Artist Interview: Kimber VanSant

Beyond the Gallery

Kimber VanSant is one of the four artists featured in the PL130 Gallery's photography show Moms With LensesShe is a photographer based in Philadelphia and takes double exposure photos of her children on her 1955 Rolleiflex 2.8D.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I was born and raised in southern Delaware. I grew up on a peach orchard and spent a lot of time either near the ocean or in the forest. I studied history in the Shenandoah Valley, meandered a bit and ended up in Philadelphia in 2002. My husband and I have two kids, Lois, 7, and Henry, 5. They were born in the city, and we lived on Broad Street in South Philly until we moved to the burbs in April 2020. Aside from photography, I enjoy spending my time gardening, thrifting, swimming in the bay, and riding my bike around my neighborhood.

Of all these, I am currently most passionate about gardening, as it fulfills my constant insatiable urge to commune with nature (reflected in many of my photographs). At our new home, I have added several new garden beds to those already established, and over the past month, I have created an 86' x 5' cutting garden that will soon be filled with 531 flowering plants intended to be cut for bouquets. I could not be more excited to nurture it and witness the transformation. (It will without a doubt make an appearance in my photos).

Q: What sparked your interest in photography?
A: I was always curious about photographs as art vs for documentation and in 2003 I took the first of six photography courses at Penn. I was awed to discover a new form of self-expression and quickly became obsessed. I started with friends (and later their kids) as my subjects. I’d have assignments due every other week and in those organized shoots we bonded both through the shared experience of making art and my general angst over the assignments and their parameters. In 2004 I took an advanced Black & White Photography course and the professor (Karen Rodewald) introduced the medium format toy cameras Holga and Diana. She showed how they worked, examples of double exposure photographs taken on them, and most importantly, how they could be tools for more creative photography and (for me at least) deeper self expression. I soon purchased a Holga and discovered the magic of creating double exposure photographs.

Q: How has the experience of motherhood informed or transformed your work as a photographer (and changed your life in general)?
A: I always shoot what I experience, and when I was in my early twenties the subject matter revolved around my friends, traveling, the beach, the state fair, rural Delmarva, and my family’s peach orchard. Now that I have kids,  the settings are the same for the most part (minus the traveling), but now feature my kids. Its all just glimpses of my life, committed to film.

Q: What is it like to have your children as your subjects? How is that different from other photography you’ve done in the past?
A: I have strong feelings about images not born from a genuine place. For that reason, I rarely tell my kids I’m taking photos, and prefer them not to be aware. They may eventually acknowledge my bulky black Rolleiflex, but they’re typically so immersed in their activity, they hardly bat an eye. They love to ham it up for cellphone pics, but the lack of instantaneous satisfaction from my Rollei guarantees their continued disinterest.

Q: Much of your work employs double exposures to create a dreamlike quality. When did you start making double exposures and what is your process for crafting them?
A: In 2004, I began shooting double exposures on my Holga. In 2007, a friend sold me their 1955 Rolleiflex 2.8d, which I used for standard 120 film photography, alongside with the Holga. At some point I learned that my particular make and model of Rollei has a multiple exposure function, and so it has now served as my sole camera for many years. My process is sloppy, not grounded in measurements of light versus dark areas nor in the placement of ideal elements within those spaces. My process consists of my seeing something lovely that I would like to capture for all time, and then after taking the photograph, looking for another lovely thing in the vicinity to photograph, or capturing the primary subject a few more times within the same frame of film.

Q: Has Covid affected your family unit? And has it influenced your work?
A: Anyone who had children at home with them throughout the pandemic will likely express that that time was challenging in so many ways and, for better or worse, indelibly altered absolutely everything. At the start of the pandemic we lived in an apartment in South Philly and were actively looking to buy a home. By the end of April 2020, we had relocated to a house with a half-acre yard. We were all fish out of water, and spent much of the first months here outdoors, captivated by all the new spaces, forms, colors, pathways, trees, and wildlife.  The kids had spent lots of time in nature, but were suddenly immersed in it 24/7. A lot of these images are from that time, when we were all awkwardly navigating our new world.

See more of Kimber's work and follow her on Instagram @kimbervansant

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