July Member of The Month | Kimberly Chiaris


Kimberly Chiaris Bio


Kimberly Chiaris received her BFA in Photography from the Kansas City Art Institute. Her interest lies mainly in personal storytelling through hand made processes. She blends historical imagery with contemporary imagery in hopes of creating a visual conversation that transcends time as well as speaks into the future. Her practices often involve digital composites combined with analog and alternative processes that include elements of mixed media. Her focus is mainly on themes about origin and identity and how trace memory, emotions, time and culture shape and shift our understanding of history. She has recently exhibited in FotoFest , SE Center for Photography, PhotoPlace Gallery, L.A. Photo Curator, Art Intersection, The Hand Magazine and Candela Books and Gallery.


She also loves to help people find their voice through the visual art process as well. She has taught workshops at universities, colleges and art centers, photography galleries, and her own art studio.


She has lived in beautiful Colorado for more than 20 years.


Hamidah Glasgow: How long have you been an artist, and how did you get your start?


Kimberly Chiaris: Skip Kohloff, many know him as one of the original founders of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, was my high school, photography teacher. Skip, and my painting/drawing teacher, Charlie Thies, both mentored me and encouraged me to attend an art college. I chose to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. I loved painting, drawing, and photography equally. I chose my major in photography in 1981 based on the idea that it was the most practical career choice. In my second year of college, KCAI hired a new head of department, Reed Estabrook, who completely recreated the photography program, including transforming the physical space. He brought in many contemporary guest artists, who lectured and worked with the photo majors. There were only about ten people in my photo major class, so it was up close and personal.


After college and after working for a couple of years at a graphic design company, I worked for Gloria Baker Feinstein at a small photography gallery she owned in Kansas City. She owned and exhibited many photographs made by masters of photography that she kept in flat files at the gallery. I had unfiltered access and opportunity to sit for long uninterrupted periods meditating on and contemplating these beautiful images.


It was a sacred experience holding an original (unframed) Imogen Cunningham, or Betty Hahn’s cyanotypes of irises with gold ink… oh my!


I also taught adjunct classes at KCAI, University of Missouri, and Johnson County Community College, did portrait and wedding photography/videos, got married, and started a family. I set up a darkroom in my basement, working with black and white silver printing using primarily a Diana camera.


HG: What drew you to alternative processes?


KC: For my senior thesis show, I use colored pencils to hand color silver prints. I have been interested in alternative forms of photography from the beginning. I started my art career before digital came along. It became a very deliberate choice that had to be addressed when digital cameras and printing came onto the scene, and film and darkroom supplies became scarce. I taught myself digital processes, but it never seemed to satisfy me in and of itself. I struggled along for about five years, redefining my art during all the digital transitions. I wasn’t passionate about using digital imagery exclusively for my final product.


Before digital came along, I explored van dyke brown, cyanotype, collage, bookmaking, adding paint and hand coloring, photo transfers, and lots of silver printing. I think the catalyst that reawakened my passion and propelled me deeper into alternative process photography was when C4FAP hosted the Diffusion Annual show in 2015. I was working with encaustic wax over digital prints and trying to move the digital process beyond itself. This show gave me access to artists that were creating work in innovative new ways using and combining vintage processes, digital, mixed media, and sculpture. There is something about the idea of art as object: mark-making, one of a kind tangible crafting, and physical evidence from the hand of the artist that has always enthralled me. This show pushed the boundaries of possibility for me, and I was ready and willing to go in new directions. It reminded me of what I really loved, gave me new ideas, and helped me come to terms with the digital process as another useful tool for my alt-process work.


I met Judy Sherrod at that opening, and she invited me to join a group of mostly women photographers called Shootapalooza. Many of them were working in various forms of alt process photography. This gave me a community of creative support and the motivation to move forward with my art.


HG: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about being an artist?


KC: Two people have given me advice that I took to heart. When I was young, I remember many times, my mother saying to me, “Pursue your passion (meaning my love for art), and you will be successful.” She was born in the Depression era, loved art, and had talent, but her father refused to pay for higher education unless it was for a practical work field. She wanted me to have more of a choice. She helped me understand the universal importance of creativity and art apart from any conditional monetary value. My husband, also an artist, told me early in our marriage, “If you want to master your art, sometimes you need to let go of some things that are fun or interesting but might be keeping you from what really matters.” I have to tell myself this often!


HG: How has being involved with The Center affected your practice?


KC: I don’t take lightly the privilege to travel just a few miles to view original and accomplished photographic art from all over the world at The Center. At the openings, there are opportunities to meet and sometimes spend time with these exceptional artists, listen to their thought processes, and hear jurors speak about what interests and informs their choices.


Through the Center, teaching workshops have provided connections to artists who have similar interests and a curiosity to learn. Sharing my knowledge with other artists, watch them discover new skills, and take what they learn to make their own creations is quite rewarding. Many of the students are peers that not only bring a passion for learning but also bringing experience, skills, and ideas to the table. I have taken workshops at the Center, and sometimes had those same teachers/artists take my workshop.


Participating in portfolio reviews and portfolio shares are also one of the most valuable support systems that the Center provides. Hearing diverse points of view and advice from peers as well as leaders in the creative art and Photography world continually expands my understanding of cultures and ideas that are different than mine.


Hamidah, I am thankful for the direction you have taken the Center. I’ve lived here in the Ft. Collins area long enough to watch you transform this small local gallery into an internationally acclaimed top quality organization that has grown, survived, and thrived. You have worked countless hours and taken bold steps to keep the Center viable and accessible and approachable to the community. This organization has flourished because of your care, hard work, time, research, and innovation, along with your team of volunteers that work many hours to succeed. You have a team of people who seek out, write, and receive grant proposals and invest many hours behind the scenes doing the difficult work that helps this organization flourish. Volunteering has given me a glimpse into how much work it takes to pull this off. I am thankful for this organization and all the opportunities that it provides.


HG: Thank you for the kind words!


All artwork © Kimberly Chiaris