Katie Fenske

Katie Fenske is a jewelry maker and photographer living in Greenville, South Carolina. Her work focuses on her children and the well-worn landscapes around her home town. 

Website: etsy.com/shop/budpnq  

Instagram: @katiefenske


How did your interest in photography begin and how did you arrive at your current style?

I had a mild interest in photography when point-and-shoot cameras became mainstream, but developed a passion for it five years ago, following the birth of my daughter. I wanted to capture every moment, every milestone, and I wanted to do it beautifully. Our old point and shoot was no longer meeting my needs, so my husband and our families chipped in to buy me a DSLR for my 30th birthday. It took a little while, but I got to the point that I was completely comfortable with operating it and felt like I was getting the beautiful images of my daughter that I'd envisioned, but found my camera too cumbersome to carry around all the time.

When smartphones became the norm and everyone was getting Instagram accounts, I began seeing all these great shots produced with nothing more than a camera phone and an editing app. I needed to see if I could also get shots like that out of a phone. With the limitations of a single, super-wide lens, I was able to see how the relationships between space, color, texture, and lighting work to create atmospheric images. Currently, my style is more about capturing the mood of my imperfect surroundings rather than just the subject. 

How do you choose your subjects?

I'm drawn to imperfection and a mood I'm not sure how to describe--despondent, maybe? Whatever my subjects, I make sure I'm not stepping on anyone's toes in an effort to capture them. I've missed plenty of shots because I didn't want to incite confrontation. If it looks interesting, is lit nicely, and no one's around, consider it chosen. 

Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?

I do not know him personally, but Whitten Sabbatini is my biggest influence. If I feel my fire is dying, all I have to do to stoke it is visit his website. His portraits are perfection and it boggles my mind that he is able to connect with his subjects to the point that even the viewer can emotionally connect with them as well. I never feel like I'm simply looking at his photos, I feel like I'm experiencing them. In short, Whitten makes me want to connect, which, as an incredibly shy person, I am constantly struggling to do. Another major influence is Justin Thomas Burch, a photographer I discovered on Instagram. He manages to capture an almost otherworldly atmosphere in his images and that ability makes him a huge, and much appreciated, inspiration.

I have not had any teachers, but my brother, Michael, is a great motivator. He has exceptional taste so when he tells me he likes the images I'm making, it pushes me, not just to keep it up, but to step it up.

Where do you go to draw inspiration?

Apart from the previously mentioned photographers, I am most inspired by foreign surroundings and good lighting. When the mood strikes (and that's often), I get in my car and drive. I look for roads I've never been down before. Even if I don't get a picture, my curiosity is satisfied and I can move on. Knowing what is out there and knowing that there's plenty more to be discovered keeps me truckin'.

Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?

I fully embrace the noticeably lived-in yards of the varied mill communities around here: bikes and toys on the lawn, potted plants in mismatched containers, lawn ornaments galore, piles of who-knows-what on the porch, broken down cars, etc. I also like the look of a house that's being consumed by the plants around it, whether kudzu, a blooming crape myrtle, or a holly tree left unchecked. 

Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Yes and no. I'm happiest when I'm taking photos, so in that respect, photography satisfies my urge to create, but I don't think I'll ever feel like I'm where I want to be. Which I'm okay with because it keeps me moving forward. As long as I'm making progress, I'm content.

Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.

I've been shooting lifestyle portraits with increasing regularity and was just asked to join a few other Greenville photographers, Will CrooksAndrew Huang, and Giovonni Dodd, as a core contributor for a collective they just created called II Weeks Notice. I'm excited to see where it goes!