Catherine Day and How it Just Happens

Six years ago, after finishing college at 18, Catherine Day decided to leave her picturesque hometown of Saltburn-by-the-Sea in the U.K. for a university far from home. She went from the northeast of England to the southwest, a seven-hour train ride, to study at the University of Gloucestershire’s arts campus in Cheltenham.

Given her first camera at age six by her father, by 17, she knew she wanted to be a photographer. “That was around seven years ago, now, but it feels like a lifetime,” she says. In that time, she studied Photography for two years at Redcar and Cleveland College as part of an advanced foundation course. She then completed three years at the University of Gloucestershire.

©Catherine Day

Day’s lifelong affair with photography wasn’t always smooth sailing. “I was always that child who annoyed everyone by constantly taking photographs of everyone, everything and anything,” she recalls. Her full passion for photography began blooming in college, but it wasn’t an easy road. Some technical processes were holding her back. “My tutor, Mike Knifton, truly saved me,” she says. “He sat me down and went through everything I didn’t understand, over and over until I got it, and I haven’t been able to put a camera down since. I knew from that moment I wanted to be a photographer. Mike had amazing patience, and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

©Catherine Day

If Knifton helped Day learn several technical aspects, she was on her own when it came to creating her distinctive style of photography. She attributes her original style to something deeper inside herself; something beyond the practice of photography, which, of course, is the mark of any true artist. “I’ve always had a love for the weird, wonderful and strange,” she says. “I suppose it helps that my mind is rather quirky. I inject my personality and mind into every image, and it just happens. It’s always been that way.”

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When asked a cliched question such as what is her overall philosophy of art, Day responds with the clarity and honesty of an elder, learned Zen master. “It’s an entirely different thing to every individual,” she says. “For some it’s a living and breathing being, for others it’s something to appreciate but not participate in, and all the shades in-between. For me, it’s the former. I think it’s important for people to respect that everyone’s view of, and taste in art, is completely different, and to behave accordingly.”

Her subjects are usually women, a fact not lost on Day. She credits this to being “very picky” with finding models. Although she’s photographed a few men, fewer have made it into her portfolio. “It’s just the aesthetic that inspires me,” she says.

©Catherine Day

A huge fan of desaturation, Day sometimes reduces her color palette to the point where people may think the work is black and white. None of her images have the color completely removed. “The motivation behind it is mainly simplicity,” Day explains. “I crave simplicity in every aspect of my life, but of course we have little to no control as to the amount of chaos life throws at us. The one thing I can fully control is my photography. I feel pale skin is simple, clean and controlled. It helps me bring part of what I crave and desire into some semblance of reality, even if it’s just a photograph.”

©Catherine Day

In June of this year, Day published a moving account of her struggle with prescription medication for depression. After taking eight different brands in as many years, Day turned her ailment into something positive with her photography. Her series “Chemical” is both beautiful and haunting. When combined with her text description of the medication, this series of images addresses the realities of psychopharmacology with a directness most other art on the subject fails to make.

Although suffering with depression, Day is still able to channel her energy into new work. “Usually when I’m just coming out of a period of depression,” is when she finds herself most creative.

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For gear, Day uses Elinchrom softboxes. She has recently begun using PocketWizard radio triggers in her workflow. “It’s great to have one less wire to think about,” she says.

Day used film in her first year of college and first two years of university. “I absolutely adored it,” she says. “My favorites were medium and large format black and white film. I really want to get back into it—I just haven’t found the time!” She still has a sheet of Polaroid Type 55 she is saving in a drawer.

©Catherine Day

Her main camera is a Mamiya 645DF with a DM33 digital back. “I adore the system, and will never go back to traditional SLRs. The quality is outstanding, as is the user interface. It’s completely stolen my heart,” says Day.

Working from the files captured during her shoots is just the beginning of the process for Day. “I’m just as much a retoucher as I am a photographer,” she reports. Day points to Miles Aldridge as a photographer she admires, and would love to collaborate with sculptor Kate McDowell.

©Catherine Day

Claiming to always have at least five concepts for original photo shoots in her brain at once, Day doesn’t appear to be running out of new work any time soon. Her work impressively celebrates the female form under a variety of makeup conditions, Latex fashion, and hairstyles. One criteria for an artist is having created a style identifiable as their own. Catherine Day has already achieved this in her short career. Although she sometimes feels “it just happens,” original art doesn’t come easily. In this case, it happens because Day has a unique and uncompromising vision of what she wants to create. Don’t miss it, nor what she makes next.

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Written by Ron Egatz

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