Greif Alumni: Kristina Knipe Rewilds Photography at Copenhagen Photo Festival

Kristina Knipe, Whit and Colin (Wedding Rings)

The 1-11 June 2023 will be the 13th time that the Nordic region’s largest photography festival will take place. This summer, the festival puts photography on the agenda under the theme Rewilding. Photographs will literally be blooming all over Copenhagen and southern Sweden via exhibitions, workshops, talks, portfolio reviews, and social events. In the festival center on Refshaleøen, six solo artists each show their work. One of them is Der Greif Alumni Kristina Knipe, who we invited to answer some questions about her photographic series Talisman.

Der Greif: Kristina, in your project “Talisman” we encounter an intimate photographic series on the construction of identity through mythology in queer communities in New Orleans. What inspired your idea for this project? How did it all begin? Kristina Knipe: I think of the photographs I make as different stages of what I call the “compost cycle.” In New Orleans, the altars, masquerades, and decadences create a visual and material excess that heals as it depletes. I was studying esoteric arts at the time and was drawn to mythology, healing arts, and symbols and was piecing together the ways that people construct their identity through these ideas and this abundance of mess, a kind of spin cycle of partying and ritual practice. It felt natural to photograph those that I am close to and those that I am drawn to and to ask them to participate in that process. Der Greif: This year’s theme of the Copenhagen Photo Festival is “Rewilding”. Exhibited artworks will explore the theme in the widest sense of the concept and the complexities it entails. As one of the six selected solo artists for the festival, what are your personal implications of “rewilding”? Kristina Knipe: I relate to the theme of rewilding in terms of how I think of photography, the self, community, and the environment. I rewild photography by breaking down hierarchies of authorship - I invite sitters into the process of making and I create a representation that collapses what we think of as interior (memory, the imaginary) which supplants itself on the exterior (the real spaces the photograph records). Plant life and the creative reuse of objects within the images point to a wilder world where resources are exchanged and shared. There is a self-portrait that comes to mind - where I am inside of a busted water main, a man-hole cover which I have covered in flowers. I am inhabiting a space that is utilized by the community (swimming, washing), which is effectively the reuse of the city's broken infrastructure. The photographs ask us to rewild the ways that we represent ourselves. When I made my proposal to the Copenhagen Photo Festival, I wrote about wanting to incorporate plant life into the exhibit - and the festival connected me with a collective that is Guerilla Gardening in the space - planting in the cracks and the wilderness of the park around my photographs. I am excited to see how this rewilds the exhibit.

Kristina Knipe, Jeremy with Angels and Broken Goblet

Der Greif: One image from the series has also been featured in our Guest Room themed “Identities in times of…” curated by Alfred Weidinger and Maria Venzl in June 2022. Can you share the background of your work “Jeremy with Broken Goblets”? What’s behind the photo?

Kristina Knipe: A lot of my photographs feature the floor/ground - I think of this space as a site of decomposition and of spirits. It is a space that is often devalued and trashed, and also a site of the sacred. Jeremy lays on the ground - his pose evokes sleep, dreams, incapacitation, and death. His body is cut by the edges of the frame - which relates to the tattoo on his chest of a man cut by a saw and split into pieces. The symbols tattooed on his chest, including the words “return to earth” and a fragment of an Albrecht Durer print, are pieces of Jeremy’s identity, and are in conversation with the objects I have placed on him. These images on his body mean something to Jeremy and went into the formulation of the image, but their meaning to the viewer is entirely subjective. Each person constructs their own narrative and connection between the objects and symbols.

The angels in resin orbs are meant to be held while a person wishes - echoing the talismans that are throughout the series - objects that make desire and memory physical.

I photograph with the knowledge of impermanence - the resulting images are both celebratory and memorial of my sitters.

Der Greif: You state that much of your artistic process is about a desire to heal. In your practice, you work in close collaboration with the sitters. How do you experience the act of adorning and photographing their bodies, and what are the sitters’ reactions to being part of your artwork?

Kristina Knipe: I am interested in making complicated images that stem from my sitters’ memories and attachments and my own interpretation. I invite the sitter into the process of imagining how we will represent them. The most powerful images come from when my sitter wants something from the experience as much as myself. I think most people that pose come into it with curiosity - and are excited to see themselves in a way that is not often documented. Some find it difficult to look at the images, but the process of making and viewing the results is cathartic for them. There’s a lot of communication, especially if someone is sharing something difficult in the photographs. I think it is important to represent difficult stories, and I try to create a balance of that within my work.

Der Greif: Last but not least, we would like to ask you to share with our community what of all the things happening right now in contemporary photography particularly excites you in a positive way.

Kristina Knipe: I am excited by exhibition venues that break with tradition and try to engage viewers in a new way, which is why I am thrilled to exhibit at the Copenhagen Photo Festival. I am a bit overwhelmed by the amount and depth of all the work at the festival and feel fortunate I can attend and take it all in.

I am excited by photographers that work closely with their subjects to create representations that allow for unexpected narratives that break open preconceived notions and complicate histories. A couple of photographers whose work I have been spending time with are Sabiha Çimen, Carolyn Drake, Lissa Rivera, and Deana Lawson.

Click here to explore the festival’s full opening and exhibition programme.