Q&A with West Graduate on Lonely Astronaut Series

For several years, local artist Karen Jerzyk has been creating images as part of the “Lonely Astronaut” series. This project has taken her to locations all around the country, but her most recent shoot was very close to home. Jerzyk is a graduate of West High School and lives nearby – when she inquired about returning to her alma mater as part of the series, we were happy to oblige. She brought her Astronaut to West on a quiet Sunday morning in September. You can see a gallery photos from that day here.

We asked Ms. Jerzyk a few questions about her ties to West, how she started the photo series, and what advice she has for current students:

What made you want to do a photo shoot at West High School?

"I attended West High School from 1995-1999 and have a lot of fond memories of the friends I had during that time as well as the teachers (some favorites were Mr. Lenzi, Ms. Soma, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Dobrowolski). I’m a very nostalgic person and I had recently see photos another photographer had taken there (I wish I remembered where I saw the photos), and everything looked how I remembered it – the colors, the subway tile, the lighting in the halls. I feel like there’s not much character left in buildings nowadays, and I feel like West still has the same character that I remember when I went there 22-plus years ago."

What led you to start the Lonely Astronaut series?

"I use a lot of abandoned locations as backdrops (hospitals, houses, various historical buildings) and a lot of times there is so much left behind – especially in houses. I’ve looked through a lot of belongings from the residents’ past lives – photos, letters, clothes, toys, electronics, etc. Most of these places are from time periods way before my lifetime, and it’s interesting to have an actual time capsule to explore. I always think to myself 'What happened to these people? Where did they go? How is everything still here so well preserved?' "

"One day I had this random thought about the possibility of humanity having to leave earth for whatever reason (environmental issues maybe?) and having to start over on another planet. I thought 'what if, after all that, someone decides to travel back to earth to explore how we once lived?.' I started the series in 2017. When Covid first shut everything down, I had a lot of strange opportunities to capture images that were a once in a lifetime chance of getting – for example, I took photos in Times Square without any other people in the background."

What advice do you have for students interested in the fine arts?

"The best advice I can give is always be curious. Don’t have blinders on. Fill your head with as much information as you can – I never took any photography classes (I went on to UNH and got my Bachelors of Arts in English) but was always thirsty to learn something new everyday. Keep notes – always write down your ideas. Use your social media to connect with other artists and to see what lies beyond the lines of your own knowledge. Condition yourself to start projects and finish/continue them. Know that being seen is hard work but it will pay off if you keep putting in the time and effort- success is rarely achieved overnight, and sometimes takes many years. Allow yourself to fail, and don’t get discouraged. Realize that failure is helping you to further fine tune the path you’re taking. And of course, surround yourself with positive people that support your goals."