May 18 2011 12:00 AM

Emerging Artist embraces digital photography


A red veil swept across a blue sky, making an incision of beauty in the air that healed in half a second.

Satpreet Kahlon, one of the Emerging
Artists of this year’s East Lansing Art Festival, calls digital
photography “instant nostalgia.”

For Kahlon, 21, the never-ending hustle to freeze the past can be sad, funny, beautiful and liberating.

“With digital cameras, you take a picture
and show it to your friends,” Kahlon said. “‘Oh, you were so funny when
you were doing that.’ That was about two seconds ago!”

Born in India, Kahlon grew up in the
suburbs of Chicago with strict parents that didn’t think much of art as a
vocation, and still don’t.

“They came here for a better life, not for their kids to play with paint,” Kahlon said.

When she was 10, her family moved to
Lansing for two years. Then came high school in Muskegon and a
scholarship to MSU for journalism and political science.

“I’ve always lived a creative life, but I
didn’t recognize it,” she said. “I was so excited to be chosen as an
Emerging Artist, but my parents just don’t get it.”

Kahlon’s photographs exude a gauzy, elusive melancholy, even when they are brightly colored and sharply focused.

“I tend to take more depressing pictures
than happy pictures,” Kahlon said. “I’m inherently prone to becoming
depressed — very contemplative and nostalgic. It drives me crazy

“Liberation,” the photograph with the red veil, shows how a momentary impulse can reveal a lifetime of emotions.

“Before I took that picture, my aunt, who was the only one in my family who understood my art, committed suicide,” Kahlon said.

Although her aunt was not Indian, she was
deeply interested in Indian spirituality. Kahlon, who was raised in
America, looked on Indian culture as an outsider.

When taking the photo, Kahlon said, she tried to think like her aunt.

“To her, death seemed like a beautiful
option, an option to be free. So I was thinking about liberation — I
don’t know. I try not to think about my photographs.”

While growing up, Kahlon often started impossible projects, inspired by a book called “How Things Work.”

Following the diagrams, she tried to build a pay phone and a slot machine out of cardboard.

“I tried the pay phone over and over,”
she said. “It made things work in my world. The act of creating makes me
feel like a useful human being.”

When Kahlon was in eighth grade, her
family went to Florida. “Everyone threw their cameras at me and said,
‘OK, you document,’” she recalled. “At first I hated it, but then I
discovered I really like taking pictures of things.”

The key word here is “things.” When the
pictures came back, Kahlon’s parents weren’t thrilled. “They were
pictures of people’s feet, trees, hardly any pictures of the family,”
she said.

She is just as happy under the curtain of
an old-fashioned large-format film camera, spending 10 minutes
composing a shot, as she is shooting digital, from the hip.

Settling down doesn’t seem to be in the
cards for her. She has degrees in art education and fine arts, studies
ceramics, does sculpture and loves to write. In August, she will go to
the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where she will learn to
make her own books.

“I’m interested in everything,” she said. “It’s impossible
not to be. My ceramics have helped me in some way to become a better
photographer. My photography helps me to be a better ceramicist.
Everything’s related.”