Klea McKenna's photograms.
A new way of reading the universe.
"In the drama and violence of weather, erosion, decay and growth there are allegories for human emotional experience"
We've long been an admirer of Californian artist Klea McKenna and this month, at Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles, she launches a brand new body of work using her signature photogram techniques at the LA exhibition, Automatic Earth.
It's been almost a decade since McKenna set down her camera and left 'straight' photography in the search for what she calls, "a kind of visual freedom". The material of light-sensitive paper creates unique limitations, as well as possibilities, that enable an experience and record of the landscape unlike any mainstream photography methods. Using a variety of strategies, such as outdoor photograms made at night, and methods of rubbing and folding photographic paper to create sculptural images, McKenna is essentially working blind, working with faith to create the unknowable.
A photogram is the physical meeting of light-sensitive paper and subject, recording that particular moment where the materials interact. Rainstorms & Rain Studies, one of the artist's ongoing series of black and white photograms on gelatine silver, are made outdoors in the darkness of rainy nights. Each unique image portrays an element of landscape we feel, yet cannot see. McKenna says of this series,
"We all know the sensation, both physical and emotional, of standing in the darkness in the pouring rain. My challenge is to illuminate that sensation and make it visible. I often work on location, in darkness and at the whim of the elements – using the night time as my darkroom".
The chosen landscape and its subject matters are of high importance in the work. Landscape, for McKenna, is what she terms, "an animate and emotive force rather than a pastoral depiction. In the drama and violence of weather, erosion, decay and growth there are allegories for human emotional experience". Although the project started in Hawaii - where rain is in abundance - McKenna has been making the most recent images in the series at her California home. It is well documented that the state has been going through a severe drought and so McKenna's attention to the rainfall has been heightened. She says, "The constant anticipation of rain and the act of documenting it on the rare occasions that it comes, has become my own sort of rain dance".
The new work at Von Lintel is an examination of broken patterns within landscape. Concentric tree rings and crumbling cement architecture all feature as blue prints in the natural and urban landscapes. McKenna is occupied with flawed patterns, where the disruptions operate as allegories for human emotional experience. Within the ruptures of the patterns we are told something of a trauma, or an interaction. The truths may be natural or a result of human intervention; a drought or the slash of a chainsaw, every mark tells a story.
In order to create these images McKenna makes an impression of an outdoor surface by hand-embossing onto light-sensitive paper during the night. She then exposes the paper, using flashlights, to fix the recorded textures. McKenna explains that the immediacy between paper and subject generates a dimensional relief - an imprint of place, experience and the labour that made it.
For those lucky enough to be in LA between November 5th and January 7th, we highly recommend spending some time with these traces of a moment and a place, created by a thoughtful Californian artist recording the stories of her environment.
Written by Amy Moffat
Images taken from
Images taken from