Once upon a time, I was still living in the US and completing my BFA in photography in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I met Kristine Heykants. She’s a longtime resident of Minneapolis and has exhibited across the country. Read on to discover our connection.
FFU: I am so honored that you’re our first interviewee, Kristine. Can you tell everyone how we know each other?
KH: Thank you so much, I’m really excited to be a part of FFU! It seems like it has been ages since I saw you, like 10 years? Anyway, I was teaching a class in lighting at a college in Minneapolis, and you were my student. You had interests similar to my area of expertise, and I shared things I thought could be helpful and brought you along on a few of my shoots.
FFU: That makes me feel so old, but you’re right it’s been ten years! What has been going on since I last saw you?
KH: In some ways not that much has changed in my life. I’m still teaching part-time, still working on personal projects and getting them out in the world, and still hustling for commercial work.
In other ways, very much has changed. I got divorced 6 years ago, which was a life changing event. Around that time, I began photographing a new (for me) type of subject that I am still working on.
FFU: I’d say a lot has changed. One of your series that I really appreciate is American Beauty. Could you talk about that and your inspiration for making this? How does it relate to feminism? I find this incredibly relevant today.
KH: I am curious what aspect of American Beauty you find relevant today! Not that I disagree… I worked on that project 25 years ago. I have always been a “follow your bliss” type of photographer– meaning that there are some subjects that just seem to “click” with me. When I started working on American Beauty, I was researching examples in print media (especially Life magazine) of how women had been portrayed in magazine advertising around 1940, and then comparing those images to contemporary photographs of women in advertising. I found that there was virtually no difference between the two decades – that is – 1940s vs. 1990s.
At the time I was living in Iowa, and was attracted to the country fairs, rodeos, beauty pageants, circuses etc. that dot the summer countryside. I was relatively new to photography, having studied painting in college. I had recently returned from spending a couple of years overseas. So, things that we might consider typically American, or to say it another way, Americana, really stood out to me as being unusual. It was this combination of Americana and traditional ideals about women and beauty that inspired me to pursue American Beauty.
There is an aspect of the project that has to do with judgement and status based on a woman’s looks. That judgement comes from the dominant cultural value group (white male), which is precisely what feminism takes on.
FFU: That’s exactly what I mean, that society still unfortunately places so much on physical appearance. What are you working on at the moment? Any upcoming exhibitions?
KH: I have a couple of projects taking my attention currently. I have been working on a personal project for the past 6 years (Uprooted) about the rural farming community in Iowa where my father grew up. After documenting a lot of landscapes and farm scenes, I set out to make portraits of all types of people in the town of Belmond (population 2300). I recently learned that a selection of portraits will be included in a regional group exhibition in Iowa. I’m thrilled that the work is being embraced in the state where it was created, and I hope to expand the audience in the coming months.
On the commercial photography front, I am starting to market for video services. I have been practicing my video technique for a couple of years, but I’m having a tough time feeling like my portfolio examples are “good enough”. Does that sound familiar?
FFU: Of course, we as women are frequently doubting ourselves. What are your views about the art scene in the US for women artists and photographers?
For groups who do not belong to the dominant culture, it is not sufficient for us to be as good as in order to be considered for a job. We must be much better. That has been my experience throughout my career and still to hold true.
KH: To earn a living as a photographer is a challenging proposition since there is ever more competition for jobs in photography. More and more, women are creating their own communities and models for success which is exciting. However, I continue to come up against the white male status quo in most aspects of my professional life. For groups who do not belong to the dominant culture, it is not sufficient for us to be as good as in order to be considered for a job. We must be much better. That has been my experience throughout my career and still to hold true. The best thing I can do is continually take stock of what unique talents I have to offer, and to make them available to the widest and best audience possible. I am constantly evaluating where my energy is best placed.
FFU: Sadly, I couldn’t agree more about having to be better and not men’s equals just to earn our place. One of the best lessons I learned as a student and assistant was from you while I was assisting you a few times. At this time, I was always afraid and shy about things. You told me to always dare to ask. It has stuck with me since then. Do you have any other words of wisdom for young women photographers?
KH: One thing experience has taught me is that I get to pick my battles. My time and energy are my most valuable resources and I must allocate them wisely. When I was younger, I would grit my teeth and make the best of situations that, in hindsight, were not worth my time.