Erin O'Keefe

Written By Maria Vogel

Erin O’Keefe’s photographs are not of the traditional sort. In fact, if you’re are unfamiliar with O’Keefe’s role as a photographer, you may not even realize that her works are of the sort. With a decades-long career in architecture, O’Keefe brings a wholly unique perspective to capturing images of shapes and colors in space. Her works are puzzles that play with the human eye while intriguing the viewer to look deeper into the frame.

You did not have a traditional or linear path that led to you pursuing art as your full-time career. Can you tell us a little bit of your background and what led you to this point?

I am an architect – I was a professor of Architecture for 23 years, and always maintained an art practice as well, but after getting a year-long sabbatical, and having the opportunity to focus exclusively on my own studio practice, I realized that I wanted to leave academia. It has been invigorating to have a clearer focus and has allowed my work to develop in ways that I never anticipated.

For those not familiar with your work, can you explain how it combines the disciplines of photography and architecture?

I build things and try to anticipate the consequences of spatial situations that are then mediated by the lens, to become flat photographic images. Architectural thinking is very much a part of things – how we perceive space and depth and adjacency, and how color figures into this phenomenon. Rather than building for the human eye, I am building for the camera. I’m really interested in misreading’s and situations that take a bit of work to figure out.

How has your photography practice developed since you first started?

I suppose I am more confident about using a really limited and humble set of ingredients and being able to get quite a bit of traction from that. I am less intimidated by, and frankly less interested in, elaborate equipment, or pre-thinking things. I am really just impatient and have a desire to dive in and discover where I am going through making the work.

Who are some artists living or dead that inspire your work?

So many!! Dead – Fra Angelico, Giotto, Agnes Martin, Hilma Af Klint, Jan Groover, Donald Judd, Louis Kahn, Georgio Morandi, Fred Sandback, Carlo Scarpa, Louis Barragan, and the list goes on! Living – James Turrell, Uta Barth, Matt Connors, Tomma Abts, Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread….but it’s always a moving target.

Where do you pull source inspiration for your photographs from?

Hard to say, but I can certainly see something that I will feel connected to – which could be very incidental – the vantage point of the camera in a movie scene or something I come across on my walk to the studio that sets off a series of questions/opportunities that I will try to bring into the work. I think we are all just absorbing this environment we are in at any given time and the work is a response to that. So, I guess what I am saying is that it is not a deliberate process.

Did you find it difficult to break into the art world as a mid-career artist?

I am really fortunate to have had some wonderful opportunities, and fantastic people who have been interested in supporting the work. I am determined to continue to work as hard as I can to make work that I feel interested in, that contributes to the contemporary discourse, and pushes back against the really dark time we are in. That being said, I’m glad to have had the time I did as an architect – I believe that experience informs the work, and my way of thinking about the physical world.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Matt Kleberg!