Catherine Abegg: Capturing the Real

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Catherine (left) and her daughter, Madeline

I have become a devout follower of my friend, photographer Catherine Abegg’s, blog. I’m taking liberties in calling her my friend. We’ve only met once. I got her name from Heidi Murphy, another very talented photographer with whom I have worked many times and trust completely, who knew her and said she was a fellow user of real film, not to mention terrifically talented. I was headed to Seattle and wanted to do a styled shoot with some friends. Catherine is based there and was available.

The thing about Catherine’s work that I find so irresistible is the way she manages to combine gorgeous images with a predominant feeling of authenticity. In her thousands and thousands of photos — of men and women getting married, kids and parents hanging out, her own family rambling over hill and dale in their van house (they live in a VW van!) — people seem to be themselves and as such are entirely beautiful. Nothing seems staged or styled. Her subjects are short and tall, lumpy and not-so-lumpy. Some of them are hairy; some have terrible haircuts. The kids in her pictures were probably cooperative and un-. But Catherine truly finds the most beautiful light emanating from each and every one of them.  And they seem to be exactly who they are.

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I’m know I am taking that a bit on faith. I don’t know her subjects personally (that is I know only a tiny fraction of them: the loved-ones Catherine shot for me that time in Seattle). But the thing is I believe her images. And it is because of this that I am a student of her work.  I envy her ability to figure out who her subjects are on the inside and capture it so beautifully. In her hands, the camera is not the least bit objective and yet it is entirely frank.

A party, a wedding, a memorial — any kind of event — must not only create a visual impact; it must taste delicious, sound lovely and unfold seamlessly. All the dimensions – timing, lighting, food, drink, music, flow – all the moving parts need to come together AND they must reflect who the hosts are, what the hosts and guests will truly enjoy and find real meaning in.

As an events designer, part of the challenge for me is keeping the balance between what looks beautiful or behaves beautifully, and what matters. I want things to be gorgeous, but I try not to get caught-up in the pursuit of the perfect at the expense of the genuine. I work very, very hard to figure out what the client’s vision is, to understand his or her resources, wishes and personal style, then figure out not only how to execute it, but also how to bring some originality to the event. Above all, it must feel authentic (there’s that word again) to the principals. In order to have that happen, I need to do my thing and then get out of the way. The party, the wedding, the memorial celebration all belong to someone else. It’s all about them, who they are, how they express themselves. I am just the hands and feet that make their vision a reality.

Sounds pretty lofty for a party planner, doesn’t it? I could do it all with less intensity, I guess. But as my step-daughter Molly once so diplomatically said when presented at eight years old with an outfit I had carefully chosen for her, “It’s just not me.”

 

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Mediation in any kind of art is unavoidable. To make art of something is to mediate it. In a way, it’s the whole point. In bringing your tools (camera, hands, imagination) to the task, you are by definition filtering it through your unique brain, passing it through your own point of view. Catherine takes pictures of people and, by the very virtue of positioning the camera as she does or depressing the shutter button when she does, captures what she sees in her subjects, what she instinctually understands about them. When I plan an event, I am also bringing my own point of view to bear. But first I am learning who the client is and what ‘language’ they speak, what is ‘true’ for them. I think Catherine is an expert at this. I obsessively follow her photographs not only because they are a feast for the eyes, but because she seems to very quickly ‘get’ the narratives of the lives of her subjects. And that is truly moving to me.

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I am one of literally thousands who follow Catherine’s work. She is Seattle’s go-to photographer for out-of-the-box weddings and truly lovely family portrait sessions. Her fans and followers on Facebook are legion. Her own personal story is a tale in itself. Pregnant right out of high school (via a co-worker who, it turned out, was married and already a father), she raised her daughter Madeline on her own. Fast forward through a ton of hard work and probably many pretty overwhelming moments, she fell in love with Michael Abegg who became her husband and Madeline’s adoptive dad. Then on November 24, 2015 — 18 years after the birth of her daughter — Catherine gave birth to her second child, a son called Haakan. Oh and they gave up their apartment and moved into their VW van. But I’ll let her tell that part in her own words.

baby Haakan

baby Haakan

 


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