Kerry Skarbakka

Last year, Center awarded Kerry Skarbakka the 2011 Excellence in Teaching Award for his passion in the classroom. After experiencing his photographs and teaching philosophy, it appears that everyone would benefit from a semester with Kerry.  His high spirited photographs, thoughtful approach to his own image making, and profound understanding what it takes to give students an informed visual language in an “image-prolific” society, make him a force to be reckoned with. He was recently celebrated for his teaching in PDNedu.

We are a visual culture wherein photography has become an
exceedingly powerful form of communication. Moreover, the development of
digital technologies in the past ten years has wiped traditional artistic
boundaries away. As a result, it is now vital to educate students to have a
broader vision. As an artist, it is imperative to be aware of the language of
photography and to understand the responsibility image making has within our
culture. To be a successful communicator, it is necessary to learn the tools
and skills inherent within this practice. More importantly, is the
understanding of how to control the medium and apply its principles with
thought and sophistication.


He is a self processed  performance-based photographer, using his own body and physical prowess to create his images and video. He received his B.A. in Studio Art with an emphasis in Sculpture  from the University of Washington School of Art and his MFA in Photography from Columbia College in Chicago. Kerry’s work has been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries and art fairs. He has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Fifty-One Fine Art Photography in Antwerp, Belgium, Irvine Contemporary in Washington DC, and Lawrimore Project in Seattle. His work has been exhibited at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, Ahlen Art Museum, Ahlen Germany and the Warhol Museum. Publications include Aperture Magazine Afterimage, Art and America and ArtReview International Additionally, Skarbakka has received funding and support from the Creative Capital Foundation, the 1% for the Arts (City of Seattle), the Chicago Center for Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council. He is represented by Fifty One Fine Art Photography in Antwerp, Belgium and Contemporary Wing in Washington DC. Currently Kerry is faculty of Digital Media and Photographic Studies at Prescott College.

The Struggle to Right Oneself 

Philosopher Martin Heidegger described human existence as a process of perpetual falling, and it is the responsibility of each individual to catch ourselves from our own uncertainty. This unsettling prognosis of life informs my present body of work. I continually return to questions regarding the nature of control and its effects on this perceived responsibility, since beyond the basic laws that govern and maintain our equilibrium, we live in a world that constantly tests our stability in various other forms. War and rumors of war, issues of security, effects of globalization, and the politics of identity are external gravities turned inward, serving to further threaten the precarious balance of self, exaggerating negative feelings of control. 

This photographic work is in response to this delicate state. It comprises a culmination of thought and emotion, a tying together of the threads of everything I perceive life has come to represent. It is my understanding and my perspective, which relies on the shifting human conditions of the world that we inhabit. It’s exploration resides in the sublime metaphorical space from where balance has been disrupted to the definitive point of no return. It asks the question of what it means to resist the struggle, to simply let go. Or what are the consequences of holding on? 

Using myself as model and with the aid of climbing gear and other rigging, I photograph the body as it dangles from dangerous precipices or tumbles down flights of stairs. The captured gesture of the body is designed for plausiblity of action, which grounds the image in reality. However, it is the ambiguiy of the body’s position in space that allows and requires the viewer to resolve the full meaning of the photograph. Do we fall? Can we fly? If we fly then loss of control facilitates supreme control. 

It is necessary to point out that I do not consider myself a glorified stuntman; nor do I wish to become a sacrifice to art. Therefore, safety is an important factor, however the work does carry with it a potential risk of personal injury as I engage the moment. This is unavoidable as much of the strength of the images lie in the fact that they are all recorded on location. The images are layered with references to an experienced background in sculpture and painting, and the cinematic quality of the work suggests the influence of commercial film. The dimensions are important to establish a direct relationship between the image and viewer. 

The images stand as ominous messages and reminders that we are all vulnerable to losing our footing and grasp. Moreover, they convey the primal qualities of the human condition as a precarious balancing act between the struggle against our desire to survive and our fantasy to transcend our humanness.