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Interview with photographer Catherine Slye

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F:Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?

Catherine Slye: I’ve always felt like I could take “good pictures” – just snapshots with a point and shoot camera. I’ve taken thousands of images but I didn’t feel confident as an artist for a long time, and certainly not confident enough with a camera to really figure out what I wanted to do with photography until 2014. I reached a point in my life when I felt it was now or never – confidence or not. I decided it was time for me to get serious about my photography. I bought the best camera I could afford and I crafted a project that I felt passionate about and forged ahead. I titled it “What Food Looks Like”, it was about food access/food systems and food deserts here in Phoenix.

F-Stop: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “Night Water,” can you tell us how you got interested in photographing the canals around Phoenix?

CS: In 2015 I was working on a series/project called “Hot Summer Nights” with a friend of mine (Jared Elizares) who only shoots large format film. We set out to capture Phoenix at night with our very different equipment and very different viewpoints. We would select areas to explore and make photos if we found something we liked. One night we walked over a canal and I stopped to capture it – the stark juxtaposition of the water – soft and lifelike within the hard human built environment of the canals, this resonated with me, I knew I wanted to come back.

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F-Stop: What are you looking to capture by photographing the canals at night?

CS: Beauty, the unseen beauty. I want to capture the color I see and the emotional connection/reaction I have to the canals. I want to show how beautiful these spaces are.

F-Stop: Is there a reason you chose to photograph them at night instead of during the day?

CS: It’s twofold. About the light and color and the other is emotional.

Daylight is harsh and sharp – “unfriendly” whereas Night is softer, calmer, richer – color is palatable, as if you could ingest them. Walking at night with my camera I feel anonymous and practically invisible. I want to show what others pass over and don’t see – “make visible what is invisible”, but I personally want to be invisible, yet I seek to get my work out there and “be known” — the dichotomy is not lost on me.

F-Stop: How does this project relate to your other work (much of which is also shot at night)?

CS: Night Water feels like a cornerstone project for me. One where I have distilled my idea of beauty and how I want to capture it; focusing on one subject for a long period of time, night photography, long exposure of subject matter that my sister coined – . “disregarded settings.”

F-Stop: Do you approach your fine art projects in the same way as your commercial work?

CS: I try to – I hope so. I try to give the client what they want as well as stay true to myself.

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F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?

CS: I have lots of favorites, but there is one that holds a special place for me. I had been going out shooting on the canals for what felt like weeks and coming back without what I was trying to achieve, and then it happened – #4577, and there it was – exactly as I saw it and felt it in person. I knew I was on the right track.

F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?

CS: Here’s a few I love that I follow on Instagram: Pierre Putnam, Bill Schwab, Myrthe Mosterman, Marian Crostic, Patrick Warner, Max Fischer, Richard Tuschman. Recently I saw the exhibition of Wynn Bullock’s work at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson that struck a chord with me – his desire to make the invisible, visible. Really beautiful.

F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?

CS: Yes. I’m working on a project titled “Nightlight”. It’s a self-portrait series, long exposures taken pre-dawn upon waking in a hosted guest bedroom. I’m just over the halfway mark, having finished #21, my goal is to reach 40 before December 2017. The images are about solitude, Wabi-Sabi and liminality. My goal is to create a solo show for 2018, an experience for the viewer to interact with the work in three ways: 1. 10 final photographs printed 40” x 34”, 2. a diorama of one of the rooms with a working “nightlight” and 3. digital media; additional images, all my project notes and drawings, Medium blog posts plus tiny time-lapse photo videos of the making of the diorama.

To see more of Catherine Slye’s work, visit: www.catslye.com


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