Katherine Young, photographer of contemporary architecture
Katherine Young is a fine art photographer currently based in London. Contemporary architecture is particularly suited to her style of photography and enables her to fully express her vision.
by Alessandra Bettoni
Particularly attracted to shadows, shapes, lines, curves, reflections, patterns and clouds Katherine Young believes that contemporary architecture with its straight lines, dramatic angles and polished surfaces, is particularly suited to her style of photography and enables her to fully express her vision. We simply got caught by her spiral staircases. We believe there is an art to photographing indoor spaces and truly capturing the essence of their architectural design and she has the ability to make interiors look spectacular. We moved from there and asked her to have a chat, talking about her passion for photography and the story behind it.
AVB: Hello Katherine, thank you very much for being here. Before talking about Katherine as a brilliant photographer, how would you describe Katherine as a person?
KY: Thank you so much for your kind words, I truly appreciate it! I’m a bit of a nomad having moved around the world quite a bit. I grew up in South Africa but I wasn’t born there, I was born in Poland. Uprooting for the first time wasn’t easy for me but I think children have a lot of resilience and adapt to new circumstances very quickly. It didn’t take long for me to settle into my new life on the other side of the world.
My parents put a large emphasis on quality education so I’m a chartered accountant by profession having obtained two degrees in accountancy from University of Pretoria. An interesting fact is that my high school, university and my employer’s office were located within a radius of about 2km.
Eventually my work took me out of South Africa to the Channel Islands, where I began a new life from scratch for the third time. Few years later I moved again, this time to Reading in the UK. I also spent a number of years living in the city-state of Singapore and travelling around Asia Pacific. For the last two and a half years, my husband and I have been living just outside of London.
AVB: That’s amazing, we can’t say you get bored! If you should describe yourself in few words, which ones would be the right words and why? And if your friends/relatives should describe you, would they do it with the same words?
KY: I’d probably describe myself as strong-minded, independent and a perfectionist. I have a very strong mind and I’m a bit of a rebel so I like doing things my way. Being an only child and having to adapt to new circumstances every few years has made me very independent. I have to admit, I don’t take direction very well, I can’t even follow a simple recipe!
I’m a perfectionist and I expect a lot from myself and those around me, at times perhaps too much. I’m critical of my work but I do like a challenge and I believe that those qualities enable me to constantly grow and develop. I’m sure my family and friends would agree with my own assessment, perhaps they’d say I’m very stubborn rather than strong-minded 🙂
AVB: Let’s switch on photography now. How was the start Katherine? Where does your passion come from? Is there a specific event which triggered in you the passion for photography? When did it happen?
KY: I don’t think there was one specific event but rather a number of separate events that came together and eventually led me to photography.
My Dad used to be an avid photographer and he photographed countless moments of my childhood. I remember spending many hours in his darkroom and watching him develop his negatives. My Dad owned a few cameras and he was very knowledgeable about his equipment however, at that particular point in time I wasn’t really interested in photography as such, I just enjoyed observing him in his element.
I’ve been collecting postcards depicting Arabian horses from a very young age. I believe that the Arabian horse epitomises strength, beauty, charisma, elegance and pride and those were the qualities that attracted me to them in the first place. Unfortunately, I was unable to own a horse or to even ride one so my postcard and poster collection was all I had. I used to spend hours drawing horses, using my favorite postcards as a starting point and once I’ve learnt the basics of shapes, light and shadow as well as proportion, I’d draw my own idealized version of an Arabian horse. I dreamt of being able to see those horses in person and photographing them sometime in the future.
I guess the last element in my journey towards photography, was the fact that growing up in Africa I learnt to appreciate the beauty and power of nature. I used to love watching sunrises and sunsets, dance in the rain and watch lightning light up the sky from the safety of my balcony. I still think there is nothing more rejuvenation than an African thunderstorm!
Somehow all these pieces came together and my passion for photography was born. I felt the need to capture the world around me, show its beauty and fragility so I picked up my Dad’s Minolta to do just that. My first attempts weren’t successful by any means. I’d just point and shoot in the ‘program’ mode not understanding any of the settings. However, this proved enough to make me want to pursue photography as a hobby in the years to come.
I purchased my first digital camera in 2006 – it was a Nikon D200. However, due to my work commitments, for many years my photography was limited to holiday snaps. I rekindled my interest in photography after moving to Singapore and few years later I acquired my current DSLR.
AVB: We can assume you love traveling and this passion well combine with photography which helped you reporting your journeys through your images. Your current artwork is however very far from the reportage photography. There has been a very interesting metamorphosis, can you tell us something about? How did you evolve from reportage to cityscape and architecture? What is your main inspiration when you go out for a shooting?
KY: My work has evolved dramatically over the last few years. As a self-taught photographer, I began with travel photography, concentrating on urban landscapes and people, aiming to capture the essence of each of the places I’ve visited. My husband and I travelled extensively around Asia and we fell in love with its culture, people and food. Our voyages provided me with plenty of opportunity to record special moments in various countries around the region. However, I didn’t feel that this was the type of photography that best expressed who I am as an artist, something was lacking.
Over time, I became inspired by the contemporary architecture of Singapore, and focused my attention on cityscapes and architecture, often using HDR photography to emphasize the vibrance and beauty of the city-state.
My inspiration comes from various sources such as listening to music, visiting art galleries (I especially like paintings and the way various painters capture light and shadow), reading books, both fiction and non-fiction (I love Japanese novels!) and from what I see around me. On many occasions, I visualize the final photograph and then try to find the right locations in order to create the type of image I have in mind.
I’m particularly attracted to shadows, shapes, lines, curves, reflections and patterns, which produce images with strong intensity and emotion. I believe that contemporary architecture with its straight lines, dramatic angles and polished surfaces, is particularly suited to my style of photography and enables me to fully express my vision. I’m fascinated by the way ‘light illuminates and shadow defines’ such structures and brings them to life.
AVB: Stylistically, your approach to photography is very well defined. A part from some artworks in colors, your photography is mainly characterized by the usage of a strong B&W with a remarkable approach to the fine art style, which make spectacular each of your images. Why B&W?
KY: As I’ve mentioned before, my adventure with cityscape and architectural photography began with HDR images. However, I felt that color sometimes obscured the texture, form and tonal contrast of my subjects and was a little distracting.
In my opinion, monochromatic images have a surreal and timeless quality and leave a striking impact on the viewer. Without the distraction of color, the photograph looks cleaner and reveals the very soul of the subject. When working in black and white one unveils the hidden part of the world, the one that exists beyond objective reality. I use black and white photography often paired up with the long exposure technique to control the mood and highlight details one wouldn’t normally see in color.
In broad terms, I’d describe my photography style as fine art because my photographs are created in accordance with my artistic vision rather than a true representation of reality. This allows me to produce more personal and more evocative images and provides me with unlimited freedom of expression. I try to use photography to connect with other people in a much more intimate and meaningful way and my ultimate goal is to create images that stay in the mind, images that matter and make the viewer think. I still have a long way to go but I view photography as a lifelong passion rather than an instant gratification.
AVB: As I’ve mentioned before, we got simply caught by your impressive images from the series “staircase”. How is this series born? These captivating spirals inevitably attract the viewers, but why are they capturing your keen photographic eye?
KY: Staircase can be found in incredibly varied forms such as triangular, circular, square, rectangular and oval and are made of myriad of materials from stone and concrete to wood and metal and brick. As much as they are functional, staircases are also decorative and form an integral part of any building. Staircases use visual language of form, shape, lines, color and texture to create an abstract composition that truly appeals to me. I believe that the natural design of staircases in general and spiral staircase in particular, makes them very photogenic and pleasing to the eye.
When I photograph stairs, I head to the top floor and start shooting from there first. This often gives the best view, with the full shape revealed all the way to the ground floor. Then, I make my way down the staircase and capture the other views on the way until I reach the bottom. Looking up from there gives quite a different view of the entire staircase.
My photographs of staircases come in two series: The Downward Spiral (looking down from the top of the staircase) and Serpentine (looking up). I am always looking to add new photos to both series, however photographing staircases can be a little tricky, as it is difficult to set one’s photographs apart from everyone else’s. In order to do so, I experiment with shooting from different angles and later on in post processing, using creative editing and color.
AVB: What is your photography kit? How much is it important to produce good quality photography?
KY: Currently, I use Nikon D800 full frame DSLR and three lenses:
Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 which I mostly use for indoors and certain cityscapes especially in places like Dubai;
Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 which I use for my long exposure work paired up with the 3, 6 and 10 stop circular B+W filters for different light and exposure situations, and
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 which I use for detail shots and street photography/portraits.
I use a Manfrotto 055 PRO4 tripod and a remote shutter release cable to avoid any camera shakes when I shoot on a tripod.
I believe that good quality equipment is essential to produce good quality images but it’s never a substitute for creativity. One has to have the right tools to work with, however the most important tool is the photographer’s own mind and vision. I view my equipment, both hardware and software, as tools that enable me to express my artistic vision.
AVB: In conclusion Katherine, we can actually perceive in your work and in your words, you put a lot of passion in what you do. What would you suggest to newbies willing to approach photography? What did you learn from your experience?
KY: My advice to the inexperienced photographers out there would be to photograph what you feel passionately about. The deeper you get into photography, the more you realize that it’s all about what you are interested in, how you feel about it and what you want to communicate to the people who view your work. You learn more about yourself, what you value most, and how you see the world. Whatever your chosen subject, find out as much as you can about it as this will enable you to produce meaningful images, not merely showcasing the physical forms but bringing out the ‘souls’ of your subjects. And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!
Thanks you so much Katherine, we enjoyed a lot having this chat with you and best wishes for you future work!
Thank you so much for this opportunity and greetings to all the ArchiMinimal’s friends.