Estonian photographer Karoliina Kase uses photography to explore the interplay of people, environment, and light. She combines personal experience and fiction to communicate a psychological narrative and investigate the personalities and moods of her subjects.
Karoliina shot the series Bruno while completing her BA in Visual Arts at Brown University (Bruno is the name of the Brown University mascot). A former athlete herself, Karoliina used her personal insights to create a portrait of the athletes from the many Brown sports teams.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started in photography.
I’m someone who attempts to live according to my inner truth and morals. If I were to define myself by my most important work, I’d say I’m an artist and an environmentalist. I think I was around eleven years old when I got my hands on my parents’ point and shoot film camera. My early practice was about taking “pretty” pictures – until I enrolled in my first photography class during my sophomore year in college. I ended up specialising in photography and I’ve been practicing in depth for the past five and a half years.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
I had the privilege of spending a lot of time in nature as a kid, thus I’ve always been inspired by it – beauty orchestrated by unseen forces, coexisting cycles of life and death and a constant striving towards balance. I think the content of my photographs is often melancholic, so applying this appreciation of harmony to create aesthetic images helps to balance my work. Besides nature, I am influenced by personal relationships and experiences. My motivation comes from the idea of serving people and challenging the thought processes of my audience.
We are featuring images from your Bruno series; tell us about how this series came about and the inspiration behind it.
I’m a former athlete and I still compete for fun. Having this perspective gives me insight into to being one – we have strong internal pride for what our bodies are capable of, the discipline to repeat the same, often absurd, movements, while we obsess over improvement. Given this personal awareness, I wanted to tackle the athletic identity using photography. Executing this project while studying at an American college was an ideal setting – there are thirty eight varsity teams at Brown University. I photographed at least one athlete from all of the teams. I gave the athletes general cues for posing to betray the nuances of their body language. While capturing the presence of student athletes in the environment of their sport, I was interested in how athletic identities are bound to and shaped by the apparatus/location of their training. I ended up with about sixty portraits of individual athletes, forming a typology of different sports – observing the varieties of environments, attitudes and body types present within the student athletic body. By the end of Bruno, I realised that my continuous quest to perfect the athletic portrait was a similar practice to that of athletic improvement.
In your opinion, what makes a good portrait? Do you need a connection with the subject to get the ‘best’ portrait? What works for you?
A good portrait captures an intrinsic quality about its subject. I think this requires empathy on the behalf of the artist and vulnerability from the model, even if it’s fleeting. While I always try to relate to people, in my experience it isn’t necessary to have a deep connection with the subject. Even if the person doesn’t feel very comfortable in front of the camera, I seem to have some luck with capturing intangible aspects of my subjects. This luck has been strongly correlated with practice, though.
What is next for you? Are you working on any projects that you can tell us about?
I’m currently at my first artist residency in Vermont Studio Center. While I have continued my work with athletics – photographing athletic spaces at a local college, I decided to undertake a new project to explore my longstanding interest in the environment. Since I haven’t developed any of the film yet and I’m not completely certain if things are working out, I don’t want to reveal too much. What I can say is that I’m photographing litter and it’s my first abstract project. In May, I’m showing some of my photos in group shows in Rome and London. Everything after that is still in the making.
Who was the last photographer whose work made you stop in your tracks and just say “Wow”?
I think Leonard Suryajaya is on to something great in his photographs – his work is thought provoking and incredibly engaging visually. If I were to mention a specific project, then I only recently came across Annie Leibovitz’s photos taken at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Photographing at the Olympics is definitely on my bucket list now.
See more of Karoliina’s work at:
All images copyright Karoliina Kase.