Kate Woodman explores the bonds between sisters in a creative way

“Nostalgia has always been something that resonates with me,” says former engineer and storybook photographer Kate Woodman, of something that often influences her images. His series American sisters looks at sibling and family relationships in the context of a rural setting. She talks to us about her family dynamic and how she enjoyed creating the stories behind the characters in this series.

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In my opinion, sibling and family relationships seem to be strained on a daily basis. This might be more the case when the siblings are not physically close to each other. I suppose the same could be said of friendships when close or best friends who were once inseparable move to different countries. Where I often reached out and tried to stay in touch, I found that the other person barely made an effort to reciprocate. This hasn’t always been the case for everyone I know who has moved far away, but it is quite common. Ironically, when you consider that we can be instantly connected through the internet, you wonder why people even bother trying.

Where once the adage Absence makes the heart grow fonder held on, it seems to have been replaced by out of sight, out of mind During the last decade. Of course, that was just my personal experience. It’s refreshing to see that Kate Woodman still maintains a strong bond with her sister to this day: a bond that helped in so many ways create the various scenes she built. American sisters.

The essential photo equipment used by Kate Woodman

Despite having an engineering background, I’m not a particularly “technical” photographer, so for me it’s all about whatever gets the job done. For my camera gear, I happen to start with Canon, so that’s the system I’ve been using for ten years.

The Phoblographer: Hi Kate. Tell us about yourself and how you came to photography.

Kate Woodman: I actually got into photography by accident while working as a structural engineer in New Zealand. I hadn’t really traveled much abroad and certainly not to a place with such epic scenery, and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of my free time there seeing some beautiful places. At first, photography was a way to keep in touch with my family back home and show them what I was doing. But quickly, the process of photography – and photo editing in particular – became an obsession.

When I came back to Philadelphia, where those kinds of epic landscapes didn’t exist, I decided to go into people photography and really got into fashion and beauty. It was only when I moved to Portland where I understood that I could combine these two worlds of people and places, and from there this symbiosis between a subject and its environment as the main focus of my work .

The Phoblographer: What’s the backstory behind American sisters? Is there a personal connection?

Kate Woodman: Sisters Americana is a series that was actually created as part of a color theory tutorial, but it’s actually kind of a love letter to my relationship with my sister and my mother, as well as to some of my favorite American artists, like Norman Rockwell. , Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. I grew up in the northeastern United States, where all these artists came from, in a family where the arts were highly valued, so I feel like that aesthetic is kind of still present since my childhood.

Much of my work focuses on relationships with others, but often it’s trying to understand experiences that I haven’t had. This series was special in that it really reflects some of my own experiences with my family, and by presenting it in this nostalgic way, I think it reflects the experience of many other American families.

The Phoblographer: There is a rural, somewhat retro feel to these images. Was the location an instant pick, or did you consider a few places before deciding on this one?

Kate Woodman: I have a master’s degree in historic preservation, so historic architecture, especially vernacular architecture, is something that I have a strong interest in. This series was partially inspired by the location itself – a rural farm in Missouri – that I encountered while designing this tutorial. We were extremely lucky that the location was pretty much exactly as seen in the pictures with minimal dressing, and for me it’s not uncommon to design a story around a specific location rather than trying to find a place to fit into an existing narrative.

The Phoblographer: Were there any classical artists (perhaps Normal Rockwell) who influenced the color palette and framing of these images? Were these artists influential since your childhood?

Kate Woodman: I have a vivid memory of a magnet on my grandparents’ refrigerator growing up that was an image from Norman Rockwell’s “Girl At the Mirror,” and I remember wanting to be that little girl so badly. I loved her hair and her dress and tried to recreate this vignette and even draw it. I think Rockwell’s realism really inspired me when I was a kid, so much so that for a long time I thought I would become a painter. When I was in grad school I lived in West Chester County PA which was the home of Andrew Wyeth so I fell in love with his work at that point in my life and really admired his perspective on the mundane and the vernacular and finding beauty in simple, everyday things.

Nostalgia has always been something that resonates with me, so there’s definitely a theme of that in a lot of my work. I think nostalgia is that strange collective non-experience that has the ability to inspire connection – few of us are able to remember the America expressed through the work of these artists, but we can all look and feel this pull to a bygone era. .

The Phoblographer: Isn’t the little sister always the most pampered? If this describes your situation, tell us what it was like for you growing up. If you were the eldest/eldest, how did you feel about the disparity?

Kate Woodman: I wouldn’t necessarily say my younger sister was pampered – I actually think my parents did a good job of treating us fairly and equally – but our personalities obviously showed up in very different ways, regardless of our education. Tactics that worked well for my sister didn’t necessarily work for me, and vice versa, which raises some interesting questions about the whole nature vs. nurture debate. I think my sister was definitely the more rebellious of the two of us, while I was really worried about getting in trouble, so she’d probably say I was the ‘favorite’ kid – but despite our differences, I think we had a lot in common and were close enough in age to have a pretty good relationship that only got better as we matured.

The Phoblographer: Was the choice not to have parental figures in some of these images deliberate?

Kate Woodman: Thus, the oldest woman in the series is actually meant to be the mother figure, which is why she is not depicted in all frames of the series. My mother, my sister and I are all very close, so she is always part of our dynamic, even if she is not always there physically.

I’ve also been known to shoot with more unconventional practical light sources like light bulbs, flashlights, spotlights, etc. because a lot of my work balances ambient lighting with strobe, so I rely on some sort of environmental light source. I wouldn’t say I have a specific lighting style that helps me be a bit more flexible about the gear I use.

The Phoblographer: Tell us about the production of some of your favorite photos from this please. What were the most interesting aspects of filming for you?

Kate Woodman: Because it was a narrative series, I had kind of created these characters that the talents were meant to be. It was actually a very special shoot because the two girls we had playing the sisters were actually sisters, so it brought a sense of authenticity to the shoot, and we were able to play on that dynamic to bring the pictures.

For this series, we kind of assigned the role of the more mature and even motherly sister to the older daughter, while the younger one was meant to be more mischievous, which I think reflected my own family dynamic and created a more interesting scenario for the series. There’s a sense of playfulness and element of what she’s going to do next on the show that I think is more engaging for audiences.

I think my favorite scenes had to be the cracking egg on the head – which had the entire production team in stitches as we filmed – as well as the older sister looking for monsters under the bed. The two images together show that range between tension and bonding that is common to many siblings.

The Phoblographer: Sibling relationships in today’s fast-paced world are increasingly difficult to maintain. Do you agree?

Kate Woodman: I can see how the hectic nature of today’s world might make it difficult to maintain strong relationships, but honestly, I think the connectedness of today’s world, combined with the bond that was established very early in our family, makes it easier to maintain a relationship. I talk to my sister several times a week, and the ease with which we can write a text or send a meme allows us to share casually without the exhaustion of having to book time and make up weeks or months. of activity. But I think I actively made that connection a priority, which I think may be more difficult for some, especially if the bond wasn’t as strong to begin with. Either way, I’m glad that when I have a problem or a problem, or even want to share something funny, I can communicate it almost instantly – and for that, I’m so grateful.

All images by Kate Woodman. Used with permission. Visit his website and his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages to see more of his photographs.

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