Creator Q&A : Karl Frederick Mattson

Karl Frederick Mattson

Art Preparator, Lighting Designer, Media Technician, Photographer and Filmmaker


Photo Credit = Steven Bernhardt

In a few words state who your name, occupation, and what it is that you create.

I’m Karl Frederick Mattson, a museum Art Preparator, Lighting Designer, and Media Technician based in Buffalo, New York. Outside of work, I am a film photographer and filmmaker who seeks out the overlooked influences society has on the surrounding landscape.

Describe what you see when you look out your window.

The trees are budding, and the grass is starting to grow greener. The birds are loud and vocal about the change in season, and I could not be happier about it all.

What is a podcast, book, or song that is keeping you sane?

Music is such a major influence on me. Right now, I have "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions In The Sky on repeat.

What is a word that makes you laugh?

Covfefe. Still not in the dictionary, huh?

What is the color of your current mood?


What is something that brings you joy?

The simple comforts of home.

COVID-19 aside, what frustrates you?

People's lack of empathy.

What do you feel most hopeful about?

While there's still a lot to cope with amidst the current state of the world, I feel hopeful about the future. Everybody has been forced to go about their lives differently, but I think that opens up a realm of creative possibilities never before imagined.

How do you define your creative process - what makes you tick, what is your practice?

Long drives, loud music, and middle-of-nowhere hikes drive my creativity. Each one of those scenarios follows some sort of path, but there's never just one way to approach it. Along the way, I’ll notice and obsess over the smallest, overlooked detail in the landscape. I might connect it with some thought of significance after the fact, or just enjoy the experience. The process of creating is the most enjoyable experience for me. As an artist, I generally don’t focus on how or when I will present my work. I think a lot of us think this way. It’s important to be active amongst a creative community, and I find joy in collaborating with others. That being said, I do find myself a little more private with my work. I seek to create more for the process. Taking those long drives, diving into a good album, or getting lost on a trail while photographing connects me to the simple joys of creativity.

What is something challenging you’ve accomplished as a creator?

There are so many challenges we face as creators; inspiration, focus, time, and funding come to mind. I would say the most challenging thing overall is finding that focus. When I can't decide where a project should go, or how to make something that even resembles what I have in mind, I step back and create some limits. Maybe I should just photograph my subjects from one vantage point, or maybe I should just photograph one kind of subject. I feel like limits can be more inspiring than complete freedom sometimes. It all circles back to focus.

Name an artist or creator you draw influence from?

Currently, John Pfahl or John Gossage. I can't decide. I learned about John Pfahl from working at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. I was working in the print vault one day and came across his Altered Landscapes series. I couldn’t get enough of his whimsical photographic typologies. I subsequently connected his work with mine, especially through his Piles series. Pfahl sought out the more elusive local “mountains”, usually consisting of tires, sand, or trash. His approach was similar to how Ansel Adams saw landscapes out West. Years before moving to Buffalo, I had begun to follow my interest in the overlooked, especially through the exploration of abandoned lots of land and monumental piles of material. I found it so fascinating that I had moved to the same city as Pfahl and sought out such a similar subject. I took that as inspiration and ran with it. To this date, my hunt for piles continues in memory of one of the greats.

Pile 39, Fredonia, New York from Pilelands

The latter artist of which I draw influence from is John Gossage. His approach to exploring under-recognized elements of urban and natural landscapes was a major influence on me after learning about his work in art school. His work still resonates with me to this day. Gossage’s quiet, yet powerful photobook “The Pond” is the spitting image of how I approach my photographic process. If you haven’t experienced that book yet, you must. It’s an absolute masterpiece. There are a few words he once said that don’t require a great deal of explanation, “there seems to be a great deal of opportunity in the ordinary.”

How has COVID-19 affected you? Have you changed your process during quarantine?

I have a bad habit of checking the news way too much. I've since taken a deep dive into local news stories and NY Times maps that data-crunch the scope COVID-19. It's tragic and can be so distracting. I have not been out to photograph much in several weeks, but rather I have taken this time to reflect on what I do have shot already. I have binders of film to scan and edit. I'm treating this stay-at-home time as an unorthodox residency of sorts.

In your opinion what do you think the “new normal” should look like for our global society?

We all have to be very careful and take this seriously. Seeing people wearing protective face coverings will be the new norm for a while. Many have taken to making or selling their masks. I recently bought a pack of reusable hand-sewn makes and I couldn’t be more excited to wear them. I do think it'll be environmentally difficult with the ramped-up production of PPE such as disposable gloves, masks, etc, but we just have to be smart about it all. Do your part and reuse or properly recycle. Please don't just throw your used latex gloves on the ground outside of the grocery store.

What do you look forward to most once quarantine restrictions are lessened?

Seeing friends in person. Zoom hangouts are cool and all, but the real thing simply can’t be beat.

In closing, describe or reflect on an aspect of nature that inspires you.

Light. It has such a profound influence on everything it touches, and everything it casts in shadow. #suckerlight