KRISTEN BARTLEY

Kristen is a Texas bred photographer currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Kristen creates visual memoirs based on her personal experience with loss. Her project "Flower Mound" has been featured in Aint-Bad, Lenscratch and Fraction Magazine. In 2017 she was selected as Runner Up for FoloFilmic’s Solo I Exhibition Award juried by Todd Hido. In 2018 she was shortlisted for Fotofilmic18 and selected as a Review Santa Fe 100 Photographer. She also hosts a monthly critique group for female and non-binary artists living in New York City.


PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Flower Mound

2010–2018

Flower Mound borrows its title from the suburban Texas town where I grew up and frequently returned to while both of my parents were succumbing to separate battles with cancer. Throughout these years I was enveloped in a thick cloud of nostalgia. The light was swiftly fading from the people and the place I considered my first home. I turned to my camera to make sense of everything going on within and outside of me during this period of uprooting and to find the light within the darkness. The resulting images capture quiet, fleeting moments of intimacy, joy and grief. Woven together they serve as a lyrical reflection on love, loss and the ephemeral nature of life.

© Kristen Bartley


When and where did Flower Mound begin?

I began this project almost ten years ago when my mother called and broke the news to me that my father had stage IV cancer. In the years following his diagnosis, I was often traveling from Brooklyn back to my hometown in Texas. I had no intention of making a project out of the photographs I was making at the time. I was simply collecting memories and taking pictures as a way to bond with my father who was also a talented photographer. When my father’s cancer returned after a brief remission, I started to think about how different things might be each time I came back to visit. I felt nostalgic for things that were not yet in the past. All these fleeting banal moments were now so precious to me, photographing was a way for me to keep them forever.

Once my father passed there was sadness, but also a sense of peace and relief. My mother, sister and I could finally move on after feeling as though everything had been on pause. We barely had time to adjust to life without my father when my mother was also diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She was such a pillar of strength throughout my father’s illness and up until her diagnoses, was a picture of perfect health. Watching her get sick and so swiftly leave my life was a shock. Again I reached for my camera, this time as a way to cope with the trauma and the weight of so quickly having to let go of everything that was home to me.

Back in New York the summer after my mother died, I took an editing workshop with the photo editor Joan Liftin to make sense of all the photographs I had. On the last day of the workshop with my final edit on the wall, I couldn’t help tearing up. Those twenty photographs were able to encapsulate everything I had felt over the years - the joy, grief, sadness, exhaustion, etc. That’s something I love about photography, there is truth in the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Towards the end of his illness, my father told my mother that photography was what kept him going all those years during the ups and down of treatments, remission, re-occurrence. After losing my parents and confronting the aftermath of it all, I learned how much I also rely on photography to cope with life’s trials and tribulations.

© Kristen Bartley

Where do you see this project going?

After the workshop with Joan, I continued making images in my apartment in Brooklyn and on solo trips I was taking throughout New England. This work turned out to be the final piece of the project, my experience navigating through the grieving process. I’m currently in the middle of figuring out how all of these pieces will fit together as a book. My goal is to publish it within the next couple years with an accompanying exhibition.

I love sad songs. When I’m having a bad day, a sad song is much more comforting to me than a happy one. When the book is complete and out in the world, I want it to be like that song you put on repeat after a bad day that gives you a sense of comfort and hope when it’s over. There’s been a lot written about the artist’s responsibility of leaving room for hope within their work and that’s something I think a lot about when I’m taking pictures and editing.

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I’m a big believer in having a daily ritual. For the past several years I’ve been getting up and writing for about an hour by hand, just whatever comes to me. I’ve since taken it one step further and after my writing I go back to the previous year’s entry and transcribe it into my computer. It’s interesting to see what patterns emerge through this practice when you compare each day’s entry. I’m always learning something new about myself and my work through this reflection.

Having a community of other artists that you trust is essential to any creative practice. I’ve been a teaching assistant at the International Center of Photography for the past ten years and have met so many great teachers and students through that program. I also host a monthly critique group for female and non-binary image-makers in the NYC area.

What’s next for you?

I curated my first show this past spring and really enjoyed that experience, I hope to add more curating to my artist practice. I imagine a lot of my time will also be taken up working turning "Flower Mound" into a book on and getting it funded. The first half of this year I've been planting a bunch of seeds, this next half we'll see what takes root. Stay tuned!

What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?

Keka Marzagao presented her ongoing project "Família" to our critique group recently and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s a multi-layered project about immigrant families in New York inspired by her own experience as an immigrant.

Joan Liftin released a beautiful visual memoir last year, "Water For Tears." You can really feel her in the pictures, I love the way she looks at the world.


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