I have been following Cat Thrasher's work for a while now. One thing that made the most impression on me is her approach to simple and classic portraits. Her work is absolutely breath-taking! It has an elegant aesthetic and style that I have not seen anywhere else. Her use of natural light in her studio is out of this world. Today, I have the honor to interview her for my Film Photographer Spotlight feature on Little Bellows. Let's get started!
Joyce: how did you get started in photography?
Cat: My first professional job was in 2005, when a friend of a friend asked me to take pin-up photos of her to send to her boyfriend, who was stationed in Iraq. "He's got all these photos of women in his tent…I want him to have photos of me." I was 23 and in college at UVa at the time. But it became a thing that I specialized in early on. My clients called them "sexy photos" because the term "boudoir photography" hadn't caught on yet.
Joyce: browsing through your website, I noticed that you only photograph clients on black and white film, why? Anything thing specific you can share with us why you choose black and white over color?
Cat: By only using one camera and sticking to black and white, I have put limits on what I do. I made the decision to do this gradually, but it started after processing umpteen million digital photos for a few weddings that had backed up on me back in 2010. I was so disillusioned by what I was doing: everything was so virtual, intangible, and so plentiful, that I began to wonder what each photo meant, to me, to the bride and groom, to anyone, if they began in such an abstract way, on the computer. How real were they, if I could not touch them? How real were they, if the bride and groom just wanted the high res DVD and never printed any? I knew they were feeling anxiety too, with 1000+ photos per wedding, they were having trouble choosing what to print, so they were putting it off for years and years. On this particular post-wedding occasion, I had to take a break from shooting for about a month. I bought some oil paints. I painted a picture of my husband. Oil painting is a long process, and forces patience. You paint a layer, then you wait a week for it to dry. Then you paint another layer, and wait a week, and so on. It takes months to paint one painting. It took me about 3 weeks to paint this portrait of Jim.
After this incident, I continued shooting digital for a few years, but I knew something needed to change. I began teaching myself film photography, and trying out new cameras. One day in 2012, I rented a Hasselblad from the local camera store. I photographed my friend Joanna, using just black and white. Something changed that day. The feeling of the Hasselblad, the double-flop-flop of it's shutter, the fact that it took no batteries…it was like a romance that started at that moment. Joanna's reaction to the photos was so positive, and I loved them too. It was a match, between that camera and me.
So, your actual question here was why I shoot in black and white, but it's not just about the black and white…it's about the limitations of black and white, using square format, the Hasselblad itself, and the studio setting. Digital taught me that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to quantity and unlimited choices. My current set-up is so limited because, sometimes, it is within limitations that we can truly thrive.
Joyce: I love the personal connection of the subjects in your photographs, and the subjects are very natural and relaxed. Do you direct your clients or you simply sit back and wait for the moment? How do you get past that "awkward" moment when you first start a session with a new client?
Cat: I choose to let the awkward moments occur, and to be okay with it. But there are ways to minimize it. First, I believe that every photographer should have their go-to poses ready and waiting, before their client even walks in the door. Sandra Coan calls this "consistent, predictable routine." In my case, I have about 3 poses that I'm ready to put my subject in. I put them in those positions, photograph them, and when we're done they're like "well, I was nervous, but that was so easy!"
Second, I bring positive energy to the shoot. You can't take away your client's nervousness, so don't try. But what you CAN do is have a confident, positive approach to every session. That confidence and positivity is contagious, and many times, you might find that your clients relax without you even trying.
Joyce: Your use of indoor light is stunning! What do you look for when you shoot indoors? Do you favor shooting in studio/indoors more than outdoors, and why?
Cat: You need lots of light to shoot indoors. I look for large windows, and prefer north-facing. Outdoor light is great too, it just behaves differently. Outdoor light permeates everything, it gets into every nook and cranny. Indoor south-facing windows can provide similar light to being outdoors, because it really fills a room thoroughly. But indoor north-facing windows provide an isolated glow that is very dramatic. Light is everything.
Joyce: If you have one advice you can give to those who are just starting out on film photography, what would it be and why?
Cat: I'd say, start with one camera, one lens and one film stock. Become a specialist. If you find something you love, stick to it.
Joyce: If you can spend one day with one person (present or past), who will it be and what would you talk about?
Cat: My grandmother Margaret. She died when I was 2. I'd ask her what it was like to live in the first half of the century, and what it was like being a mother to her 5 children.
Joyce: What is your favorite film stock and camera, and why?
Cat: Current film obsession is Ilford Pan-F Plus 50. Slow, smooth, mysterious. Favorite camera is my Hasselblad 501CM and Zeiss 85mm lens.
Joyce: What is one photography accessory/gear (other than camera and lens) you can’t do without?
Cat: Hand-held light meter! Don't really need anything else.
Cat: Oh man! This workshop is so fun!! We focus on indoor natural light photography. We teach workshop goers how to make great portraits inside using window light, and how the metering is different for black and white versus color film. We go over what film is, the chemical processes, how we approach our own photo shoots, how to work with labs, and other fun things.
The business portion is new, and we're so excited about it. Photography is a tough business to be in, because there are so many photographers out there. For this portion of the workshop, we'll be going over healthy ways to approach your photography business, how to work with clients, and my personal favorite: how to connect with your ideal client.
Who is(are) on your playlist right now?
Lake Street Dive!
Complete this sentence: “I wish my kids would hurry up and go to sleep so I can watch…”
The News Hour
A quote you live by:
"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Ghandi
Where is the most exotic place you have ever been?
The first item on your bucket list?
I just did it - build my own photo studio!
Your favorite hobby(ies) besides photography
Gardening, reading the New Yorker.
Beer or Wine
Flip flops, sneakers or sexy stilettos
Sneakers, but this changes regularly.
Airplane, train or automobile
Two truth and a lie, go!
Can't it all just be truth?
You can see more of Cat Thrasher's work at:
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Blog Contributor and Writer: Joyce Kang
Joyce Kang is a children & family photographer in Austin Texas. She is also a mentor and an instructor for Embrace The Grain, an intro to film photography workshop. She is married to her best friend and enjoys outdoors with her family. She loves to curl up with a good book and has a terrible addiction to any thing that tops with a heaping scoop of ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge!
Follow Joyce and see more of her work at: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Google+