Photographer profile - Kasia Burke
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 June 2020
Trained in the world of fashion photography, Hitchin’s Kasia Burke has turned her lens away from youth towards the beauty of decay.
It was inevitable that digital technology would filter through my interview with Kasia Burke. I just assumed when we arranged to meet that such wizardry would be part of this talented photographer’s work – with the aid of a Nikon D800 with a 50ml lens – to manipulate everyday objects into images that recall 17th century Dutch still life paintings. But between our initial contact and the interview, Covid-19 struck, putting an end to a face-to-face dialogue. Ah, but remember what I was saying about technology? Thanks to Skype, Kasia and I are able to meet, virtually at least, and, once pixelated screens and delayed sound are sorted, we settle down to discuss her career.
‘Photography has always been a passion of mine but, like art, was one of those things my parents discouraged in favour of a proper job,’ Kasia explains with no indication of resentment. In fact her early training would play a part in her reinvention.
‘I studied hospitality management at uni but by the age of 28 realised it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing so did a two year HND in photography. Still life and product photography were subjects I’ve always enjoyed, and I love food photography too.’
Prior to developing her own style, she worked at London’s MetroLab assisting iconic practitioners such as Rankin and Nick Knight. The fashion industry may not have appealed – ‘cut throat, just like The Devil Wears Prada’ – but nevertheless provided valuable experience.
‘I was able to learn and watch some amazing photographers. Still life photographers also hired the studio. I loved the way they worked, quietly behind closed doors.’
In that pre-digital age, Kasia took advantage of empty studio space by organising her own shoots, mainly portraiture, and using the dark room for developing. But with a husband who is a chef, food industry commissions started to come her way.
‘I did leaflet photography for restaurant openings, all bright and lovely, then around five years ago I decided to focus on the darker take; now I want to photograph mouldy food which is much more art based.’
In her Hitchin home, the 46-year-old is sitting in a downstairs room surrounded by a medley of objects ‘which offer continuous fascination’ such as dried leaves and wilting flowers. Each stem, she says, radiates its own attraction. She likens this to life models, choosing either to paint a young model or an old man.
‘Gnarliness, the way things dry and curl up, interests me. Death, an acceptance of death, comes into my work quite a lot, and understanding life cycles. I struggle to throw anything away, even a plant that’s died is beautiful in its own way.’
Compositions don’t always work to plan. Meticulous over small details, Kasia says the images in her head can be set up and captured in half an hour, but at other times she can spend all day on a shoot, ‘and it just doesn’t happen.’
After uploading her images to photography software on her computer, an image can take anything from 10 minutes to a week to perfect.
Her latest series is both experimental and involves an unusual technique.
‘For my wobbly pictures of dried flowers I move the camera as I take images and put them together on Photoshop afterwards. I’ve no idea what I’m going to get until the end.’
The busy room which is Kasia’s work space includes a hoard of old frames bought at charity shops and antique markets. Their battered edges, she reckons, harmonise with her subjects.
‘There’s more character in something which has a story behind it,’ the mum of two insists. ‘I love antiques and I love old people.’
Light is also key. ‘Every time I see a painting with dramatic light and flowing composition it inspires and excites me.’
When she moved to Hitchin eight years ago, it didn’t take long to appreciate and draw on the community spirit. Since then she has run workshops, taught at North Hertfordshire College and is a regular at Chidwickbury Art Fair. Right now, in these unprecedented times, Kasia can’t predict when her photographs will next be exhibited. But do head to her website, kasiaburkephotography.co.uk for more of her intriguing work, it’s well worth it. u