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Exploring a nostalgic love for books and the library

By: Matthew Oxley


Kerry Mansfield is a San Francisco based photographer whose work explores time and how it affects our perceptions of what we see. Born in New Jersey in 1974, Kerry graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Photography from UC Berkeley and did further studies at CCA (California College of the Arts) to refine her sense of space and architecture. 

Her series 'Aftermath' was shortlisted in the Professional Portraiture category of the 2015 Sony World Photography Awards. The awards are free to enter for all photographers

 

Hi Kerry. Thanks for chatting with us. What has been the reaction to your work since your success? 

The Expired series has continued to gain a wider audience that extends beyond the fine art photography community and now to other countries as well. I’ve also been very fortunate to have the Aftermath series travel internationally. On both fronts the biggest shift after the Sony World Photography Awards exposure was that I’m offered exhibition opportunities, talks or book signings versus seeking them out on my own. Of course, I still do the later as well but as a working artist it’s very gratifying to have both avenues to follow. The other surprising public reaction is that occasionally I’m “recognized” by strangers who’ve seen and appreciated my work.

 

You’ve got a new book out - ‘Expired’. Tell us about the project and how it came into book form 

The Expired series was born out of a nostalgic love for libraries that used hand written check-out systems. The ex-library books expose the tactile evidence of readers worn into the pages of communal books over decades. It took 3 years to make the series while I shot over 190 individual books. Soon into the process it was clear that making a “book of books” would be the final evolution of the work. That said the series is comprised of 175 images (and counting) so selecting just 75 images for the book proved to be a difficult task to say the least.

The most important aspect of crafting the Expired book was to create a visual tribute to the books featured in the series itself. Thus, it feels and looks more like a novel than a photography book. You might immediately notice that instead of a picture on the front cover you’ll only find a blind embossed title, designed so that it’s almost disappearing. Small details like gilding the page edges a darker color so they look older, adding a page marker ribbon and a check-out envelope and card on the back cover are what make the book feel especially unique.

 

Take us back to how and why you first got involved with photography

First I’m not sure if we want to go back that far! But if necessary I’ll share that during my childhood I mostly spent time drawing or painting. Around the age of 10 someone gave me a simple point-and-shoot 35mm camera, which could have triggered my love for photography. Unfortunately, after an attempt to capture a family gathering the prints revealed that I had cut off everyone’s head. That was not a ringing endorsement to pursue making photographs. My last attempt during that time was making some “still life” images that I have to this day featuring my stuffed animals, favorite chewing gum and an impressive array of colored pencils. In hindsight, I’ve always preferred objects to people when it comes to photography subject matter!

However, it was just after of my sophomore year in college that I came back to photography during an introductory summer class. I had a huge realization that I was wasting my time drawing what I could see in front of me when I could simply take a photograph instead. After that there was no turning back and within 6 months I was the Assistant Manager of the UC Berkeley Photo Lab while going to school.

 

Do you have a photographic philosophy?

To say that I have a philosophy would be pushing it a bit. My bottom line is that I create artwork for myself and no one else. Even if my images never saw the light of day I would still be compelled to take pictures. For me it’s the essential key to making art. If someone crafts work to fit an audience or trend it’s time to stop and go back to the beginning. Pleasing other people is a great result but should never be the impetus.

 

What’s next for you? 

I’ll be heading out later this year for my Expired Book Tour doing book signings, lectures and additional exhibitions. While designing the book I actually finished a new body or work entitled Threshold. This series retains the common thread of time reflected in all of my work but yet again it bears no resemblance to what I’ve made before. Threshold is the most abstract project I’ve created and was born out a 57-day period when I slept under 2 hours per night (against my physical will). It has several layers for the viewer to experience from the surface beauty down to the incredibly painless time from which it evolved. Thus far the resulting images have been well received already by a handful of my peers and curators. I entered some new pictures into the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, so we’ll see how it goes!

 

kerrymansfield.com
worldphoto.org/swpa