Julia KlemUntitled (2014)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’.

As with most of my mental tangents, it started as a digression; specifically, a friend was talking to me about their post-election anxiety.

They said: I feel gutted.

Gutted: a harsh word–the choked G, the clot of Ts; a former presence (I had guts before) and current absence (I no longer have guts); an implicit violence resonates.


Gutted: a word intimately connected with hunting and fishing–you gut the fish you caught, the deer you shot before you can eat it. Something dies so that something else might live on. If you’re gutted the benefit of your body is no longer something for which you may lay claim/benefit.


Like ‘gutted’ it conveys a similar sense of former presence and current absence, except presence or absence are connected more to uselessness of the presence. The word itself is violent but there’s a matter-of-factness to the treatment that feels sterile–the corpse on a slap with a Y incision and the visera packed into a plastic bag placed somewhere off to the side on a scale.

Hollowed out?

The former presence is downplayed to focus on the current absence. Did it happen slowly? Was it violent. Is it figurative or literal?

Good? Better? Best?

Initially, I thought that ‘gutted’ was good; ‘eviscerated’ was better and ‘hollowed out’ was best.

Now I’m not so sure. I think if I were speaking, ‘hollowed out’ would be the best choice. For someone else, it might be different.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of artistic influences–that’s the prism through which I’m approaching Klem’s fucking FANTASTIC photographs.

Any schmuck who knows a bit about Internet famous photographers, can probably spot the overlap between Klem and Laura Makabresku. (And there’s almost no way that Klem doesn’t consider LM an influence–it’s much more than the repeated crow motifs.)

I don’t like LM’s work; it’s Brooke Shaden directing a Stabbing Westward music video based upon a little known Edgar Allen Poe short story aesthetic has always struck me as pure posturing (at best) or sycophantic contrivance.

Is it unique? Without a doubt. But does her gauzy, soft-grunge aesthetic compliment yearning and mournful–or is it yearning to be mournful– favors concepts and content.

It’s almost like hearing someone say they felt ‘gutted’ and then every time they find yourself in a situation that they think is similar they respond by saying they feel ‘gutted.’

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We learn what feelings apply to which situations through empathy.

Artistic influence is not unlike this. We find comfort and derive solace from work that moves us. So it’s easy to say: this moves me the most and therefore I am going to make this the example that I follow. Our heroes say they feel gutted and we are inclined to follow suit.

But none of us are our heroes. And part of being a gifted artist is knowing when to stay the course and part ways.

I’ve always felt that LM say she feels “gutted” when she might be better served by identifying as “hollowed out”. 

That not a bad thing, inherently. Although in my experience is does limit the range, resonance and accessibility of the work. What frustrates me about LM is that her choices always seem to so completely undercut what I feel is the central tact of her work–slow dirge for new oneiric feminine; and she stands behind those choices with such bravado.

Why doesn’t that diminish the value of Klem’s work–I mean if she’s influenced by LM, then doesn’t that discount her work? I would argue no. There’s a way in which Klem’s work manages a unified aesthetic but the aesthetic expands outward to engage with concepts. (LM on the other hand tosses concepts like darts at the bullseye that is her aesthetic.)

In other words, Klem work is comparable to the person who says “hollowed out” because it’s the fullest way of expressing their own multiplicity of meaning even though ‘eviscerated’ might make her feel smarter and/or ‘gutted’ might appeal to her desire for visceral resonance.

The two other observations I can offer on approaching Klem’s work:

  1. While I’m less fond of her experiments with color but her use of it is entirely in keeping with notions of what role color should play in fine art photography–her color work insists on its own colorness in exactly the way color fine art photography should.
  2. Less in style or execution but when it comes to the relationship Klem seems to wish her audience to have with her subjects, there is more than a passing reminiscence to one of my favorite photographers of all time: Lynn Kastanovics.

Bonus: Klem really knows when and where to preference vertical orientation over landscape. (It’s actually a subject to which I  am considering the dedication of a future post .)

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