Karen Hirtzel, Kindergarten Class Photo

me and my work

My name is Karen Lindley Hirtzel and I am an artist, working primarily in photography and collage. For much of the year I live in Orinda, California, a small suburb adjacent to Oakland, the city where I was born. My parents were born in Kansas, which is a coincidence because they didn’t meet until they were in high school in California. Their midwestern upbringings, particularly my mother’s experience as a child during the Dust Bowl, of having nothing to eat except chicken, may be central to the kind of artist I have become, like my interest in taking pictures of people who are making a life out of very little and making collages out of scraps.

For some reason, I never felt like a child. I was self-sufficient, even before kindergarten. When I was five, I took my first train trip by myself and got my first camera, a Kodak Brownie. I couldn’t shoot a lot because film was expensive to develop, but some of the images I got are among my best.

So how do I reconcile working in these two, seemingly different mediums? I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m actually a visual arranger and seeker of unrealized beauty. In photography, I like to shoot people on the street doing whatever it is they are doing. I don’t know them and I’m pretty sure I never will but when I see an interesting person against a great background I pounce. Out of respect, as well as adhering to one of Dorothea Lange’s cardinal rules, I always ask if it’s okay. In collage, I like to use odds and ends, mostly paper, that any sane person would consider garbage. On my collection sorties in downtown Oakland I scour the streets for handwritten notes, damaged cardboard, interesting packaging, parking tickets, old newspapers, etc.

Sometimes it’s more fun to collect stuff than it is to make the picture.