Kat Bawden

Kat Bawden (www.katbawden.com) is a documentary and editorial photographer and teacher living in Los Angeles. She explores complex human stories through beautiful images, often combined with writing, video, and audio. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Scalawag Magazine, and Fotografia Magazine, among numerous other publications. She has also produced visual content for a number of nonprofit, creative, and commercial clients. She teaches photography workshops that engage students in the craft of image-making and visual storytelling. She first learned photography in high school and studied documentary arts at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Before pursuing photography as a career, she worked as a community organizer and English teacher.

Kat Bawden Portfolio

Julia Dean Interviews Kat Bawden

LACP Founder and Executive Director Julia Dean asks Kat Bawden ten questions about his background, career in and beliefs about photography

Julia Dean: What kind of photographer are you?

Kat BawdenI’m a freelance documentary photographer. I produce in-depth photo essays, editorial portraits, and news photojournalism. I also do band/concert, lifestyle, and architectural photography.

JD: How long have you been shooting?

KB: I’ve been studying photography and actively shooting since I was 14 years old. I’ve been a professional photographer for about 3 years.

JD: Where did you get your training?

KB: I studied documentary photography at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. But I first learned photography in high school. I was lucky to attend a high school with a great arts department and have a mom who was an artist. I was president of my high school’s photography club (nerd alert!), and I would cut class to work in the darkroom (double nerd alert!). There’s always more to learn, and I continue to study photography though classes, online tutorials, and reading about photographers.

JD: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?

KB: I secretly always knew, but I was afraid to pursue it until I was 28 years old. In my first career, I worked as a community organizer and teacher, and I have a master’s degree in public health. While I wouldn’t recommend this as a path to becoming a photographer, I actually gained many skills I use in documentary photography, such as how to be a good listener.

JD: Did you ever come close to giving up?

KB: Freelancing is a roller coaster. I have debated whether or not to leave this path and pursue something more stable. When I feel that way, I try to double-down on my work, and usually something works out, like a new assignment or a grant I applied for.

JD: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?

KB: Definitely. I left a stable, well-paid university job (that made me deeply unhappy) to pursue an artistic career. Being a freelance photographer means doing a lot of work you’ll never get paid for, such as researching a story that goes nowhere, or applying to grants you don’t win. It means working strange hours, and the work isn’t something you can detach from easily. Sharing your art makes you vulnerable to criticism that is intensely personal. You have to find ways to make this work for you. But I love it, and I’ve gained much more than I’ve sacrificed.

JD: What have you gained by being a photographer?

KB: My work has led me to fascinating people and incredible stories. It’s been a great adventure. I feel fully engaged in the world. I make meaningful art that people enjoy and that creates conversations. To do this work and teach others how to do it is the best job I can imagine.

JD: What classes do you teach at LACP?

KB: I teach digital photography classes for youth, and I occasionally lead public workshops, such as one on how to use Instagram.

JD: What do you love most about teaching?

KB: I love helping students understand how the technical aspects of photography – such as lines, light, and composition – are tools to set a mood or tell a story. It’s what we intuitively respond to when we see a photo, even if we don’t have the words for it. Learning this stuff is like seeing a hidden Magic Eye image, and students often have these wonderful “a-ha!” moments when they put it together. I think this reveals how approachable a medium photography can be: it’s not just capturing a moment in time, it’s about building a story. In studying this technical process, students can begin to develop their personal style, which is exciting to witness.

JD: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?

KB: First, study the craft as much as you can. There are a ton of great resources out there. Also, expose yourself to and draw inspiration from all artistic mediums, not just photography. (For example, I’ve learned a ton about lighting from 17th century Dutch master paintings.)
Second, study the professional/business side. Find the photographers you love and ask them how they’ve made their careers work. I jumped right into freelancing, and I regret not working as a photographers’ assistant. I think I could have learned a lot about how to build a career that way. I spend a lot of time talking with professionals who give me fantastic advice.