Converge Collaborative - Katie Giritlian
In this interview, we have the pleasure of speaking with Katie Giritlian, a versatile artist and organizer. Katie is a book maker and designer known for her creativity and passion for visual storytelling. She currently resides in New York, NY, on traditional Munsee Lenape territory.
Katie's skills encompass education design, visual design, writing, and visual critical studies. She collaborates with cultural centers, artists, community organizers, educators, and young learners to create environments that foster learning and critical thinking.
Can you tell us a bit about your practice? How do you integrate education design, photography, and publishing to foster self-determined and communally-bound learning?
I’ll begin by sharing what I think photographs do, rather than what I think I do. At its most basic, I consider photography as an encounter in which multiple protagonists are involved in negotiating acts of making-visible. In other words, there’s this very vulnerable moment where we are facing each other—in a studio, on the street, bombarded into someone’s land, or invited into a home—and photography is just one of the many techniques through which we navigate that vulnerable moment. Some of us use photography to control, to capture, to remember, to love, to care for…And depending on such, we transform what was once a vulnerable moment of encountering someone else (someone we love, someone we don’t know, someone or something we refuse), into an exchange that has various implications. And at its best, the exchange can represent a moment of self or communally determined governance. At its best, the photographer and the photographed people are working together to collaborate on visibility, and to me, that is a form of learning. It is this possible relationship of photography that I respond to and create tools to amplify. And so, I design publications or workshops to help people 1) discern where we may be already rehearsing loving observation or communally-bound learning and 2) identify what we can do to strengthen those glimmers into practices.
Could you share your inspirations and influences from SWANA photo studio practices, particularly those established in homelands and diaspora? How do these influences shape your artistic approach?
I study histories of Armenian photography studios and workshops built amidst-and-post-genocide in now-occupied Palestine, in the first half of the twentieth century, and the ways all of these studios worked together to support each other’s efforts amidst ongoing displacement. I am curious about the languages these studios constructed to assemble communally-determined imaging practices, and where this language falls short amidst commercial pursuits, tourist industries, and internalized orientalist imaginaries. I am also attentive to actors beyond those laboring in privileged positions (such as the photographer), e.g. I study gestures forged by photographed persons. For example, I often think about this image, filmed in 1975, of a Palestinian person demanding the terms of their picture. When faced with a camera, they refused the shutter’s transformation; Anglophonic subtitles translate their declaration as: "I don’t want you to take my picture here—wait until I return to my land—then you can take my picture.” ( We are the Palestinian People: Revolution Until Victory, newsreel, 1975). I carry this refrain with me as I nurture practices that attend to self-and-communal-governance.
As the organizer of Paper Cameras Press, could you explain the vision behind this publishing platform?
Paper Cameras Press is a small press and a distributor. As a press, we design, develop, and print experimental artist workbooks for studying photography practices and reimagining modalities of documentation. As a distributor, we circulate a range of artists’ materials and toolkits: artist books, card decks, playful props, learning aids—all of which seek to shift recording-based practices away from extractive capture and towards loving observation and self-determined documentation. We share materials that long to be in study: on one’s own time, within community in self-organized learning groups, and/or with teachers to support their classrooms.
How has your time in Converge Collaborative influenced your artistic growth and collaborative process? In what ways have you found support and synergy within the collective?
I learn so much from the fellow worker-owners at Converge Collaborative. One of the many things that has influenced me is our shared love and commitment to study. For example, Michelle, Amy and I have been reading CAPS LOCK together, a book that traces a history of graphic design history: the myriad of labors that make up the field and the way these labors move in intimate partner dance with racial capitalism. We meet every other Thursday and discuss the book alongside our personal experiences—forming language that make up the ever-growing values of Converge Collaborative. Other synergies, among many, revolve around the organic emergence of particular projects. For example, through our podcast, Bring Your Full Self, stewarded by Pat, I learned that Louis and I shared overlapping dreams as it pertains to photography education.
Through this emergence, we collaborated on Open Exposures—series of workshops that examine how people of color in the diaspora experience the complex relationships between travel, colonization, and photography.
In your experience as a member of Converge Collaborative, how has the collective's emphasis on collaboration, solidarity, and equity shaped your creative process and the projects you have worked on?
Throughout our time together, we facilitate prompts for getting to know each other—learning each other’s strengths and challenges, each other’s deep desires for labor as well as those skills they picked up along the way and are trying to shed. With this process, we are always learning those skills that others may have to offer to each other, as well as those skills we are craving to learn to feel more autonomy within our lives. This creates a heartbeat that builds the fabric to sustain what we call “radical apprenticeship”. To expand, I’m going to quote Michelle (from whom I learn SO much about language): radical apprenticeship is about "creating these communal conditions for knowledge sharing and skill sharing as a way to foster collaboration in right relationship.” So, for example, Michelle and I have been learning with and under Amy who has been so generous to share their years and years of experience regarding all things design. This process of radical apprenticeship, to me, represents Converge’s emphasis on collaboration, solitary, and equity, and it's because of this radical apprenticeship that I am becoming more equipped to further attend to my creative process and projects.
Know more about the artist here.
Know more about the Converge Collaborative here.
All images courtesy of Katie Giritlian.
Katie Giritlian (she/her) has been a book maker and designer since she made her first scrapbook at age 8. She currently lives in traditional Munsee Lenape territory (New York, NY). Katie’s toolbox of learned skills are education design, visual design, writing, and visual critical studies. She has worked with cultural centers, artists, community organizers, educators, and young learners to design settings—publications, workbooks, public programs, and workshops—so learning will thrive and critical thinking will strengthen. Her imagination is indebted to SWANA (South West Asian + North African) cooperative photo studio practices established in homelands as well as in the scattering of diaspora. Katie is the organizer of paper cameras press, a publishing platform for developing experimental curricula to study photography practices. She was raised in Tovaangar territory (the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles). Katie then moved to receive her B.A. in Art History from Barnard College, and her M.A. in Visual and Critical Studies from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is heavily taught by her community of friends.