PetaPixel

Interview with Kathleen Connally of A Walk Through Durham Township

Kathleen Connally is the photographer behind A Walk Through Durham Township, Pennsylvania, a photoblog that has been chosen as “Photoblog of the Year”, “Best American Photoblog”, and “Best Landscape Photography” by numerous publications.

Portraits taken by Ajit Anthony Prem.


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PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

Kathleen Connally: I’ve lived in a 230-year old house in Bucks County, Pennylvania, for the last ten years, and have focused my camera on tiny Durham Township during that time. My photoblog is a love letter to where I live. I include my son, my neighbors, nieces and nephews in the photos, too, in my attempt to document this space, this place in time, through my eyes.

I work as a photographer when I’m not busy caring for my home and my son, who is eight years old. I really enjoy commercial and editorial photography and try to fit as much in as possible to pay the bills. But I also volunteer as a Penn State Master Gardener, as an advocate for preserving open space in Pennsylvania, as a Cub Scout leader, a Little League bench coach, a member of the township’s Environmental Advisory Council.

I’m also an artist-in-residence at the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where I teach about contemporary landscape photography, and I teach on a variety of photographic topics at various other locations including high schools, universities, etc.

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

KC: I got my first camera, a Polaroid Land camera, for a Christmas gift when I was seven years old. I’ve had a camera in my hands ever since! Something “clicked” (pun intended) as soon as I started taking my first photos – I knew I was doing what I was meant to be doing.

As a kid, I stole my dad’s AGFA, as well as his 8mm movie camera and projector until I got my first 35mm (Pentax K1000, of course) when I was 15. I took a darkroom course in high school and ended up developing my own film for a long time, which I loved. Up until the early 2000s, I shot mostly Ektachrome but plenty of B&W, too. In 2003 I got my first digital camera, realized I could experiment without limit, and pretty much put the film cameras to rest as I developed my education (empirically) in digital technology.

I still shoot film on occasion – actually purchased my dream film camera, a Hasselblad 503cw a couple of years ago with the proceeds from a big commercial job – so I still love (lerve) film, but I am equally in love with digital now, too, because I can so easily handle it and turn it around.

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PP: What was the digital camera you got in 2003?

KC: I got a little Canon Elph Powershot. I carried it in my pocket literally everywhere I went and probably shot 100,000 images on that thing before I started using my first DSLR, the Nikon D100.

PP: How much traffic does your photoblog receive?

KC: Somewhere in the region of 2 to 3 million visitors a year but I’ve stopped keeping track at this point so I can focus on things that are more meaningful, like the photography!

PP: Wow. How much email do you receive from your fans?

KC: I have never stopped to count but it’s enough that I can’t answer it all and do my other work, haha. I wish I could. When students email, I give them priority, because I want to encourage them.

I’m not sure I’d call it ‘fan mail’, though – many times it’s just questions about gear, settings, etc., or a request to look at a portfolio. I’d call it ‘curiousity mail’ instead.

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PP: What are some of the most common questions or comments you receive?

KC: Common questions include “Do you hold classes?” or “What lens/camera, etc., do you recommend?” Comments run the gamut from enjoying that I’ve focused my camera on one area, that the photos remind them of when they grew up, that it’s been fun to watch my progress with digital photography, that my models are pretty or handsome (haha), or wondering whether Durham Township is more beautiful than other areas of the world and that they’d like to visit one day. Also, I hear “I just spent an hour of my work time at your site.” Haha. The best ones are when people tell me they have a new appreciation for open space, for farming, for nature, etc., and they understand why it’s important to protect those things. (That’s my ultimate goal with this project.)

There are too many to list but those come to the top of my head. A quick read through my site’s Guestbook will give you a good idea of what I get.

PP: Tell me about your workflow.

KC: Pretty simple workflow. I have RAID drives, I also back up to a separate external drive once a week. So everything is triple backed up as soon as it’s out of the camera. I use Adobe Bridge to manage the files, Adobe Photoshop CS4 to apply very basic adjustments to RAW files (I shoot RAW+JPEG). Image files are sorted into folders labeled by year, month, day and some tag such as “CORNFIELD_MORNING_FOG”. I keep separate WORK folders arranged the same way to separate the original digital negatives from the files I’ve made adjustments.

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PP: What equipment do you currently use?

PP: I use two Canon 5Ds, a Canon 5D Mark II, a Canon EOS 3 film camera and a whole bunch of L-series lenses on all of them. I also use a Hasselblad 503cw film camera and am hoping to get a digital back for it one day. I also use a bunch of old toy cameras (Holga, Diana, etc.) and pretty much anything fun I can get my hands on at a junk sale or thrift store, although I don’t usually share those photos on-line. Just a time issue or I would – scanning, etc., takes more time than I have right now. For commercial jobs I usually rent a Canon 1Ds Mark II or Mark III and whatever L-series lenses I need for the work.

PP: What’s your favorite lens?

KC: Canon 50mm f/1.2L or Canon 85mm f/1.2L. They’re both as dreamy as can be.

PP: What’s the least favorite lens that you own?

KC: Hmmm… don’t have a least favorite or I would get rid of it.

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PP: Why are you a Canonite and not a Nikonian?

KC: My first DSLR was a Nikon D100, which was fantastic at the time, but then Canon came out with the 5D right at the time I needed to upgrade. (I actually wore out the Nikon D100.) When I heard the Canon 5D was full-frame, I got one of the first ones off the assembly line! It’s still one of my workhorses! Anyway, that’s the main reason I switched. Nothing to do with brand loyalty, really, or caring about being a “Canonite” or “Nikonian.” They’re both great companies with great products; Canon just had what I needed when I needed it, so I invested with them. Good timing on their part, haha.

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PP: What would you say is the one thing you’ve learned that has had the biggest positive impact on your photographs?

KC: Do you mean technically or spiritually?

PP: Both.

KC: Technically, I’ve learned that you must be intimate with the gear you’re using, and you must put it to test in every conceivable environment. You have to know what every button does and what the result will be from pushing it. You cannot skimp on educating yourself about every aspect of your gear, and you cannot skimp on practicing. 100% immersion gives you the results you want, eventually.

Spiritually, I’ve learned that you have to BE where you are. You’ve got to live in the moment, go with the flow and that’s when the most amazing photographs are taken. You can’t direct anything, you have no control over anything, you cannot stage a great photograph. Life hands you great photographs when you respect that you’re not the one in control of them! When you try to control the result you don’t have access to your creative side, to the very well-informed right brain which gives you insanely beautiful ideas and messages. Those only come when you’re at peace with your surroundings, yourself.

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PP: How about regarding post-processing?

KC: When I first got into digital technology, I started out post-processing my images like crazy. This helped me learn the yin/yang relationship there. By pushing it to the limit, by learning every single knob & dial in Photoshop, I also learned how to do the best work with the least amount of post-processing. When I look at my early digital work it makes me scream and run for the hills, haha, but I also know the lessons I learned by doing that, and how it educated me. So right now I have no desire and very little need to post-process my images. I’ve practiced so relentlessly with my camera – in my given environment, but certainly not everywhere – that I can turn an image around from camera to a finished work in just a few minutes. I apply only the adjustments that I used to apply to my B&W work in a darkroom – contrast, tone, etc., with the curves adjustment tool. I like to think of myself as a processor, not a post-processor now. My goal is to do almost everything in-camera, including handling the exposure and composition to the point that Photoshop is irrelevant. That doesn’t always work but I am motivated to work toward it. I hate sitting in front of a monitor if I can be outside shooting!

PP: Who is your favorite historical photographer?

KC: Heavens, that’s like asking what my favorite film is. Not possible to name one person, but I can rattle off a good list: Alfred Stieglitz, Carleton Watkins, Robert Doisneau, Lartigue, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Friedlander, Eggleston… I could keep going but I’ll stop for now. I love too many of them!

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PP: Who are some of your favorite photobloggers?

KC: Joes NYC, Istoica, Fourteen Places to Eat, Myopicus, and Chromogenic.

PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

KC: Joe Holmes, Joe’s NYC.

PP: Is there anything else you would like to say to PetaPixel’s readers?

KC: If you want to be a good photographer, or a great photographer, or even just a working photographer, STOP listening to ANYONE who tells you it’s not possible, that the field is too full, that the benchmarks are too high now, etc. Listen to YOURSELF. Do you love photography? Do you have something to say with it? Then do it. No whining about not getting paid. If you love it, do it because you love it, not because you’re waiting on a paycheck. Do it and make it public. Show your work. If you’re TRULY passionate about it, and you practice, hone your skills and your message, get yourself out there – you will get work. Remember the Woody Allen saying, too – 80% of life is just showing up. SHOW UP! If you ever need a pep talk, email me – I tell that to everyone – because I truly believe that EVERYONE has an important voice. Everyone also needs encouragement now and then.

Ghandi once said something like ‘Be the change you want to see in this world.’ Your voice and your talent are important to this world.

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  • http://gracepointphotography.blogspot.com/ Kevan

    Great interview. Keep them coming!

  • http://thephotographerblog.com/ Mandy

    A fantastic interview and insight into Kathleen's work. Thank you for your openness and the words of encouragement Kathleen I really needed them!

  • http://www.jenpalmerphoto.com/ jen

    Thanks for this honest and inspirational interview!

  • http://www.messiah.edu/ Ramona

    Fabulous work. LOVE the photography. Great interview. Thank you Kathleen for preserving PA for us. It's growing by leaps and bounds, and we're thrilled that you can capture the true essence of PA that… we are all too busy to see.

  • http://twitter.com/KathyGentner Kathy Gentner

    As a Durham Township resident, I really enjoyed the view of our township through the eye of your camera! I knew I lived in a town with history and peace. Your view is so peacefilled and thank you for your passion.
    http://www.kathygentner.com
    “Bucks County Real Estate Agent: I treat your Real Estate needs as if they were my own.”

  • http://twitter.com/KathyGentner Kathy Gentner

    As a Durham Township resident, I really enjoyed the view of our township through the eye of your camera! I knew I lived in a town with history and peace. Your view is so peacefilled and thank you for your passion.
    http://www.kathygentner.com
    “Bucks County Real Estate Agent: I treat your Real Estate needs as if they were my own.”