In the Studio: Arielle Rebek

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

In pinhole camera selfI grew up in the Chicago area in a family of artists. As a young teenager, I would spend full days sitting on the green carpet of my great aunt’s home looking through boxes filled with photos of relatives and strangers. I studied these photos again and again, never growing tired, and developed a deep fascination for personal histories through photography. These experiences would later influence me to investigate photography, memory, and place in my work.

I attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and earned my BA in Studio Art.  Upon graduating, I worked for the art department which allowed for valuable studio time and teaching opportunities. I worked closely with my mentor and photography professor to develop an experimental photography course, and in doing so, started working in a physical and intuitive way in the darkroom. In 2013, I moved to southern California to teach elementary school art and ended up learning about my relationship to place and affinity for the mountains.

After a couple years of struggling to balance full time work and my studio practice, I decided to attend the MFA program in Art Studio at UC Davis. The most rewarding aspects of grad school were the relationships with my cohort, critical input from faculty/peers, and the time to flail a bit.  After school, I moved to Oakland, became a studio resident at the SF arts non-profit, Root Division, and worked on Programs at Minnesota Street Project. I spent the last year teaching photography courses at Carleton College and will now be starting a three month artist residency at The Image Flow in the North Bay.

2. How has working in the education field influenced your art and artistic practice?

Teaching forces me to engage with photography in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise in my studio practice.  I am always searching for new material, artists, or techniques that I can bring to the classroom which often find their way into my work. My students bring ideas and topics to class that teach me just as much as I teach them, if not more. Of course, it’s challenging at times. Teaching requires so much energy and passion that I am sometimes left with little to give my artwork. Ultimately, I find the rewards of teaching and working with students to be important for my life and art practice.


3. What is your creative process like?

Light is such a material for me that my process often begins with either noticing the behavior of light or wanting to experiment with light in some way. Whether I am on a hike, walking to the store, or in the darkroom, I am thinking about how this light, this material, is linked to place, memory or experience. Photography can represent truth and yet also create such illusion and deception.

Experimentation and working towards an unknown is critical to my process. I want to be surprised by my work. Traditional B&W darkroom printing is about precision, working slowly and printing carefully, but I am more interested in what happens when I’m not careful or precise. Whether I am working in the darkroom or outdoors, I am fast, intuitive and respond to the materiality of my medium.


4. How do you make your location decisions? And how does the location play a role in deciding which photographic technique would be best for capturing it?

I’m interested in how photography translates experience. Our world is so saturated with images and social media that I feel an urgency to reflect on the origins of photography, what we choose to capture, and how that changes our relationship to subject or experience. I am also often reflecting on my particular relationship to place, and my impulse to photograph or not to photograph. What warrants a record? In my series of cyanotype self portraits, I was thinking about how a meditation in everyday surroundings (my backyard, my studio, etc.) could be depicted through photography. I took large pieces of cyanotype fabric and swaddled myself in them. I would then sit still for about 20 minutes while being simultaneously “exposed” and protected. The final prints act as the residue of a particular moment, while reflecting the specifics of my body position and lighting conditions. Cyanotype allows me to work outdoors, on a larger scale, and retain evidence of the environment.


instudio self 2

5. How has social media affected your studio practice?

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship to social media. Of course it’s a great tool for sharing work and ideas with pretty low stakes, but it also facilitates constant consumption and comparison. It’s fascinating to me that I will take a photo, and while taking it, I will think “oh yeah, I’ll post this on instagram”. And I know I’m not the only one in that. While I’m not blatantly questioning social media in my work, it certainly influences the way I think about my relationship to photography.


6. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

Early on in grad school I had a conversation with a faculty member about the importance of routine and making time for your studio practice daily. I was also once told to give myself assignments when feeling stuck, like take a photo of the same object once every day for two weeks or write for ten minutes every morning. I find that these little tasks help build routine, restore my energy in the studio, and often lead to other ideas.


7. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?

During my residency this summer, I will be working on a new body of work that investigates distance and scale and how these are humanly felt. This work will employ various processes, including pinhole photography, photograms, and digital scans. Stay tuned!

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