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Ilka Kramer | Studio Visit

We are excited to welcome Ilka Kramer to the Tappan family. We immediately fell in love with her photography, work that gracefully distorts our sense of perception of space while implementing beautiful, neutral colors. Her juxtaposition of nature, architecture and human presence is so conversational and explorative, we asked Ilka to talk more about her process and how she conceived of such unique perspectives. 

Read our interview below.

Describe your work in 3 words.

Composing- Space - Connection.

Tell us a little bit about this series MalaNazar?



MalaNazar is a name I invented, to mark a new way of working, more conceptual than before. I liked the mystery sound of it, but I ignored what it could mean.

This year, on a trip to India while photographing modernist architecture, an Indian architect told me that in Hindi, Nazar means the look/vision, and Mala is a name for a necklace. So the vision hanging around my neck, which is a quiet nice and poetic description for my camera.






MalaNazar questions our perception of space. Normally we don't pay much attention to the zone around us, we react to objects or persons, but we are not aware about the open space in between them and ourselves. And yet, without this sort of 'emptiness' there wouldn't be any movement, or transformation, no distance, no view, no possibility of connection. Space is a condition of life.  In my work I'm interested in this space as a possibility to relay something we are all part of. The consciousness of our body as a space by itself in connection with the space around it, and therefor in communication with everything else, can create a strong spiritual experience.

My work is inspired by architecture and theater as a possibility of creating space, and I'm much interested in the relation between artificial, man-made architecture and nature as an understanding of the place of man on earth. As well, one of the most challenging aspects about photography for me, is the question how to transform a 3 dimensional space into a 2 dimensional surface.


Where do you source your materials? Tell us about the process: Deciding on your composition, setting the stage, shooting the work.

Very much influenced by architecture, I get inspiration for my pictures from buildings of, for example LeCorbusier, Tadao Ando, Peter Zumthor, Louis Kahn, Doshi… I do very free adaption of these buildings in small models of paperboards, and cover the surfaces with prints of wall-pictures. These models I photograph either in my studio or outside in nature.


What does photography do for you? What are you striving for through this series?

I'm very much concerned about the perception of space, in my work as well as in my daily life. In meditation, the awareness of space can bring me here and now, and is a strong, intensive feeling. By creating pictures about the notion of space and working intensely, sometimes I arrive to the same state of presence, and this is just a wonderful feeling, which I'm looking for, always.


Some of the work clearly engages the viewer in the presence of nature; other images are abstracted, nearly spliced moments of white and black - tell us about these differences among certain works, and is there a particular order to the series?

The series is as well about our relation with nature, and the loss of it in our modern times. I want to show that we are more and more separated from nature, and sometimes even loose the total consciousness of it.

We built our own individual concepts of life, but are less and less connected to a wide, stronger energy, which lies for me in nature. So sometimes there is no nature left and we seem to be in a complete inward situation, in other images we can have a look on nature, but are separated from it physically.

In a time where we lose direct contact with nature, we accede to it only by the view. In a car or train, in houses and protected by architecture, nature is 'framed' and perceived like an image, invites to contemplation, but isn't any more a physical experience. There is no special order to the series, but some of them work very well together as diptych or in small series of 3 or 4.


Last gallery show you went to?

Some days ago in Berlin the exhibition 'nature and politics' by Thomas Struth, where he explores how human ambition and imagination become spatial, objective reality. The impressive spaces photographed, and the immense sizes of the prints. allowed a strong and physical interaction with the work, very impressive.


Have the cities you’ve lived in influenced your practice? If so, tell us a bit about that, and what elements in particular steered you in certain directions.

I would rather speak about places, I lived downtown in big cities as well as isolated in nature. Having a morning coffee in a sunny, silent garden, walking barefooted through wet grass, gives you another starting condition for work than sitting in an apartment with noise down on the street and a grey, rainy sky above. But the one or the other way I'm inspired to think about our relation to nature, which is one of my main themes.


What is one artist living or dead you feel a great connection to? Someone whose work has inspired your own practice and what you’re creating these days?

James Turrell, 'We eat light, drink it in through our skins. With a little more exposure to light, you feel part of things physically. I like feeling the power of light and space physically because then you can order it materially. Seeing is a very sensuous act-there's a sweet deliciousness to feeling yourself see something.'


What is your favorite quote?

I have a lot, the quote of the moment : 'We borrow from nature the space upon which we build.' - Tadao Ando


What country do you wish to visit?

Japan, to experience the Japanese gardens.


Tell us about where you live now.

Since 3 years I live in Lausanne, Switzerland. A rather small city but with a strong cultural activity, a lot of festivals, an unique museum of 'art brut' and very good theaters. Nature is close, I see the Swiss mountains from my apartment and swim in the lake of Geneva each day in summer.


What makes you laugh no matter what? 

Spontaneous dancing moments with my 11 year old daughter and our cats.


What's one accomplishment you're most proud of?

I think it is very difficult to be free from social and political influence, opinions, expectations, but very important in order to create a personal creative work. So I'm always proud of myself when I have the feeling that I act according my own convictions, beliefs, desires.


What’s the first thing you do when you begin formulating an idea for a photograph?

I feel excited and should have a cold beer, and I always have a sketchbook with me where I note first ideas and do sketches of possible photographs.


What work took you the longest to complete?

When I lived in the south of France, I started a work about the relationship of children towards nature. It was a side project on which I worked for several years and I finally accomplished it in form of a book this summer.

In all,  it took me 7 years, and I realized that it is a heavy weight to work on a project by periods over a long distance, to keep on a good energy and to be able to come to an end. Now I would rather work intensely on only one project and go through it until I have the feeling I have come to an end.


Tell us about some of your favorite artists.

Abstract painting is the art to which I react strongly, I love the work of for example Pierre Soulages, Nicolas de Stael, Poliakof, Sam Francis, Lee Ufan, Marc Rothko.


What's one thing you still have from your childhood?

As a child I lived 5 years in Istanbul, Turkey, and found on a beach a skull of a stork, recently an artist friend gave it a gold coating and it hangs as a beautiful object in my studio.


What's one thing you've always wanted to try but you've been too scared to do?

Abstract painting, but one day I'll be ready!


What else are you working on right now?

I work on a series about modernist architecture. I take pictures of buildings of LeCorbusier, Louis Kahn, Doshi…and I decompose the architectural forms by projecting them on other architectural paperforms and re-photographing them.





When do you make your best work?

When I'm in a kind of work flow, where my ideas, the materials I use but as well improvisations or unexpected elements from outside, create a strong energy.


Regarding your method of making, is it a case of the material or method dictating the idea of the other way around?

There is always the idea/the concept first, and then a whole process of finding a way/solution/expression to it by experimenting with different materials/light/perspectives/objects.


Is art making therapeutic for you?

I wouldn't name it therapeutic, because I don't feel a need for therapy, but a long time in my studio, emerged in an exciting process of creation, gives me a strong feeling of satisfaction and happiness, which surely is very healthy. As well when I work in nature, in the mountains for example, being by myself in a creating process as well as in a splendid nature, I feel very connected to the one whole, and never feel lonely neither.


What motivates you?

Good ideas which give me the urge and energy to realize them.


What’s your studio philosophy?

Leave the mess and don't clean up before the picture is not finished.


How many hours do you try and work in the studio per week?

Routine is something I'm very afraid of, so I can't tell because it differs from week to week, and depends of my creating energy.




Any advice to aspiring artists?

Everything can be useful to inspire ones' work, even if we don't link it in a first degree.


What’s next?

Keep on exploring space.


Explore Ilka's MalaNazar series here. 

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