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  • Writer's pictureanniecarpenter

Introduction // Katherine Akey

Katherine was my cabin mate on the tall ship that sailed around the fjords of Svalbard for the Arctic Circle Residency in 2015. I invited her to be part of this project as her work often references the big stuff - WWI, polar exploration and early aviation. These themes are seemingly so far from the enforced domestication we currently find ourselves in, I was intrigued by how she might respond to the Call Centre project. With babies born within weeks of each other, Katherine also acts as my equivalent across the pond. I'm keen to compare notes on being a new Mother and artist in this strange situation we all find ourselves in.

This is what Katherine has to say about herself and her current situation:

This was going to be my year.

When I first moved to DC in 2016, I left behind a decade’s worth of community in Manhattan. The smaller city provided me a wealth of opportunity that I could not have accessed if I’d stayed at home in New York -- the supersaturation of artists there was prohibitively daunting for me as a newly minted MFA (from the International Center of Photography). In fact, one of the first pieces of advice given to us when we first started the graduate program was this: if you’re serious about having a robust art practice, leave New York, its expense and competition and intensity, behind. Find a quiet place where you can afford to make work.

And I really meant to follow through. I really meant to leave the city and set aside a chunk of my time, a chunk of my space, a chunk of my mental load for my art work. I had participated in a residency, my first (the Arctic Circle Residency), right after graduating. But life has a way of taking over; opportunities kept cropping up, and I kept saying yes. DC only has one active public darkroom, and I just happened to move to the city when they needed a new photography department chair to run the space and the associated programming (so of course I told Capitol Hill Arts Workshop yes). I volunteered at the WW1 Centennial Commission upon moving to the district and they ended up hiring me to produce a weekly podcast (WW1 Centennial News).

Winter 2017 saw my first solo show in the city (at IA&A at Hillyer) and by Summer 2018 a second (at the Fisher Art Gallery, Northern Virginia Community College). A high school friend forwarded me a fellowship opportunity related to WW1, knowing that I had a longstanding passion for the subject. I applied, and spent 2017 to 2018 as a fellow with The Living Legacy of World War One at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Corcoran School of Art and Design at GWU-- and then to adjunct, and then to take on a two year appointment as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography beginning in 2018.

And so, we arrive to 2020 (did I mention that I also got married and had a baby that arrived in the fall of 2019?) The centennial of WW1 is over, and so are the weekly podcasts. My workload at GWU has been reduced back to that of an adjunct. The research fellowship concluded with a publication and a public lecture. The darkroom and its associated programming chug along at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. And I finally said to myself that in 2020 I would take a beat, return to my art practice in earnest, and move forward on projects so long left unfinished. I arranged for two solo exhibitions of new work, lined up funding opportunities to apply for, and began the process of turning my research from my fellowship with the Carnegie Council into a book.

But as you may realize, 2020 would not prove to be the calm, steady sea that I had hoped to set out upon. The international health crisis disrupted every part of our lives: my last full time semester at GWU moved online (as if teaching art courses online wasn’t hard enough I had to do it with a baby on my breast); my exhibitions were thrown into limbo; my husband and daughter and I resigned to the crowded, noisy existence of conference calls and nap times overlapping in our small city central apartment. Choices I had made prior to 2020 have proven detrimental under these new and strange circumstances. Notably, lining up multiple solo shows of new and not quite finished works shortly after having a new baby proved challenging when she was in daycare six hours a day, five days a week, but impossible when she was home instead.

So we find ourselves in July, and as I sit here typing this out, musing on how far I have come since moving to this new city, on where I had hoped to be by this point in the summer, on what I had hoped for my 2020 and what I now face as the reality, my daughter slams on the keyboard with her hands, taking advantage of a newfound talent of sitting upright and mimicking mama’s every move.


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