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[Photography] Lay Down Your Umbrella

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

By Cat Gwynn

[Kelp] Can you talk about why you chose photography? What does this form provide that other media does not?

Photography chose me. I grew up playing music and never really thought about being a photographer. I came from a family of visual artists, and since I couldn't draw, I assumed I didn't have their talent or abilities. In my early twenties, I started traveling and thought it made sense to have a camera, just a point & shoot, which I carried everywhere. I fell in love with framing things up and pushing the button. I knew immediately I’d found my calling and feel as passionate about it today as I did from the beginning.

I think most forms of art are a present-time awareness practice, but none so much as photography. You have to be fully immersed at the moment to capture it. I find it intriguing to see what I chose to immortalize and find it equally so looking at other photographer’s images.

[Kelp] What do you look for when framing a shot? What draws you to the pictures you take?

There are a few components that draw me in – light, colors, mood, shape, and form, but mostly it's the subject matter. If it’s a person or an animal I'm capturing, I don’t have the luxury of contemplating the angle and shooting a bunch of variations of it. I have to be decisive, or I'll lose the moment. Sometimes I’ll see the subject moving towards where I want them to be, so I take a breath, and when they walk into the picture, I click. You've got to be stealthy! But you’ve also got to be honorable in how you frame your subject too. My approach is to make an image, not to steal one.

[KelP] How has the digital age affected photography?

As a commercial photographer who used to make an excellent living shooting stock photography, the digital age cut my income in half. This due mainly to smartphones, how it oversaturated and undervalued the market because everyone is considered a photographer; plus all the amateurs are more than willing to give it away. As a result we've become a photo-driven culture, be it selfies, oversharing our lives on social media, and texting; still, none of it rises to the level of the dedicated daily practice of a professional shooter. Our working knowledge is vastly superior and teaches us how to break the rules, when to follow them, and, over time, helps develop a distinct personal style. Another way to look it is, I'm a pretty decent cook and have good intuition when I'm putting a meal together, but still, I am no chef. The amount of time a chef puts into their art form and long hours in a kitchen far outweighs what I'm capable of cooking. Both meals can be tasty, but only one will be spectacular.

[Kelp] Are there any photographers that have influenced your work?

I don't follow contemporary photography as much as I'd like to. I get so busy in my own life, and with what I'm working on that the luxury of studying another photographer's work isn't possible. The only thing I look at regularly is Instagram, which is fun to scroll through, and I do, on occasion, see some phenomenal work. My go-to's have always been, Mary Ellen Mark, Irving Penn, William Eggleston, W. Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon, Sally Mann, Daido Moriyama, Saul Leiter, and Helen Levitt.

Cat Gwynn was educated in photography, film, and fine arts at Otis-Parsons Art Institute, and has completed numerous master workshops with such esteemed artists as Mary Ellen Mark, Joel Peter Witkin, and Barbara Kruger. Her artwork is collected and exhibited in international galleries and museums including the Lishui Museum of Photography in China, The Drawing Center in New York City, the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, and is sold through the Susan Spiritus Gallery. She has lectured at numerous institutions including Otis College of Art and Design, New York University, Art Center College of Design, and Harvard Medical School.

Cat’s images have appeared on the cover of Artweek, and in numerous other publications including Artforum, Newsweek, and Texas Monthly. She is also a seasoned lifestyle and portrait photographer whose images have sold through Corbis and Getty Images for nearly twenty years. Her commercial clients include Apple Computers, Starwood Resorts, Discovery Communications, and T-Mobile. In addition, Cat has gifted her talents photographing pediatric patients for Flashes of Hope, a volunteer organization focused solely on funding research for children’s cancer.

Cat Gwynn’s critically acclaimed photo memoir, “10-Mile Radius: Reframing Life on the Path Through Cancer”, was released in the fall of 2017 by Rare Bird Books. She is currently at work on her next photo book project, “Cry For Me”, where she captures the raw power of authentic masculine emotion in intimate black and white portraits, giving the viewer an opportunity to witness these men in the genuine strength of their vulnerability.


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