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News Release — Las Sombras / The Shadows

Las Sombras / The Shadows by Kate Breakey book cover


Released 10/30/2012

SAN MARCOS, TX—On Saturday, November 10, 2012, the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos welcome photographer Kate Breakey for an exhibition reception, artist talk, and book launch. The evening celebrates her latest monograph, Las Sombras/The Shadows, published by the University of Texas Press in the Wittliff’s Southwestern & Mexican Photography series, and the exhibition of her work currently on view.

The exhibition reception begins at 7:00 p.m. with a light buffet and cash bar. The 7:30 p.m. program will include a talk by Breakey plus remarks by essayist/poet Lia Purpura, who wrote the introduction to Las Sombras. An audience Q&A and book signing will follow.

Unavailable in bookstores until late December, special advance copies of Las Sombras/The Shadows will be for sale at this event (hardcover, 12 x 12 in., 168 pp.). Breakey’s other two monographs by UT Press in the Wittliff’s book series, Small Deaths and Painted Light, will also be available for purchase.

Admission is free and all are welcome. The event will be held at the Wittliff Collections, on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library at Texas State University in San Marcos, mid-way between Austin and San Antonio. For questions, call 512.245.2313.


Las sombras, the shadows, are literally that—shadows left behind when Kate Breakey places objects on photosensitive paper and shines light on them. And yet, in the inevitable reversal of photography, these shadows are full of light—and more than light. Breakey’s luminous images—coyotes and whipsnakes, mice, rabbits, vultures, and scorpions—are filled with her love of the American Southwest and the animals, plants, and insects that inhabit it. As she says, “The natural world is full of wondrous things to look at and to chronicle and catalogue. In my own way, I have devoted myself to that end.”

Breakey makes these pictures without a camera, like nineteenth-century photographers such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins, and she also shares their affinity for recording the natural world in scientific detail, as well as with artistic beauty. Breakey’s contact prints, known as photograms or photogenic drawings, have the sepia-toned look of Victorian illustrations, yet their sensibility is distinctly modern. In the way she poses the animals, Breakey’s coyotes and rabbits dance; her birds fly. Accompanying the images is an essay by poet Lia Purpura, who invites las sombras to spark her own investigation of shadows, of the absence that paradoxically becomes a kind of presence, especially when held in a photograph. This revealing conversation between images and words opens up a new way of seeing, a discovery of substance in shadows.


The exhibition Las Sombras/The Shadows features over 200 of Breakey’s photograms—all created in the darkroom without a camera. The artist herself arranged the framed pieces salon style on 11 walls in the Wittliff Collections’ main gallery. The images are life-size silver gelatin contact prints toned by hand with a golden wash.

Accompanying the Las Sombras exhibition is a selection of photographs from Breakey’s newest series, Creatures of Light and Darkness—debuting at the Wittliff. These pictures of animals in their native desert near Breakey’s home in Tucson are made at night and at dawn with a small motion-detecting infrared camera. Breakey enhances the animals in their landscapes by coloring the large, archival pigmented-ink photographs with oil and pencil. Harper’s magazine will feature this series in December.

“We are very excited to organize this remarkable exhibition of Kate Breakey’s photograms and photographs,” said David Coleman, director of the Wittliff Collections. “She has arranged Las Sombras so that the framed photograms hang nearly floor to ceiling. The 43"-high images from her Creatures of Light and Darkness series are on display in two intimate rooms that we’ve lit to mimic the moonlight and the light of dawn by which these photographs were taken. When you visit, you are literally surrounded by life-size animals—it’s a truly astonishing experience.”

Kate Breakey generously donated the works currently on display to the Wittliff’s permanent collection. More than 215 of her images are on view through April 11, 2013. [NOTE: This show will be held over through July 7, 2012.]

A former professor of photography at the University of Texas at Austin, native Australian Kate Breakey now lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. Her photography has been published in five monographs: Las Sombras/The Shadows, Painted Light, Small Deaths, Slow Light, and Birds/Flowers, and her images have appeared in more than 80 one-person exhibitions and more than 50 group exhibitions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, China, New Zealand, and France. Her work is held in many public collections, including the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The major holding of her work—over 540 pieces—is at the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Lia Purpura is the author of seven collections of essays, poems, and translations, including On Looking, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. Her awards include a 2012 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, as well as NEA and Fulbright Fellowships and four Pushcart Prizes, and her work can be read in the New Yorker, the New Republic, Orion, and the Paris Review. She is Writer-in-Residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington. 


 One of 11 walls featured in the exhibition Las Sombras / The Shadows: Photograms by Kate Breakey

Las Sombras by Kate Breakey