When I met Emma Katka for an interview in May at Urban Stampede, it was obvious the 21-year-old artist was going places. With bright pink hair and extravagant makeup, Katka sat and talked to me about her artwork. She had been chosen as one of three emerging artists for the Grand Cities Art Festival, and I remember her saying she was nervous about the event and kind of freaked out that people would be reading about her in the paper.
But, more than that, I remember her response when I asked her what she wanted to get out of the event, what she hoped to accomplish from being a part of the festival. I was expecting an answer about selling her pieces or getting her name out there. Instead, she paused and her voice changed from one of a nervous young adult to one of a passionate artist. “I just want them to feel something,” she said. “I want them to feel an emotion from one of my pieces.”
That’s when I realized this was someone who was going to go places with her artwork. I got back to the office and wrote a full story about the inspiring artist I’d just met, which I unfortunately had to cut down to a short five-inch vignette. A week later, I pitched a story about the artist to my editor. Katka had mentioned her abandoned house adventures, and I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of that and tell her story. My editor loved the idea, so I began talking with Katka about the possibility of accompanying her on an adventure.
She obliged, and we spent several months working out a time and date. When we finally figured out a time I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait. I’d never been in an abandoned house and didn’t know what to expect.
I hopped in the car with Emma and her photographer friend Kristin Berg. We set out on Highway 2, heading west toward Devils Lake. We drove for about 30 minutes before Emma said, “OK start looking… This is where it gets serious.”
Kristin pulled out her camera and looked across the fields, scoping out any possible abandoned houses. Emma pointed to her left and said, “There’s one over there.” She explained that it wasn’t that great and that she’d become picky since realizing she has a “sixth sense” for spotting abandoned houses.
We pulled off on a gravel road and continued driving for several miles before Emma recognized a familiar set of trees and remembered a house she’d visited before. When we finally pulled up to the house, I got butterflies in my stomach.
They grabbed the camera equipment, and we headed inside the house. Behind the door with broken windows, the ceiling lay in pieces on the floor. As I carefully made my way through the rubble, chills ran down my spine.
Emma asked me to slip on her vintage lace dress and directed me while she worked her magic. I held up a broken mirror and looked at my reflection. I was posing for a photograph but I felt transported back in time.
Looking at Emma’s finished artwork, I barely recognize myself. I don’t see the photographs as pictures of me but rather powerful artwork that convey emotion and tell a dark, sad story.
I am extremely blessed and thankful to have had the opportunity to not only go on an abandoned house exploration with Emma but actually be a part of creative process. To learn more about Emma’s creative experience photographing abandoned houses, read the full story here, or to hear more about my personal experiences in the abandoned house, read my column here.