The harder the composition, the better the image: Katie Burnett on her experimental new book Cabin Fever
The New York-based photographer is always up for a challenge, and her new book – made in lockdown and published by Art Paper Editions – proves just that.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 April 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Katie Burnett never thought she’d become a photographer. Instead, she found herself naturally gravitating towards art, making things in her spare time from a small town in Missouri. “I am very dyslexic so, for me, painting, drawing and making things were always what I excelled in at school,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I did take a few photography classes, but was always quite impatient in the dark room, so it didn’t really stick with me at the time.” Instead, Katie went on to study Studio Art and Psychology for a year in her hometown. Then after a trip to London, Paris and Berlin, a new adoration for Europe inspired her to drop out of school and move to the UK’s capital. This all happened around five or six months after the initial trip, and that’s when she started to delve into the realms of styling – a move pursued from her love of collaboration, and working with clothes to sculpt new and exciting characters. “You get to work so closely with the photographer on the making of the images, so I always felt so fulfilled by that. I never really thought I would go into photography.”
Katie’s background, in this case, has always been suffused with art. It was only during lockdown in Brooklyn last March that her pursuits in photography really started to kick off, having spent a month photographing potatoes. “I would shoot them in funny ways, making a new potato scene or character a day, or turn some of my friends into potatoes. It was just fun,” she says. “I love to be creative, so shooting and making was a way for me to stay inspired and try something new.” The more that lockdown continued to drag on, the more Katie found herself enamoured with this new medium that she was toying around with. She consequently started shooting for various brands and publications, and soon enough she was addicted. “An interesting side note, my sister Jamie is a forensic photographer. So maybe it does run in the family.”
Another lockdown project saw Katie create her first book, Cabin Fever, published by Art Paper Editions, with design and edits by Katie and Jurgen Maelfeyt. Lockdown and the making of Cabin Fever involved lots of yoga and “zen in the morning”, and going around the house with a bag to “just collect random things”. She just wanted to have fun with a shoot – “then spending a few hours a day either in my yard, on the roof, or under my kitchen counter where I actually make most of my images as I love the light in this spot so much!” She’s also been playing heavily with body paint, and has been channeling high energy throughout the entirety of the last year. “I always wanted to just be moving around and making things; making a mess over lockdown.” So much so that she bought herself a mini trampoline to let off some much-needed steam in her morning routine. Perhaps we can all take a leaf out of Katie’s book.
Cabin Fever is a project that arose after speaking with her friend and photographer Paul Kooiker, who works alongside Jurgen Maelfeyt from Art Paper Editions. She shared the news of her potato shoot, and likened the process of making to having “cabin fever”. Paul responded stating that this would be the title of her book, “and it just stuck”. As such, Cabin Fever is a 80-page photographic display of self-portraiture, but not your usual kind. Within the title, Katie messes with contrast and composition to vast extremes, meaning that sometimes her imagery becomes unrecognisable. Other times, though, you can plainly see that it’s her two cats in the picture, or that she’s used bubbles, rubber bands, ramen noodles, blow up pools, sprinklers and everyday household items as props.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t much in the way of post-production while editing this work. Instead, Katie pays close attention to the art of composition and the tricks that can be achieved. “So sometimes I would be upside down pressing the camera with my toe,” she adds, “I found the harder it was for me to try a composition, the better the image would be. I like a challenge.” Luckily for her, she was a dancer growing up, so she’s more than capable of stretching into a few bizarre shapes to take an image.
One of Katie's favourites from the book is the picture of her cats, shot while working on a shoot for Luncheon and after placing down a snack on the glass table for her two pets (she actually has four cats in total, who might make appearances in her next book). “They went nuts,” she recalls, and decided to start photographing their reactions and ecstatic expressions. Playful and unapologetically high contrast, this image, just like the rest of her works, shows the pure joy that can be had with the medium of photography.
GalleryKatie Burnett: Cabin Fever, published by Art Paper Editions (Copyright © Katie Burnett, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.