Kate Harrold’s Very Real Unreal World
by Gracie Pratt
Kate Harrold’s work walks a tightrope between what is real and what is imagined, embodying a new style of photography that is both mind-boggling and fantastic.
Vintage whales leap off of postcards and into the sea, swimming beneath fascinated scuba divers whose presence is but miniscule amid the texture and depth of the sea and the creature below. A row home becomes a house made of gum atop a lollipop stick, the face of a teenager in a letterman jacket looking out at a landscape made completely of sky. Elephants fly, and children jump rope, held in mid-air, between row homes. Kate Harrold’s work stops viewers in their tracks.
Harrold’s interest in photography blossomed in college when she discovered the “magic” of the darkroom, and through a series of jobs as a freelance photographer and Photoshopper, she developed the skills and the eye for a new style.
Her husband, Jason Brueck, a digital artist himself, pushed Harrold to see photographs from a different perspective. “He looked at a photo I showed him of an abandoned farmhouse with a boarded-up window and said, ‘It’s nice, but wouldn’t it be cooler if the window wasn’t boarded up?’ I took the photo into Photoshop and began removing the boards, cutting around the weeds and vines, and where there was now empty space, I placed just the right piece of sky. It completely changed the image. Now it was not a photo about a window. It was all about what was on the other side of that window, the unknown.
“Now my work is all about building images, building a reality, rather than simply documenting it,” Harrold says. She plays with water, fire, sky, sea, and ice: they exist together in completely impossible yet alluring scenarios.
Harrold is a storyteller at heart. Many of her pieces were inspired by the architecture she observed while living in Philadelphia. She was interested in a particular kind of structure: “the row homes that had lost their row.” In transitional neighborhoods the dilapidated homes would be torn down, leaving sometimes just one home standing. Harrold was struck by how “out of place” the independent homes seemed, and she wanted to think of new, hopeful stories for them—“what day-to-day life would be like for a Chinese restaurant in the sky, or a gum house on a stick, or a brownstone in the middle of the ocean.” So she did.
For Harrold the magic of photography has continued to spark inspiration. “I love photography because it is real. Even though my images could not exist in reality, they feel as if they do. The imagery is often dreamlike, or meant to capture the imagination of the people in the images, usually children.”
Children are a common theme in Harrold’s photography compilation: “I usually have children in my pieces because they are the most innocent and the most hopeful. And they have the best imaginations.” Children believe in the impossible, with the realism of adulthood far beyond them. For works that are themselves unbelievable, one must use one’s imagination. That is where the magic is, as viewers learn to see Harrold’s work with the whimsy and wonder of a child.
“Double Dutch is my favorite. It’s an early piece . . . I think what I really love is how it feels. It is a dark image, but the warmth and hope all radiate from a small part of the image where the sun is setting and three girls are jumping rope across a building. They are perfectly content . . . and defying gravity.”
In the same way that the jump-roping children defy the constraints of reality, Harrold’s pieces push the limits, challenging viewers to engage their imagination and build their own stories of what is possible.