A mythical tip, the Civil War and Kaitlynn Slaughter: a photographer interview
Kaitlynn Slaughter is someone who seems to have always been in my life, yet it was last spring I really came to appreciate this photographer. She started her first semester at Radford, sometime around three years ago, and was part of a class that rescued an exhibit talk at our main museum when the artist canceled out right before her artist talk. This is when I learned of Kaitlynn’s existence. I cannot remember what she said about the art, but I do remember she was a GA for the Department of Art chair. During her first semester, she gained a reputation of being kind, patient and helpful.Sometimes our paths crossed; sometimes they did not. It was a causal hello and hey kind-of-relationship. Then last winter she, Langley and I took Diana Bloomfield’s Gum Bichromate workshop together. We had plenty of time to, dare I say, bond (including Diana). And over the past summer the three of us took a studio class with photography professor Andrew Ross. Turns out, Kaitlynn is wickedly funny and has interesting viewpoints about photography and the world.And now we have this show together opening tomorrow (thanks to Andrew’s tenacity in helping program the library’s gallery space).So, here we are and it is time to do another artist interview and introduce you to Kaitlynn.
1. What is it about the Civil War or Civil War reenactments that compels you to want to photograph the subject?A. Photographing the reenactments is kind of something I just fell into. I guess I should first say that photography has come to be a tool that I use to make sense of the world around me. If I don’t understand or if I want to know more about something, that becomes my main subject until I find myself at peace within my mind.When I moved to Appomattox in 2013, I didn’t know the area at all. I spent my free time just driving around the county photographing the landscape which then led me to photograph the Courthouse park and other landmarks.Fast-forward a little bit to 2015, which marked the Sesquicentennial of the signing of the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and there was an entire week of activities, and literally thousands of people showed up. Naturally, I had to see what all of this was about, so I trekked down to the park with a backpack full of cameras.I spent the entire day photographing. I ran out of film. I ran out of memory card space, and I still didn’t really understand what I was witnessing. Suddenly, reenactments became this thing I NEEDED to understand. And it just went from there.I feel like I’m beginning to get it, but I still enjoy going out to take photos at reenactments, so I feel like I’ll just continue doing it until I get bored.2. What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while working on your Civil War series?A. I mostly go to these reenactments by myself, so thankfully nothing TOO weird has happened. I’ve mostly just witnessed funny things. In Gettysburg, these two ladies were trying to hitch a horse up to a little wagon and the horse just wasn’t having it – even after they started to ride off, the horse was still being defiant and kind of just decided to start trotting in a tight circle with the wagon attached. These ladies were so frustrated, but you could just tell that the horse was having an awesome time just completely messing with the ladies. I’m just really amused by simple things.3. When people look at this series of images, what is it that you want them to take away from their viewing?Sometimes I think that this series can raise more questions than it answers, but not really in a bad way. The photos are generally all these candid moments that I’ve been able to capture. There’s no real set-up of my subjects other than my consideration of where I am. Since this is something I’m still working on completing, things may change, but at this point, I actually hope people look at them and go, “Wow, maybe I should go check this out for myself.”4. Is photography a thing you do or is it something more than that and why?It really can be either, depending on the subject matter. If I’m just picking up a job doing portraits or a wedding for a little cash, it’s just a thing I do. For those kinds of things, I just go into what I like to call my “technical photographer” mode – at that point it becomes a job, and I want to deliver a satisfactory product.I used to say I hated photographing people as a job because people are hard to work with. That’s true, but at the same time, I think most of it comes from the fact that I’m afraid they won’t like their photos or I’ll mess something up. I can’t really stop a wedding and say, “Hey, can you turn around and walk back down the aisle? I didn’t catch that.” That’s one of those moments where my anxiety really gets the best of me.5. Describe the moment you knew you wanted to make photography a part of your life.I’ve loved taking photos ever since I was a tiny kid. My parents just used to hand me a point-and-shoot and I’d just play around with it. I’m actually pretty sure I have the first photo I ever took that didn’t involve my finger covering some part of the frame – my grandmother bending down, looking into the lens behind these early 90s old people aviators. So that’s something that continued – when I was 13, I got my first digital camera, one of the first Kodak EasyShare models and I used to take it everywhere.But that “moment” didn’t come until a few years later. In high school, I used to waitress at this little southern-cooking restaurant in my hometown. This couple would come in all the time, and, unlike the majority of “regulars” that came in, they actually were really nice, so I was always very happy to see them. Somehow or another, I found out that the husband was a photographer – he had shot film for years and was beginning digital work. He showed me some of his prints and I told him how I really liked photography and wanted to get into it. So probably a week later, they came into have dinner, and when they got ready to leave, he literally just handed me a camera and said, “This is your tip for tonight.” It was this Minolta 35mm SLR, and it kind of changed my life. I can’t tell you how many rolls of film I put through that thing. I have it sitting on my bookshelf in my house so I can see it all the time. If it wasn’t for that couple and that camera, I might not be doing this today.6. You are also a musician. For you, does the inspiration to make a photograph come from the same place that making music does or are they completely separate things and why?I think my music often carries a more serious tone than my photography. I don’t really know why, but most of the darker parts of myself come out when I’m writing songs. Maybe because it’s a little easier for me to express those bits of self-loathing through audible means rather than visual. I actually think my songs are more personal to me than my art sometimes because I tend to be the kind of musician that wears my heart out on my sleeve. Sometimes I get into writing a song and I think that it’s going to end up “nice,” but then it takes this unexpected turn and suddenly I’m like, “well, oops, this sounds like I hate myself.” My photography seems to have grown up more quickly than my songwriting has, if that makes sense. A lot of my songs are still stuck in that angsty phase. I think I’m getting better at that though.And that’s Kaitlynn. I ran this before I could get her other info, such as websites and social media, but as I get it, I’ll update the post.