5 Fast Facts: Justine Kurland

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
Crouching in the shadow of a highway overpass, three teenage girls with light skin focus intently on lighting smoke bombs.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about American photographer Justine Kurland (b. 1969), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

1. The Runaways

After “imagining a story, a film…that I wanted to be real,” Kurland began photographing young girls in spectacular landscapes. While creating her narrative of a teenage runaway, she was particularly interested in photographing within small, fringe areas of wilderness that remained between suburban and urban areas.

Two adolescent girls with light skin wearing matching blue uniforms float side-by-side on the edge of a grassy pond while holding hands.
Justine Kurland, Grassland Drifters, 2001; Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Justine Kurland, Courtesy of the artist Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

2. Girls in Uniform

Kurland continued working with adolescent girls while completing an artist residency in New Zealand. She learned that students there wore uniforms whether they were in public or private school, and had the girls wear them in her photographs.

3. On the Open Road

Eschewing the traditional studio, Kurland travels the country to create her images. Whether on her own or with her son, she packs up her camera equipment, steps into her van (which has a bed in the back), and lives on the road for several months.

4. Mama Babies

When exhibiting her mother and child images, Kurland borrowed the title “Of Woman Born,” from the 1978 essay on motherhood by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich. For Kurland, the series was a way for her to reimagine the idea of motherhood.

Photograph of a splendid landscape scene featuring a cliff, waterfall and stream. Nude mothers with their children sit on rocks or play in the stream. The human figures are dwarfed by blocks of green foliage in the lower left corner and walls of steep rock covered subtly by moss.
Justine Kurland, Waterfall, Mama Babies, 2006; Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Justine Kurland, Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

5. Artistic Beginnings

At a young age, Kurland cut out Victorian artist Arthur Rackham’s illustration, Always Plenty to Eat or Drink, from a book. The fantastical artwork resonated with Kurland. Even today, Kurland keeps the page with her. She feels that the work represents her world view.

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