Artist with a Toolbelt: Debby Krim by Carina Allen

Sitting in her studio located in the SoWa Artists Guild in Boston, quiet jazz softly humming from her computer speakers, local photographer Debby Krim looks at peace surrounded by her own pristine photographs. Having been photographing for as long as she can remember, Krim has an extensive assortment of images, including series such as, “The Colors of White,” a striking collection of detailed photographs of various white flowers, “L’Oeuf,” a series of close-up photos of egg shells, “Typhoon,” a documentation of a typhoon she had the chance of experiencing while on a cruise from Vietnam to China, and “Infrareds,” a compilation of photographs taken on a camera that picks up what other methods of photography might miss. Krim has also been quite successful with her “fusion foto blocks,” a series of over 2000 of her images printed on various sized 3-dimensional squares that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of combinations, allowing for unique and custom arrangements or wall decorations. 

With walls lined with images of flowers, eggs, babies, and a typhoon, Krim’s studio ignites viewer curiosity regarding how she picks her subjects. Peeking through her purple glasses and brown bangs, she says that there isn’t anything she doesn’t enjoy photographing. “I want [my photography] to be generated from where my passion is.” She explains her repeated return to nature as a subject simply, stating, “What draws me to nature is probably what draws just about every human being on the planet to nature. It’s how spectacular it is.” Krim likes to find the abstractions in nature, using cameras to help reveal what humans aren’t always able to see on their own. 

Krim’s love for the unseen is shown also through her “Infrared” series, which she started over a decade ago when fellow photographer Jack Davis introduced her to the alternate method of photographing, using specific cameras that are sensitive to near-infrared light. Over the years, Krim has developed an eye for what scenes will look good in infrared, giving the desired, magical affect that can be accomplished through such a technique. She explains that objects with high amounts of chlorophyll appear white, producing what is called the “Wood Affect,” named after the inventor of infrared photography, Robert W. Wood. She compares her ability to predict the way an image or scene will appear in infrared to driving a car. “When you drive a car, they say that you actually grow to the size of your car in your mind, so that’s how you’re able to navigate in your car. I think that’s the same with your camera; you grow to the capabilities of your camera. You start to see in the frame that you want to shoot.” Krim explains that along with seeing through the capabilities of her camera, she also sees through the limitations. Sometimes, she explains, she knows certain atmospheres just won’t be able to be picked up on a camera. “Painters can capture that [atmosphere] in some ways better than cameras can.” Krim would know, as she herself is also a painter. 

Krim spent her high school summers of 1974 and 1975 at the Rhode Island School of Design studying a wide range of art forms and then attended Boston University’s School of Fine Arts for two years, studying drawing, painting, and sculpture. Looking back, she doesn’t think she went to school studying the wrong subject. “I spent a lot of time learning how to see, and learning how to develop my own personal sense, when I look at the world, of what I think is noteworthy.” She says that the training she got at BU was applicable to more than just drawing, painting, and sculpting. “Studying classical painting technique and all that went along with that, I learned a lot about seeing, and a lot about composition, so that was a great path to take.” Although Krim may be generally recognized as a photographer, she says she considers herself to be “an artist who uses a camera as one of [her] mediums.” 

Wandering through the various rooms of her studio, one will notice Krim’s display of oil paintings, all portraits of various children’s toys. In 1985, Krim and her husband created the New England Auction Gallery, where she shot photos of toys for roughly 20 years, but she now sticks to toys as a subject for painting. “For me, painting comes from this side of me that sees things in a way that I think are really fun, playful, and humorous.” Dabbling a bit in swapping her typical mediums with their corresponding subjects, she has also done a few paintings of white flowers, reflecting her “The Colors of White” series. For the most part though, her painting and photography are separate processes with different subjects and approaches. Krim reflects upon photography as a natural process that is always present in her life. “I always want to photograph. I never think twice about it. It’s just part of my being.” While photography has always been a constant and steady passion throughout her life, painting has come and gone. After attending art school in the ‘70s, Krim put her paints away in 1978, and didn’t take them out until once briefly in the ‘80s, and then kept them away again until after 2000. She says she admires those who always want to paint, but she simply isn’t one of them. “I have to be so totally in my head and focused to paint. I’m not always in that place, but when I am in that place, the highs and lows from that are extreme.” Regarding photography, Krim says she would never feel the need to be alone while working, as she does with painting. “It’s much more of an outward activity, painting is much more isolated.”

One thing that holds true for Krim regardless of her medium is that she focuses on subjects that she enjoys. Krim’s studio assistant Christina Hernandez says that, “[Krim] has a lust for life that is seen through any medium she chooses.” When it comes to seeing the humor in her paintings, or the beauty in her photos, Krim doesn’t aim to please others. Krim focuses on what she sees as beautiful or entertaining, and conveniently for her, others see that too, allowing her to make a living as an artist. As a successful photographer and painter, Krim acknowledges the negative responses that some artists receive for making a profit from their work. “The commercial part is the part of the art world that gets downplayed. But that’s how you make it. There’s such a negative stigma to it, and there ought not to be.” Krim believes that as an artist, if you can do what you love and others appreciate it enough to pay for it, there is no harm to anyone, but rather a benefit on both ends of the spectrum. “It has a noble element. It gives you permission to do what you’re doing.” 

Krim’s respect for artists who do what they love goes beyond a simple philosophy, and was extended to a project that she developed along with Raphael Jaimes-Branger and Anne Smith, a television show called “Naked Art: Inside the Artist’s Studio.” The series included four episodes, and aired on Boston Neighborhood Network Television. Each segment focused on an artist in the SoWa Artists Guild, interviewing them and giving insight into the experience of being an artist. The process required Krim and her fellow producers to study at BNN to learn how to film and produce, so that they could successfully complete the episodes. The series was then awarded BNN’s “Spotlight Award,” and has since resulted in a live rendition of the show at the SoWa Gallery, giving people the chance to visit the gallery and watch artists work in their studios in person. 

After being exposed to many artists’ approaches and styles of work over the years, and especially through “Naked Art,” Krim says that she “One-hundred percent” wants to study more art forms. She is about to start studying metalworking for jewelry at the end of May, as she originally did in the ‘70s at RISD. As far as venturing into new artistic territory, she says, “My bucket list of things I want to learn is much larger than things I have learned.” She is currently taking a course at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design taught by Catherine Kehoe called Painting: Powers of Observation. Kehoe explains that her class focuses, as the title says, on developing painters’ powers of observation, as well as the fundamentals of the craft of painting. Krim says, “What I’m learning from her is completely different from anything I’ve learned in the past, and that’s hugely stimulating.” Kehoe says that Krim’s photographic skills give her the ability to compose within a rectangle, understand light, and view the world in an abstract way, all skills which she applies to her painting as well. “[Krim] is eager for knowledge and mastery,” says Kehoe. Krim backs up Kehoe’s statement regarding her thirst for knowledge by comparing her skills to tools, stating, “I have a tool belt, and the more tools that I can put in that tool belt, the better I’ll be able to view the world. Catherine is giving me an entirely new set of tools.” Whether she is using new skills or old ones, Krim is constantly creating, capturing the world around her in different ways. When asked if she thinks she will ever run out of things to shoot or paint, the artist proclaims without a doubt, “Never.” 

You can visit Debby Krim’s studio at the SoWa Gallery on 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA, or see her work on her website, www.dkrim.com.