Katie has been taking photos since she was a kid growing up in Kansas. As a photojournalist, she particularly likes to develop long-form projects spanning weeks, months or even years that explore contemporary issues. Katie has been a participant with the Missouri Photo Workshop and the International Women’s Media Foundation, producing stories on subjects ranging from incarceration to the oil industry in Uganda. While living in New York City, she covered the Occupy Wall Street protests. Upon returning to Kansas, she documented her mother’s battle with ALS, a terminal neurological disease. Her work aims to evoke a sense of meaning, narration and place (though she enjoys taking the occasional food and cat photo too). Katie also shoots photos as a reporter with The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Where do you live now? How many years have you been in Kansas?
I grew up in Topeka and went to KU. After living on both coasts, I returned to Kansas in 2015 and now live in Lawrence.
What was the moment you wanted to become a photographer? How old were you at the time?
When I was 12 years old, I went to a weeklong photography summer camp. As I looked down at the contact sheet from a roll of film I had shot, I became hooked—the process and the outcome were so cool. Photography has given me a reason to peer into other people’s lives while also being a form of expression.
If you had to describe your photography in terms of a color wheel, where would you fall on it?
What was your first camera? What did you like about it?
My dad gave me a Canon AE1. I liked it because it was my dad’s and had recorded moments from my childhood. It also felt like my dad saw my potential in giving his camera to me to use.
If you had to describe your photographic style in terms of a family tree, who is your “mother”? Who is your “father”? Who is your “brother” or “sister”? Dorothea Lange. Edward Hopper.
What are some uncommon objects that you like to photograph?
I take a lot of photos of dead birds which some people find quite weird and morbid and others find beauty in.
What is the hardest thing to photograph badly? What is the hardest thing to photograph well?
Tell us about the shot that got away. There’s so many. One in particular that sticks out was when I was a teenager and I would take the bus from Topeka to Pittsburg to visit my grandpa. It was dark and cold outside and the bus had stopped at a motel that was also a stop along the bus route. There was a glowing, neon “Vacancy” sign that I framed and shot from the bus. I imagined what it would look like when I got the film back, but it didn’t turn out. The scene was so atmospheric but perhaps better in real life than as a photograph.
What is your favorite Kansas landmark to photograph?
Rank these Kansas icons (from favorite to least favorite) in terms of your choice of photography subject:
Seldom-heard discouraging words - 1
Buffalo herds - 2
Open skies - 3
The ornate box turtle - 4
Prairie flowers - 5
Fields of sunflowers - 6
The Kansas River - 7
Cottonwood trees - 8
Tell us about your best chance photo taken in Kansas. Where was it? How did it come about?
I really enjoyed shooting the Gordon Parks story in Fort Scott. I wasn’t sure what to expect and just drove around town, scoping out different scenes to get a feel for the town. While I was in the parking lot of the movie theater, which had an art-deco look to it, three people drove into the parking lot and walked in. It was so graphic. I also liked the man cleaning windows. I leapt out of my car when I saw him and waited to get the right second, with his body curving a certain way.
Fill in the blanks:
A good photographer knows when to talk and to never talk too much.
Three things I’ll never tire of photographing are people, protests and cats.
The motto of a good Kansas photographer should always be Ad Astra Per Aperture.
People often think photography is about capturing a particular moment, but actually it is about the past and future.