“There is some deep, intrinsic need I have to make art – to express myself, to be playful with it, to try to create something beautiful and to try and connect with others through my work.” Kait Mauro, Photographer & Creative
In viewing the works of photographer Kait Mauro, one thing is obvious, the world is her medium. Whether she is shooting conceptual, abstract or even events, she uses her artistic eye to see past the mere object and into a unique perspective that only she can bring.
Kait Mauro is a 25-year-old artist, primarily a photographer and writer though she enjoys dabbling in other mediums, who currently lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama. She is allergic to velvet, was once homeless and recently married her best friend – a highly logical, though also very sweet, philosopher/medical student (following Marina Abramovic’s advice, “An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist”).
TonboMai was lucky enough to get a look into this perspective and the woman behind it.
1.Tell everyone about yourself and your background.
I have a rather unconventional background. I am one of five children in my family and after the 3rd grade I was “unschooled” until I started college at Washington University in St Louis where I studied Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies. Unschooling is a philosophy – similar to homeschooling but without any formal learning whatsoever – which means I know almost no math or science. So my education from 4th grade until college was primarily riding the 67F bus down to the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (my hometown) and reading whatever books I wanted. I’ve always been a big reader and would carry home as many books as I could and just devour them. All of the librarians knew me. I also spent a lot of time in the art museum that was attached to the library. I have always been drawn to art, first in the form of creative writing, though I didn’t really know any artists growing up. I have taken a few art classes but consider myself primarily a self-taught artist. I had an extremely rough time throughout college – both because academia never came naturally to me and because I struggled with my mental health. I had depression as a child but once I got into my second year of college I had full-blown bipolar type II disorder. It took a long time for that to be diagnosed properly, and even longer to find the right concoction of medications to keep my moods as stable as possible, so I suffered a lot and was very self-destructive. My bipolar (knock on wood) has been under control for a while now and it’s been a long time since I’ve had a bipolar episode, so now most of my suffering comes in the form of extreme anxiety. I’m on medication to help with the anxiety but sometimes it still overwhelms me. Lately I’ve been having my husband write “It’s okay.” in marker on my inner forearm, which helps me – especially when he is not around. I was first inspired to try photography because I had a friend when I was a teenager who was very talented at it (still is) and her photographs made me feel things and I wanted to take photographs that would make other people feel things too. I got my first camera, not a DSLR but a solid little point-and-shoot, for my 19th birthday as a combined gift from my mother and grandmother. After that, I fell totally in love with the medium.
2.What do you do?
Art-wise: Primarily photography and writing; I have a blog on kaitmauro.com called “Other Creative Pursuits” where I post other creative things I’ve do/dabble in like drawing, painting, floral arrangements, Photoshop before & afters, very occasional poetry, etc. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately questioning what it means to be an artist, what my purpose as an artist is and what direction I should go in next. I’ve independently published many books, though all but two of them are out of print now.
On a day-to-day basis: It completely depends on the day. I prefer not to keep any sort of regular schedule. I have an Ink + Volt planner that I take with me everywhere and it’s been really helping me to be more productive and get more done every week. My husband is very busy with medical school much of the time (sometimes it can get a little lonely being married to someone who is in medical school but it’s worth it because being a doctor is his dream) so I spend some of my day running errands, doing dishes or laundry, sweeping up the endless amounts of fur on the floor from our two dogs (a Chihuahua and a Great Dane) and just doing the things that have to be done in adult life. Sometimes I get pleasure or a sense of accomplishment from these tasks and sometimes they just annoy me.
The rest of the time, when I am not hanging out with Edward, I can usually be found walking in the woods with one of our dogs, reading (I have about 9 different books I’m working on right now), photographing, working on a poem or some writing for my blog/diary (deerheart.co), on the phone with faraway friends or family (I don’t know many people in Birmingham yet even though we moved here in July and it is now February), tinkering with my website, sorting through/editing photographs, tending to my apartment garden, working on some kind of non-photographic creative project, getting overly caffeinated, worrying, looking for good lighting, or watching indie movies (I like very quirky, neurotic characters without much of a plot – Miranda July is one of my inspirations) or documentaries.
3. Why do you do what you do?
Because I need to. There is some deep, intrinsic need I have to make art – to express myself, to be playful with it, to try to create something beautiful and to try and connect with others through my work.
4. Do you think that your work has evolved over the years?
I think it has to and will, whether it’s intentional or not. Obviously I am a much better photographer now than I was when I got that first camera when I was 19. I’ve always really loved nature – not parks but being in the woods, by the river, the mountains when I get the chance – where there aren’t many other people, and my most recent project is a series called “Magical Objects” (it’s on kaitmauro.com) where I bring things home from the woods and photograph them, things I find that I think are beautiful or kind of spiritual in a way. I have done some commercial work – I’ve worked as a photographer for the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the Endangered Wolf Center, my university and I’ve done a lot of paid portraiture and boudoir shoots, but right now I am trying to be/think/live more like an artist and less like only a photographer.
Her Bipolar series
5. What have you done that you are most proud of?
When I was really suffering from the bipolar disorder, I made a series of photographs called “Bipolar Series.” I wanted to capture the emotions of bipolar manias (or hypomanias, in my case) and the crushing depressions to help people understand and bust the stigma of mental illness a little bit, to humanize it. I am most proud of that series – it was featured in two exhibitions in New York City, in a handful of shows in Saint Louis (where I lived when I made it) and on the homepage of WordPress.com. I do think I could have done a better job with it though – there are always things you could have done better looking back – and my regret about it is that I made the photos depicting depression a little bit too “pretty,” which just isn’t realistic because nothing about depression is pretty – I’d barely get out of bed for a month, I’d cry all the time, I wouldn’t shower or brush my teeth, I’d fantasize about being dead constantly, etc.
6.What is the biggest creative risk that you have taken?
I think most people would say the biggest risk I take is how vulnerable and honest I am about things that are stigmatized or taboo on my blog/diary. I don’t see it as a risk though. I suppose if I were applying for a certain type of job someday I may not get the job because I write so openly about my struggles with mental illness/my demons and it’s on the internet for everyone to see, but I don’t really care because I think we need a lot more of that in the world – vulnerability, openness, honesty, authenticity, people just openly being very human and real.
To move people, to make them feel, to make them pause, to provide beauty, to ask questions or provide answers, to bring people joy or to connect them, to make the world a better place to live in and/or to provide an escape.
8. Who inspires you/why?
Sally Mann – because of how moving her photographs are (especially the “Immediate Family” series), her intelligence and her strength. Cheryl Strayed – for her wisdom and writing and just goodness (I am a big fan of all of her books and the Dear Sugar Radio podcast). Miranda July – because she’s such a weirdo, her work is so utterly human and because that work is in so many different mediums. Marina Abramovic – because of her toughness and brilliance and the way she thinks. My favorite poets – Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Dana Levin and Adrienne Rich – because their poems make the world a better place. Chelsea Martin – because her book, Mickey, is brilliant. I could go on and on about my favorite authors, artists, works of art, books, movies, music, etc but this interview is getting really long so I’ll stop.
9. If you could use two sentences to sum up your views/ yourself, what would they be?
10. How do you stay inspired?
I talk to people about real things. I read books about artists’ lives. I look at art. I get out into nature. I watch movies/documentaries/shows about art or artists or other things that I find inspiring. I read poetry. I feel my emotions – they’re very strong and they inspire me to write or make a certain thing. I try not to make just for the sake of making most of the time, I try to work when I am inspired because the work just comes out better and is more authentic. Some people believe you should treat being an artist like any other job – go to your studio for a set number of hours everyday and just make yourself make things, and that works for some people but it doesn’t work for me. For example, I set a goal this month to write a short poem everyday, and some days I wrote really good (in my opinion, anyway) little poems, but on the days when I didn’t want to do it, and I forced myself to do it anyway, the work was awful.
11. Do you think art should be funded?
12. What is your dream project?
I don’t currently have a “dream project.” I’m just not in that space right now. Right now I am just focusing on trying to follow my intuition when it comes to my art.
13. What is your professional goal?
Of course, like almost every other artist, my goal is to have people care about what I make. But even if this doesn’t happen, I need to make things anyway, and it’s still worth it even if no one ever cares very much about it except for me.
14. What advice would you have to someone who is just getting started?
Seek out things that inspire you. Don’t fall for the cultural myth that depression is natural or productive for an artist. If you have mental health problems, get professional help and work on solving them. It may seem like you need depression or mania or whatever your particular lot is to be creative but you’ll actually be even more productive with a healthier mind, and a whole lot happier. You don’t have to be tragic to be a “real” artist. Allow your artistic practice to be playful or spiritual if that works for you. Try different mediums – creating is creating. You don’t have to share everything you make online. Expect to make bad work – nobody makes great (or even good) work all of the time and it’s insane, not to mention incredibly egotistical, to hold yourself to that standard.
15. Any final thoughts?
I think I’ve said enough for now.
Find out more about Kait and see her awesome work by following the links below;
All Photographs are the property of photographer Kait Mauro, you must have her permission to use them.