A Q&A with Uprise artist John Klukas:
Where are you from and where do you currently reside?
I’m originally from St. Paul, MN and I now live in Astoria, NY.
How did you decide to pursue photography after receiving your psychology degree?
My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I were staying at her parents’ house while they were trying to sell it. Her father had been a fine art photographer at one point and still had a full darkroom in his basement. I had always wanted to try photography and this was the perfect chance. Her father gave me a lesson on how to process film and a friend taught me the basics of printing and the rest I learned as I went. During the days, I worked on psychology research for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and at night I would work in the darkroom until the wee hours of the morning. After a year, my wife and I realized that there must be more to life than grinding at a 9 to 5 and decided we would quit our jobs and move to Thailand, and we did. I was really loving shooting and printing at this point and, when I thought about what I would most like to be doing with my life, photography had become the answer.
Phantom Queen 2494 (2010) Archival Pigment Print
Do you feel that your education in psychology adds to your work?
I think that the brief time I spent working for the department of Psychiatry actually adds much more to my work than my education. I worked with all kinds of people and often people who have suffered greatly either because of their chemistry, their situation or both. I developed a sense of sensitivity and empathy during this time that still really helps me build rapport with the people that I photograph.
Is this where your interest in the subconscious and dreams arises from?
No, I have always been drawn to these things that I like to create and tell stories about. This underlying interest brought me initially to psychology and now to art. As my friend likes to remind me, “you don’t choose your art, your art chooses you.”
What is it that draws you to portray powerful female figures in your work?
I am drawn to strong women and so I like to portray the type of women that I am naturally drawn to. If a moth were to have an exhibition, I’m pretty certain it would mostly be pictures of flames. Secondly, I think we project a part of ourselves onto whomever we are photographing. Which is why the female characters in my stories aren’t simply strong, they are usually angry and a bit unhinged as well.
Phantom Queen 2409 (2010) Archival Pigment Print
Who is one of your favorite powerful female figures?
When I was doing research for the “Phantom Queen” story I came across the Celtic goddess Morrigan. I thought she was a complete badass, a war deity that could change forms and represented a perplexing combination of both life-giving and death-bringing abilities. Second place goes to Elizabeth Warren.