Modeling is like acting, only harder, especially if you’re a nude model. Not only do you have to portray emotion through your face, but you’re body as well. That’s very important to me.
To see more of Karen’s Work go to:
All photos Copyright Karen Jerzyk. Not be reused without her express written permission.