I Wash You Dry. Katie Burnett.

The artist and stylist releases a follow-up to her photography debut Cabin Fever.

The artist and stylist releases a follow-up to her photography debut Cabin Fever.

While sock puppets, nude figures, and Jamaica might be unlikely bedfellows, in Katie Burnett’s world they appear harmoniously. Following up from Cabin Fever – the artist and stylist’s debut that visually documented her time in lockdown – she has today released her sophomore book, I Wash You Dry, an offering that features the aforementioned naked bodies and sock puppets, shot in Jamaica. ‘It’s one of my favourite places,’ Burnett tells System. ‘I knew I wanted to go there, a place I knew, and feel inspired. So, I essentially made a bunch of sock puppets in Brooklyn and then went to Jamaica to do this project.’

Published by Dashwood, the smaller 40-page book is a journey – the clash of sepia-stained classic visuals and off-kilter trippy collages, with kaleidoscopic effects created using various parts of Burnett’s bodies, inspired by vintage films of synchronized swimmers. For Burnett, her book projects are another string to her bow, an additional creative pursuit picked up during the quietness of 2020.

Yet, the opportunities they’ve brought have expanded her view beyond fashion. ‘I recently started working with the Ravestijn Gallery in Amsterdam and four prints from this book were there for print sales,’ Burnett explains. ‘Navigating the gallery scene has been interesting, so one of the things I want to do instead of another book is to do a show. It would be so nice to have prints of everything and see them free.’

System speaks to the stylist about her foray into photography, how it continues to inspire her, and why she finds sock puppets so alluring.

Before we get into your latest release, I’d love to talk about your first book Cabin Fever and how that came about.

Katie Burnett: It happened so randomly. I came back to New York because everything was going into lockdown and a part of me realized that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I wasn’t planning to do a book or shoot anything, I was just tie dyeing, painting, drawing and dressing up potatoes and photographing them. I decided I wanted to do a book on potatoes and was shooting them and posting them. Luncheon magazine asked me to shoot something for them, so I branched out into citrus fruits then I was approached by Helmut Lang, Burberry, and Calvin Klein. I didn’t even know that I was going to end up making a book, I was just documenting what I was doing and the weird creative things at home. Luckily, in the end, there were only one or two potatoes in Cabin Fever.

Lockdown was a time that opened up new creative pursuits for a lot of people. How has that had an impact on your work as a stylist now that we’re out of that period?

Katie Burnett: It’s helped refine my eye as a stylist and made me more confident. I’ve realized that you can make anything out of nothing, you don’t need ‘look 52’ to make an image. Being a stylist on set can be stressful and you get so stressed about needing all the right elements to make an image, but now I have an ease around it and I feel confident that I can make anything work.

Let’s talk about I Wash You Dry. How did it come about?

Katie Burnett: It came almost right after Cabin Fever launched. David from Dashwood asked if I was open to doing a book for Dashwood. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about doing another book, but I love what David does and the books he curates so it felt like an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I feel like there are so many photographers that would jump at it.

What did you want to explore within the book?

Katie Burnett: I wanted to do something simple but fun and explore parts of photography that I hadn’t with Cabin Fever. Since that was shot at my house in Brooklyn, I wanted to get out and I had been envisioning the ocean. I love the texture of water and the sky and it felt like a nice continuation to be able to open the book up into a wide space. David asked what I was thinking for the book and I had collaged some sock puppets onto naked bodies and I said ‘this is what I want to do and I’m so excited about it.’ He thought it was strange but told me to go for it. I thought that by taking two simple elements and running with them, the story would find itself. Usually, when you’re working in fashion, the way you communicate is referential and it’s all dictated already visually. With this, I didn’t want to have too many visual ideas and just let myself create images that weren’t already embedded in my mind from previous things that had already been created.

Why sock puppets?

Katie Burnett: I’ve wanted to do something with sock puppets for ages, I find them so interesting for such a simple item. It’s pretty crazy how much it can be turned into a human-like figure. Some of the pictures I had to edit out so many of the socks because they looked crazy. I showed one of my friends and he asked if I made the book on ketamine. It was very psychedelic. I just like the simplicity of them, it feels like bread and butter. Even when there aren’t puppets in the images, the gesture of the hands or how they’re painted emulates that idea.

What was your process for selecting images this time around? Did it differ from Cabin Fever?

Katie Burnett: Cabin Fever was bigger, but with this one it was nice to work within the 40 pages and try to bring in the best of the best. I also wanted it to have a lot of different ideas so the viewer would turn each page and there would be something unexpected throughout. The editing definitely took a while, but I played with things in post after coming back from Jamaica so there’s quite a bit of collage. When I was researching for this book, I was watching a lot of synchronized swimming movies from the 40s and they used this kaleidoscope effect which got me thinking of making the same type of imagery within the book.

The idea of a kaleidoscope or even the location of Jamaica evoke strong associations with colour. Why did you choose to focus on black and white imagery in the book?

Katie Burnett: I always love a kind of nostalgia when you can’t really tell when or where something is placed. I love photography from the 40s to the 60s and I’m constantly referencing and going back to them, it always feels timeless. Even within my styling, I’ve always loved black and white. What was nice with this project was having it in black and white, but working with different sepia tones. The printer thought I was mad because every page in the book was a different colour and he wanted to standardize the whole thing so it was all the same. He said that nobody makes every page a different colour, but that’s how I wanted it, it looked good and it didn’t need to be perfect. Also, the sock puppets look so scary in colour, and that definitely would have made it psychedelic and weird.

The title Cabin Fever referred to the time in which it was created. Where did I Wash You Dry come from?

Katie Burnett: From the beginning, I really wanted the element of water and I liked the suggestiveness of ‘if I washed you dry’. Right after I proposed the sock puppet idea, I had the title written on a piece of paper and I stuck with it and never questioned or changed it. I had the words on me when I was shooting in Jamaica and I didn’t even try anything else. It was instinctive. I loved the idea of that being the title and it stuck with the book.

Can we expect another book in the future to create a trilogy?

Katie Burnett: I think I’ll take a break for a minute, two books took a lot of work and energy. It’s tricky though, because you think you’re not going to do something and then someone approaches you with a really unique project. I like having unexpected things come out. The next thing will be in December, I’m launching towels and shower curtains of prints from this book with SSENSE which I’m really excited about. They look really fun, so that will be a nice second wind of the publication, but in a weird context.

I Wash You Dry is available now on Dashwood Books.

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