Creative Quarantine: Photographer Mark Klett

Last Day of summer, Ketchum Idaho | 16"x20” | Gelatin silver photograph | © Mark Klett, 1980

Photographer Mark Klett shares his experience creating work during the quarantine. He spoke with Esthetic Lens about how he has been able to navigate around the circumstances of the Covid-19 shutdown and continue to produce new work.

1. How are you holding up?

Pretty well. We’re lucky and my wife and I spent most of the summer in the Colorado mountains, outdoors and away from the Arizona heat, the wildfires and the huge increase in Covid-19 cases that hit the state after it was opened up too early. Since we’ve returned, I’ve gone back to teaching, but it’s been online. I miss being in the classroom in person, but given the situation and my knowledge of our inadequate classroom, the online option is the safest for everyone.

Saguaro at the border fence between the US and Mexico | 40″x30” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2019
Kem Brown in her garden, Gimlet Idaho | 16″x20” | Dye transfer photograph | © Mark Klett, 1981

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

So far, I’ve been able to navigate around it. I was working on a retrospective book that’s recently been published as Seeing Time, Forty Years of Photographs by the University of Texas Press. We were moving into the production phase as soon as the pandemic shut down most of the country. But the book was printed in Germany and the printers there never stopped working, so it came out almost on schedule.

Saguaro with erect arm | 40″x30” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2020

I was also able to start a new project in Idaho this summer. I was asked by the Sun Valley Art Museum to make new photographs for an exhibition next year in celebration of their 50th anniversary. I used to work for that organization 40 years ago, so the timing matched what I’d been working on with the book. We drove to Idaho and I worked in the landscape outside Hailey and Ketchum. Much of the new work was a response to pictures I made there at the start of my career, and how both the place, and I, have changed over time. It couldn’t have been a more welcome opportunity to make new work in a relatively safe location.

Saguaro with glow, Gila Mountains | 40″x30” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2018

I’ve also gotten in some studio time to print photographs of the desert that I was able to make before the lockdown. I’ve been working on an ongoing series of saguaro cactus portraits, and once we returned to the Arizona heat (the hottest summer ever recorded in this state) working in the studio was welcome.

Book cover, Mark Klett, Seeing Time, Forty Years of Photography, University of Texas Press. | © Mark Klett, 2020

Site of my old house in Ketchum, now overgrown | 30″x40” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2020

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

Not much. Just the opposite, actually. Even though my photographs are mostly landscapes, I’ve realized how much I like to have other people in them, and that’s been difficult to do during the pandemic. I’ve found myself wanting to interact even more with others in the spaces we share.

Playing with Marble, Alturas Lake, Idaho | 30″x40” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2020

Saguaro burned by wildfire, Goldwater Bombing Range | 40″x30” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2020

Emily checking her email above Hailey Idaho | 30″x40” | Inkjet photograph | © Mark Klett, 2020

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

Well, I think most of the landscape photographers I know have had good reason to go out and continue their work, though air travel has been problematic. One of my friends, David Taylor from Tucson, has been doing great work on the US/Mexico border by advancing a new project on migrant detention centers using drone photography. It’s a difficult time in so many ways that really important stories can get lost, and his work cuts through the pandemic to the ongoing and troubling human dramas of the southern border.  

Signing books in the San Juan National Forest, July 2020 | © Mark Klett, 2020

The New Mexico state governor ordered out of state visitors to quarantine for 14 days, making it impossible for me to sign pre-ordered books in Santa Fe. So, the online bookseller Photo Eye drove the books to the Colorado state line where I signed them at a campground.

Portrait of Mark Klett, September 2020 | Photo Credit: Emily Matyas

Mark Klett is a photographer interested in the intersection of places, history, and time. His background includes working as a geologist before turning to photography. Klett has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Japan/US Friendship Commission. His work has been exhibited and published in the United States and internationally, and is held in over eighty museum collections worldwide. He is the author/co-author of eighteen books, including the recently released Seeing Time, Forty Years of Photographs (2020). Klett is Regents’ Professor of Art and Distinguished Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University.

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