When possible he uses his sense of balance to land properly without using any props but of course while falling from greater heights he uses harnesses/wire ropes. He later uses photo editing software to digitally remove the harness from the final photograph. The other trick up his sleeve is that, when landing on something to cushion his fall, he places the camera such that the cushioning object is not visible in the photograph.
The first photograph of this genre from him was titled "Blue Tree" where he is seen falling from a tree without any leaves set against a blue sky.
Skarbakka's work has been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries and art fairs. Skarbakka has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Fifty-One Fine Art Photography in Antwerp, Belgium, Irvine Contemporary in Washington DC, and Lawrimore Project in Seattle. His work has been exhibited at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, Ahlen Art Museum, Ahlen Germany and the Warhol Museum.
We had the opportunity interview Skarbakka and learn much more about his daringly artistic work. Check out his interview below:
Kerry, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, my name is Kerry Skarbakka. When asked this question of introduction, I usually respond, "I'm a performance-based image maker and I use my body as a metaphor to describe universal tensions and anxieties." Otherwise, I say I'm a visual artist working in video, performance and photography.
What inspired you to take to photography as a medium of expression? Have you dabbled in any other art forms?
My undergraduate degree was concentrated toward the studio arts. I drew and painted throughout childhood and high school, but in college, my passion turned to sculpture. I loved working with metal. At that time, photography was more a means of documenting my other projects. Strangely, I never understood it as a conceptual art form until later. I had always taken pictures but never really understood what it meant to "make" pictures. I gained my first camera from a friend in college who owed me some money. He offered his old Canon AE-1 for payment. After college, I moved to Japan and took this camera with me. As sculpture materials and facility were expensive, difficult to come by and/or maintain in Japan, I began to look at the camera as more of an alternative and immediate means of artistic expression. I started with landscape, photojournalism and high contrast abstract imagery, but nothing was really original or interesting for that matter. My first real experience with the power of the camera resulted from documenting my mother's death to cancer. From that catalyst, I applied to Graduate School to figure out if there was a future for me in image making. Early on in my program, I realized my role as an artist with a camera. Combining my love of building objects, the early practice of documenting them, a little humor and some in-your-face action, I was finally able to make the full conceptual conversion over to making photographs. The camera remains a simple recording device. Only now it captures more elaborate constructions, scenes and activities of my own creation.
However, if the truth be told, I've always wanted to be an actor. I guess that's one reason why I'm the model of my own work.
Tell us about the photography series - “The Struggle to Right Oneself”. What was the inspiration behind this series?
"The Struggle" began in graduate school. The first images from the series, originally entitled, "Existential Blues" were my breakthrough. Indeed, at the end of my second year, those first works landed me a prestigious emerging artist solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The inspiration, if you can call it that, was a culmination of sadness, anxiety and confusion resulting from my Mother's demise and the events of September 11. I simply had nowhere else to go and I knew that I had to channel all this built up emotion. As an individual and an artist, I was becoming more existential in thought and theory and increasingly concerned about mortality and the human condition. Additionally, I hadn't forgotten about my desire to perform. Add my love for the physical body and the years of studying of various martial arts and eventually I found the simple act of falling made sense as a metaphor and a process to begin the discussion of these issues. I wanted desperately to connect with people on a more universal level, instead of making the images about me. This is why the/my face is indistinguishable in most of the work. The clothing and in particular the suit allows me to become more of an "everyman".
In all the falling photographs would you like to share with us what kind of equipment you use? Hope you have not had to deal with any mishaps.
The work really varies in terms of how it's made. Much depends on what I can get away with safely and what I cannot. In situations where the impossibility of a safe landing is not assured, I rely on a series of ropes and harnessing; a skill set learned from rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest. However, mishaps happen. Ribs have been fractured, ankles sprained, lots of cuts, bruises, headaches, and the occasional round of nausea has even occurred. But basically it really depends again on what I want to do, what I'm allowed to do and the best way of getting it done quickly, safely and without the police showing up. Now the biggest struggle of all is keeping my body up the challenge.
Your “Fluid” series of photographs is very intriguing. Tell us something about it.
In 2004, I applied to the Creative Capital Foundation for the support of a proposed body of images that would talk about the concerns and effects of global warming. Very concerned about what was happening to the environment and what that would mean in a future context, I decided I wanted to play out some of the possible scenarios of this impact on civilization. Little did I know that just days after I would be informed of my selection of this most amazing grant, the Tsunami in Indonesia claimed 270,000 lives. Ever since that catastrophe and Katrina, which happened here in the United States, this series has been a challenge to say the least. I actually consider "Fluid" a chapter in my "Struggle" series; another way of looking at the impermanence and precarious balance we share with all living things on this planet.
What techniques did you use to shoot for the “fluid” series of photographs(especially the underwater ones)?
All of them are shot on location, with some images made as deep as 100 feet. I bring a team of divers for safety and photographic help. I'll scout the scene, shoot it and then surface. Afterward I return to the scene with my photographer, submerge and engage the environment. It's a lot of fun, but can get quite scary. Incidents and mishaps also happen. Nothing too shocking, but a couple of good scares. The images then become either singular or composites of my original shots combined with images of my body and activity captured by my photographer. For many of the images, I elicited the help of Search and Rescue Diver, Johnny Arellano, who had the experiential knowledge to know what a "still" body actually looked like underwater.
What are the sources of inspiration for your photography? What other artists, be it painters, photographers, sculptors do you look up to?
This is a tough question as I have so many favorites and am constantly finding something/someone very cool out there. However, my first photographic inspiration was Joel-Peter Witkin. I was fully engaged in his practice of staging and narrative. Gregory Crewdson soon followed along with Jeff Wall. I'm also a fan of Shana and Robert Parke-Harrison. In a broader perspective of other media, I'm totally into the sculptural works of Tim Hawkinson and Tom Friedman, the paintings of Dana Schutz, and the performances of Marina Abramovic and Pipilotti Rist. The video/film works of Aernout Mik, Matthew Barney and of course, Bill Viola, are also added to my interests and inspirations. Lately, I've been looking at the work of many of the great artists coming out of China. I'm really excited about what's happening in that vast country.
Tell us something about the “The elements of attraction” video series.
"The Elements of Attraction" was commissioned by the City of Seattle. It was my first commissioned public works project working in video. Long story short, it's proposed focus was to create a window to the outside world and to express the engagement of my body with the basic elements of eastern philosophy, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, etc...Created as a five-channel installation across five separate video screens, the work soon became a center of controversy for the individuals working on the 28th floor of the Municipal Tower in Seattle. After many rounds of meetings and petitions, the City ultimately asked me to remake the video in order to soothe the concerns of the people who had to live with it. The videos you see on my website are the originals, while the more tame versions are in the possession of the City and hopefully still playing today.
If you could have been a superhero, who would you rather be and why?
It's funny because I've never really thought about being a superhero, not as an adult at least. However the character I play in my images, I often refer to as the ultimate "anti-hero". Since I'm not too hip on the cool superheros of today, I probably shouldn't try to make up an answer to this question. I don't want the kids out there to think I'm lame with my answer of choice.
What top advice would you like to give to aspiring photographers?
I like to use what a mentor told me once. He told me that all that really matters at the end of the day is what's on the wall. It doesn't matter about your individual story or what you think your work means. It's all about what you've left for the viewer. For a more personal advice, I tell my students of the importance of taking risks and pushing boundaries. You've got to be willing to put yourself on the edge of what you're doing. If you're not doing that, you're selling your potential short.
You can also see one of the movie projects created by Kerry below:
Thank you for taking the time for this interview and sharing your artistic and exciting journey with us, we wish you the very best for the future.
To learn more about his unique photography, you can visit Kerry Skarbakka's website.