In anticipation of one of Washington's most social weekends - White House Correspondents Dinner and the myriad of parties in the four days surrounding it - I thought I'd do a special blog post about my work as a social reportage photographer. I've been on the society beat for The Washington Post for 6 months and I've covered a wide variety of parties. From the DC Ladies' Arm Wrestling championships to the Russian Ball (nice to meet you, Count Tolstoy!) and everything in between, I've had a blast photographing life on the town in Washington.
The beat has been a fun creative challenge, and the more I've shot the more I've honed the style and approach. I think challenging yourself to learn from master photographers, try new things and look for a fresh approach to each shoot is important to always becoming a better shooter. That's the trick with being a self-employed creative - you are the only person who can motivate yourself to improve. Of course, there are people in the process who help hone skills: photo editors, creative friends, and other photographers are great resources for feedback.
A few months into my assignment I wanted to infuse some new energy into my approach, so I reached out to photographer and photo teacher E. Brady Robinson. She's been teaching photography for ten years, so I hoped she might be able to send me in the direction of some photographers whose work was relevant to mine.
She sent me the work of Larry Fink, a social reportage photographer who has been shooting for the Vanity Fair Oscar after parties for over a decade. His dramatic style of hand-held, high-contrast lighting grabbed my attention, so I modified it to work with the wide angle format I'd come to enjoy for my social reportage work. His ability to create romance in the mundane inspires me as well. Combined a bit with Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden's flash-blast strategy and Arthur Fellig's graphic compositions, I found a way of shooting that captured the stylish but manic, high-energy feel of the parties I was attending.
So why all that effort? Why do I think social reportage is worth pursuing? Though I'm not in the trenches photographing the atrocities of war or giving a voice to victims of social injustice, I take it seriously for two reasons.
First, life is hard and sad enough that the small moments of love, kindness, and ecstatic joy are easily lost. I work to capture the fleeting, so-happy-you-could-cry elements of weirdness and the human desire to create a social facade. I enjoy prodding that facade to highlight it or show the real person beneath. Photos are gifted moments of trust from the subject to the photographer.
The second reason is more pragmatic. These photographs are a document of this city at this time in history. Photos offer an opportunity to expand the capacity of collective memory, and I want to add as much love, excitement, and wildness as I can to that picture. I also like to show that DC is more than a political city, a vibrant bed of creativity expressed through diverse social scenes.
I invite you to check out some of my favorite recent social reportage photographs below, and to view the full gallery HERE. My work is published in print and online in the Arts & Style section of The Washington Post, and you can follow my social adventures on Twitter and Instagram @GoKateShoot.
Thank you for looking, and for those of you that I photograph, for your trust and generosity.