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Meet Mid City Visual Artist and Writer: MJ Katz

Today we’d like to introduce you to MJ Katz.

MJ, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles and actually lived in the same house up until a couple years ago—a transition that informed my project, So Long, which consists of nude self-portraits I took in that house after it had been sold to another family, while it was being renovated. I’m exhibiting this work in a solo exhibition titled So Long: So Far at Infinity on West Adams, viewing hours for which are Thursday-Saturday 1-5pm and by appointment until November 5th.

What I believe led to that project and to most of my work is my desire to explore danger and fear in the contained setting of making art. I lived a very sheltered childhood and often felt unable to reconcile the chaos that I knew existed just beneath the surface. I became afraid of everything because I wasn’t made to understand real danger and therefore it seemed to lurk everywhere. Making art became my way to explore fear instead of being paralyzed by it.

Writing was my first outlet. Words made sense to me immediately as a way to communicate and organize the frenetic energy of my thoughts. I found a love for creative writing in grade school, which turned into poetry in middle school, slam poetry in high school, and short stories in college.

I picked up a camera in high school when I took a black and white photography class the summer before my freshman year. I was immediately drawn to the magic of the darkroom. I continued to photograph throughout my high school years, both film and digital and spent most weekends wandering the underbelly of LA with my friends at night and making pictures of them and the people we met along the way. I went to carnivals, coffee shops, house parties, music festivals, train stations, and frequently asked complete strangers if I could photograph them. I read about Diane Arbus, bought a TLR, and come time for college, decided that making pictures was what I wanted to do. I was fortunate to have parents and an entire family who supported me in this decision.

I attended Bennington College as an Anthropology/Photography major but shortly after my first year I transferred to Art Center College of Design to study photography in depth. I graduated last winter and since then have been exploring my creative interests on a multidisciplinary level. I recently participated in the group show Party Castle, where I exhibited a sculptural project called Precious Metals. During this time I also put together my first solo exhibition which I mentioned above, the work for which is largely performance based. I consider most of my work in photography to be an extension of performance or sculpture, so it’s exciting to be experimenting with different mediums in my post-undergraduate life, which is so fraught with that sort of transformative energy, to begin with.

Has it been a smooth road?
I think the biggest struggle in any creative field is believing yourself and your point of view in the face of criticism and adverse opinions. Learning that your perspective is what makes your work unique, and not what makes it bad or wrong is a rocky, lifelong journey. I don’t know of many smooth roads out there, in art or otherwise. I tend to believe nothing worth having comes easy…if you’re not struggling you’re probably not growing either!

Has there been people or an institution that has played a pivotal role in your career?
While in undergrad at Art Center I did an independent study with David Strick, a photographer, and teacher who became my mentor and close friend through our work together on my project, So Long. He helped me bridge the gap in my process between concept and execution—I have a tendency to overthink my work which sometimes gets in the way of making good pictures, and he helped me get out of my head. He motivated me to take pictures for the sake of context and texture and taught me how to create narrative with images. He also instilled in me a confidence in my visual sensibility, which at that point I didn’t have that much faith in. I was a writer first, so I always felt that my writing and conceptualizing overshadowed my ability to create compelling images. During one of our sessions, I told him I wasn’t a visual person and he literally told me to shut up! He was exactly the kind of mentor I needed at that moment and continues to be. I am very fortunate to have someone in my life who not only understands and respects what I do but knows how to encourage me and push me further.

Do you have a favorite type of client or project?
I love collaboration so my favorite clients are ones who understand teamwork. Of course, when you believe in the project you’re working on for personal reasons, that’s even better. My favorite clients and collaborators have all been team players who have an interest in the psychological power of visuals and their healing potential.

What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned over the course of your career?
I think I would have spent less time trying to mold myself according to what I thought was expected of me. It’s hard to follow your own path because if it’s truly yours, it will be unique and therefore seem unpaved, uncertain, and scary. Although I think you have to follow a path you don’t like to find your own!

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.mjkatz.com
  • Email: heymjkatz@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @mjthescaredykat
  • Other: twitter: @mjkatz_

0-So_Long-5 1-So_Long-2 2-So_Long-6 3-So_Long-4 4-So_Long-3 5-So_Long-1Image Credit:
Gregg Segal’ for the first protrait as the photographer

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