Through a range of photographic media Karolina Karlic creates work that widely addresses the intersection of photography, film, global politics, and ecology with a focus on labor, industry, diaspora, environmental topics, and the effects of social upheaval. Her research is dedicated to telling the stories of those who have been affected by the post-modernization of the industrial world. Through the use of documentary practice as a research method rather that an artistic style, her work seeks to better understand societal, environmental, and industrial constructs by critically making visual notes of them. Her projects are on the cusp between art and documentary photography, aimed at creating a new way to reflect on the possibilities for the visual arts today to deliver an act of criticism. Karlic invites the viewer into a space and environment where historical consciousness is critical to reflecting on our relationship to consumption by questioning photography’s limitations, engaging contemporary concerns around the social impact of art, and elaborating on the distinctions between art and lived experience.

Karlic has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, residencies, and awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Cultural Exchange International Fellowship of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Fellowship, the Hellman Fellowship, the Sacatar Foundation Residency Program, and Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and Karlic has been featured in radio appearances, publications, various interviews, and essays on the topic of contemporary documentary photography.

Her first monograph, Elementarz / Primer , was published (2014) by Conveyor Arts. Her most recent publication, Contact Sheet #196, was published (2018) by Light Work. Her works include projects: Close to Home (2005) focuses on Ukraine’s post-Soviet conditions; The Dee (2006) depicts Detroit’s de-industrialization; What Color is the Sacred (2009) examines Western views of French Polynesia and the “re-birth” of Tahitian culture. Aberdeen Sierra Leone (2011) portrays a group of progressive post-war adolescent males in West Africa. Rockin’ the Bakken (2012) pictures a modern day oil boomtown of North Dakota, USA. Elementarz / Primer (2014) a monograph in which personal stories of those who exist behind the US auto industry are woven along with charting the evolution (or de-evolution) of that industry during the Great Recession. 

Her work, Rubberlands, is an ongoing photographic survey maps the ways rubber manufacturing is socially, ecologically and systemically formed. Following the trajectory of Karolina Karlic's earlier work which explored the automobile industry in Michigan, Rubberlands proceeds from Midwest cities like Detroit and Akron, Ohio—once the rubber capital of the world—which serve as entry points to networks of globalization. Connecting the company archives of Henry Ford, Goodyear, Goodrich, General Tire and Firestone, she traces the evolution of an industry that relies heavily on outsourcing of the Hevea brasiliensis (Amazonian rubber tree). Her photographic fieldwork in Brazil has taken her to manufacturing plants in Salvador and Itaparica, Michelin rubber plantations in the Atlantic forest, a fisherman’s village on the coastal rivers of Itubera in Bahia and the vestiges of Henry Ford's planned community in the Amazon.

Karlic reveals threatened landscapes, sites of reforestation and working factories against the backdrop of their surrounding communities; scenes where living things are transformed into assets and removed from their life worlds to supply the demands of capital. By weaving together historical archives and contemporary renderings of environs shaped by production, Karlic moves beyond capturing a static place and time—and instead, configures a dynamic space for contemplating the inextricable social and personal bonds surrounding labor and natural resources. Here, she invites the viewer into a new imaginary where historical consciousness is critical to reflecting on our relationship to consumption.

Karolina Karlic was born in Poland and immigrated to Detroit, Michigan in 1987. Karlic holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She is an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she currently resides.


2019 Hellman Fellowship

2019 UC Art & Design Placemaking Initiative Award: UC Arts + Natural Reserve Research Initiative (UC ANRRI) 

2019 University of California, Santa Cruz: (COR) Special Research Grant

2019 University of California, Santa Cruz: (ARI) Arts Research Institute Major Grant

2018 University of California, Santa Cruz: (ARI) Arts Research Institute Major Grant

2017 University of California, Santa Cruz: (ARI) Arts Research Institute Major Grant

2016 University of California, Santa Cruz: (COR) New Faculty Research Grant

2015 Cultural Exchange International Fellowship: Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles

2014 Artist in Residence: Sacatar Foundation, Itaparica, Bahia, Brazil

2013 Artist in Residence: Light Work, Syracuse, New York.

2011 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Photography

2011 International Photography Award, Lucie Foundation

2010 Artist in Residence: Atout France. French Consulate of Los Angeles

2008 KLM Paul Huf Award (Nominee)

2007 Center-Review Santa Fe Nominated Participant

2005 Minnesota Campus Compact Fellowship

2005 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant