Kimerlee Curyl is a West Coast-based photographer whose focus is wild horses. Represented by Sorelle since 2016, we were eager to chat with Kimerlee as part of our recent Inside the Studio series, since her creative process is highly unique; While a large part of her time is spent in the studio sifting through and editing photos, her true art takes place prior to that, very much outside the studio. We jumped at a chance to go deeper on what it's really like for Kimerlee to immerse herself in these areas where wild horses roam, and learn about what she hopes to accomplish as a voice for animals who, she says, are very often forgotten. Read on to learn more about Kimerlee's roots, process, and inspiration.
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I'm originally from Minnesota, but now reside in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, California. Picturesque rolling golden California hills set amongst ranches and vineyards... think Tuscany! It is truly divine, and I’m so blessed to be here.
How would you describe your work?
I vacillate between reductive/negative space style to filling the frame with intimate portraiture details. I want the viewer to feel as though the horse is right there with them, or understand the vastness of space they call home, or highlight an amazing detail of their sculpted body speaking to me in that moment.
How did you get started photographing wild horses? What about this subject drew you to it?
When I got my first horse in 2004, I was immersed in “natural horsemanship” and I often heard, “In the wild, the horse reacts...” or, “wild horses will behave like x, y, z...” Very quickly I thought, who better to teach me the art of horsemanship but actual wild horses? So I set my sights on figuring out how to observe them. Once it happened, the biggest shift in my life happened and I never looked back. Horses are powerful fields of energy; they can't help it, they just are. Wild horses are the most intense of all, and are perfect right where they are. They exude not only their massive energy fields but their will to survive and thrive is wrapped in these graceful bodies that are gilded in freedom and grace (my two favorite words).
What is your artistic process? How do you create a piece or series?
After I return from a trip in “the wild,” I tend to sift through my images immediately. Aside from the fact that it takes a number of days to re-enter the real world, it is always exciting to see what I have (or haven't) captured. However, I never make decisions at this point. Of course there are times when it appears an image is possibly perfect and will become part of the limited editions, but I have what I call “steeping time" to think. I rarely delete anything because I've often found an image that strikes me several years after it was taken. It just depends on where my head and heart are. I have no team, its just me from beginning until I go to print.
As far as my tones go, I spent years developing a tone that reminded me of my days working in the dark room, and hopefully gave me a unique voice. I adore both black and white and sepia tones, and for many years digital, no matter what program I was using, just fell short for me. Especially with toning, nothing truly compares to a Platinum/Palladium wet bath print. The tonal range is still vast but soft, while blacks are a bit warmer. Frankly, I’m still “tweaking” here and there and working with the best printer I can, and it makes a world of difference. There are so many bad choices out there for photographic printing these days. It is entirely part of the process who you choose to work with as an artist.
What is your favorite part of that process?
Reliving the moments I actually spent in the wild with the horses is the best, hands down. I open a folder of images I captured in 2009, and I’m transported right back. Often times, those horses sadly no longer exist, at least on public lands, wild and free. So I get to relive it all. The sounds of silence, the smell of sage and the call of the meadowlarks in the dewey morning grass. Ultimately, the best part of it all is being out there with these incredible beasts.
Is there ever a particularly challenging part of the process?
As much as being out on the range and capturing the images is the best part, it's also the most challenging. It involves renting expensive, heavy gear (that I don’t dare ding or damage), then hiking out a few miles praying to God I don’t find a rattlesnake den or step in a badger hole, particularly with low cell reception or zero battery. Once you finally find these majestic subjects, it sometimes takes hours to gain their trust and one small wrong move could mean they literally vanish into thin air. Plus, my Jeep goes through some pretty extreme abuse, so replacing windshields and tires are part of my vocabulary.
What made you choose photography as a medium?
I LOVED photography in high school, and still have my high school B/W film project. I didn’t initially pursue it, and instead went to “Hollywood” to study acting for many years. The few jobs I did book, I always found myself asking lighting questions, or if I could sit behind the camera to see how everything looked. I was fortunate to be on a job with Dennis Hopper and I spent the week asking him photography questions, not acting questions. He had a passion for it as well. It was a really organic move for me.
Are there any artists who have inspired you or your work?
For sure! Herb Ritts is numero uno. But I have also been very inspired by Kurt Markus, Nick Brandt - his efforts of combining his art and conservation are incomparable. I strive to be able to do more constantly. And there are countless others.
In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
“ART...has a voice.” My wish is to not only bring beautiful work into someone’s home, but to inspire change. Our wild horses and the wild places they live are constantly in danger of elimination in the name of special interest. It makes me crazy upset. I want to inspire people to care.
To see Kimerlee's collection photography available for purchase, click here.
Check out Kimerlee in action in the Great Divide Basin, Wyoming: