Meet Photographer Karen Wise

Ready for some color and beauty this afternoon? I first heard about Karen Wise, who has photographed weddings, food, still life and portraits for 10+ years, via Oh Joy! and found her work some of the best I've seen. Energy, personality, emotion, she captures the most beautiful moments. A RISD graduate, Karen Wise has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Weddings, Vogue (India), Time Out New York, and more and has photographed weddings from New York City (where she lives and works) to India, Mexico and beyond. Would you like to know more about her work, background, and inspirations? Read on...

decor8: Karen thank you so much for for visiting decor8 today to talk about your passion for photography. Tell us, how did you get into photography as a full-time career?

Karen: I studied Photography at RISD and received my fine arts degree (BFA) in 1996. I then moved to NYC to assist various commercial and fine art photographers and during that time started my own food and wedding photography business, while shooting my own fine art projects on the side. I assisted from 1996-1999. Then I started shooting weddings in 1999 and started my businesses simultaneously. I favored 4x5 film, both chrome and negative film, and I had a working darkroom in the basement of my last apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn for the 9 years that I lived there.

decor8: Who or what inspires your work?

Karen: Hmmm... too many photographers, films, paintings and fashion. I'd say in the earlier days, I was inspired by feminism in photography, public art, and documentary film. The artists and directors I followed included Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holtzer, Deepa Mehta. I also loved the still life or Irving Penn and Tina Modotti. I was also inspired by family portraiture in college as I was shooting an ongoing large format project documenting my own family. I like Larry Sultan's work as well as Tina Barney's work. I loved the vivid color they achieved through using studio camera and available light.

decor8: How would you describe your style?

Karen: I use blend of styles. Since I have so much experience having worked for still life, fashion and interior, and food photographers, my strengths are varied. I am good with still life, excellent at documentary photography, portraiture, and proficient with using strobe lighting as well as natural light. I'm good with a light meter, and rarely get the exposure wrong! I love to use my people skills to arrange a portrait session, but I also like to hide out and use my long lens to capture intimate and emotional moments at the wedding. Most of the wedding is spent shooting documentary style candids.

decor8: How did you develop your style?

Karen: By observing a ton of professional photographers. But also by trying every camera and lighting technique first too! I worked with Mary Ellen Mark, Sheila Metzner, Victor Schrager (for 3 years), Sandi Fellman, Sany Skogland, Anna Williams, Sang An, Steven Lewis, and Bill Abramowicz, before branching off and starting my own business...

decor8: In addition to weddings, I noticed that you're a food photographer and that you have a additional website for that. Can you please tell us more?

Karen: Yes, I'm also a food photographer, having assisted for Victor Schrager for 3 years before starting my own business (he won the James Beard award here in NYC for best food photography in a cookbook) and I learned a ton from him about shooting large format (8x10 film) and the use of strobe lighting to make an image look really natural. I shot a cookbook published by Houghton Mifflin (The Way We Cook) a couple of years ago, and I have also photographed Gourmet Magazine's editor Ruth Reichl, and 4-5 other famous chefs here in NYC and Boston (Ming Tsai of the TV show Simply Ming, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Psilakis, etc...)

decor8: But your focus still tends to be on weddings, why?

Karen: I have no choice but to focus on Weddings! They consume me, but I love them! I like shooting weddings because they incorporate so many of my skills. I feel that my talents are multi-faceted and I am able to quickly change my style depending on the situation, the event, and the lighting at that particular event.

decor8: What are 6 things that make your work stand out?

Karen: 1. I still use film. Both black and white, and color medium format films. 2. I print my black and white and color enlargements for my portfolios by hand in a darkroom. 3. People say my color is really vivid. 4. I've been told that my color printing is impeccable, and that my color balancing is really "on". 5. I think I have a good eye for composition, lighting with strobe or available light, styling, and modeling light in both color and black & white photos. 6. I've shot many destination weddings, including my first one in India in 2003 (which was a 5 day wedding in Delhi and Udaipur). I've also shot in Jamaica, Los Cabos, Palm Beach and Cape Cod and I have a couple of weddings coming up in Malibu, The Dominican Republic, and possibly on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. I've also shot other projects in California, Italy and India, hence I've been lucky enough to have photographed in some really unique settings.

decor8: How do you learn about new trends in photography in order to stay current?

Karen: I learn a ton from my interns who are either just out of school or currently still at Pratt or RISD! From the newest Adobe programs, and most current /quickest method of post-production (Adobe LightRoom and Aperture) to what the best external hard drives to buy are. PDN magazine is also a great source, as well as the fine art journal Aperture and American Photo Magazine. I also take classes at the ICP every now and then (the last one I took was on book publishing) and the most recent class I took was actually on Antique Photography through the Center for Alternative Photography in New York City. I'm addicted to the wet-plate process. It's not exactly au current but it's new to a lot of people. I've made some really gorgeous positives on glass and on tin in those classes, and I cannot wait for the next workshop.

decor8: And finally Karen...What things would you not want to live without?

Karen: Yoga, working out (i.e. basketball, spinning, roller-blading or skiing), scrabble, my boyfriend, my little niece's laughter, my family, knitting projects, unlimited vacation time, a warm environment, positive energy and a healthy diet (with the occasional bites of chocolate!).

Thank you so much Karen for your time, it's an honor to have a few moments to get inside of your head. Wonderful!

Readers: If you have any questions for Karen, please add them to the comments section below...

Psst: Karen has a blog, too!

(images from karen wise)