Artists Profile: Kathy Cudlin May/June 2018

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Age: 70
Title: Fine Arts Photographer

Take us back to when you moved to Lynchburg after college. This was when you really started focusing on art?
I came to Lynchburg in the early ’70s with my husband and our two small children. I had graduated from Duke University as an English major but didn’t know what to do next. Lynchburg was smaller then, and opportunities at first seemed limited. Then I discovered the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center.

I had always loved to draw, so I started taking classes in the evenings. I knew I had a knack for capturing a likeness, so I concentrated on portraits and actually wound up teaching portrait drawing at the Art Center for a couple of years.

And working with clients on portraits is what opened the door to photography?
I soon realized I needed to take my own photographs of children in order to have the right information for portraits, so I signed up for a photography course at Central Virginia Community College. I remember how nervous I was the first time I developed film! But I soon fell hopelessly in love with the medium. I took all the photography classes, then printmaking, drawing, design, computer graphics—and before I knew it, I was finishing the commercial art degree.

kathy cudlinWhere did your career take you next?
While finishing that degree, I took on an internship at Lovern Advertising, Inc. I managed to progress from accidentally dropping phone calls in the early days to ultimately doing most of the design work. Eventually I became the agency’s art director and did photography as well. Later on, I took a job as coordinator of marketing and public relations at CVCC. I also served as curator for what was then the CVCC Merritt Hall Gallery and continued to do some part-time work for the agency.

How would you define yourself as an artist now?
I definitely consider myself a street photographer. I enjoy venturing out into the large, visually chaotic world and selecting elements that cohere into a pleasing or compelling composition. I am interested in a photograph’s ability to freeze a moment in time and remove it from context, and I prefer photographs with people or evidence of people in them. Street photography suggests a narrative, and I leave the interpretation of that story up to the viewer. I always hope for a little bit of mystery in the image.

When did you start becoming interested in this niche of photography?
For a few years I was doing photographic silkscreens, a complicated process, and my subjects stayed still: architecture and objects. Then, around 2000, some photographers had rented a studio in town and wanted a number of us to join them in a larger organization—which became the Blue Ridge Photographic Arts Society. The great bonding moment for some of us came when we roamed the streets of New York City soon after 9/11. That’s when I realized I could do street photography—and that it was terribly exciting! Since then I’ve done a great deal of traveling, and I love getting out on the streets of some major cities with my camera.

Since taking classes at CVCC, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the photography world. Has it ever been difficult to adapt?
I know some people regret the transition from film to digital—after all, the darkroom was a magical place!—but I’ve wholly embraced digital photography. Most everything you can do in a darkroom you can do on a computer. However, I’m not interested in morphing a photograph into something entirely different from the original, although there are fine artists who do very creative digital work.

With smartphones and social media sites such as Instagram, anyone can be an amateur photographer these days. Do you think that is making artistic photography any less special?
Oh, you can always spot the artist who has a sense of composition, who knows the elements of design—someone with depth of feeling, understanding, self-expression—that doesn’t change. I know a photographer who works strictly with cellphone apps. In the hands of the right person, it is brilliant. I even tried my own hand at it with an exhibit of iPhone tintypes at Magnolia Foods not long ago.

madame x

“An Afternoon with Madame X”

One of your photographs really caught some attention in Lynchburg recently.
I won first place in the Georgia Morgan Show at the Lynchburg Art Club. I was surprised because I think of it as a painter’s show, and there was some lovely work. My piece was titled “An Afternoon with Madame X,” and it was a large color image of a young family in a gallery with John Singer Sargent’s portrait of “Madame X.”

In March, I had a two-person show with John Shuptrine at the Lynchburg Art Club. John’s work was color, and mine was black and white, so we called it “Seeing Differently.”

Did you choose black and white photos for any particular reason?
I’ve always loved the black and white photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, to name only a few. So much of the exciting history of photography is in black and white. So, although I have been moving to color in recent years, this show was a wonderful opportunity to revisit black and white as an interesting contrast to John’s fine color work.

Where are some of your favorite places to get photographs in Lynchburg?
Downtown Lynchburg provides excellent opportunities for street photography, and wandering down Main Street at night is especially good. The estate stores are a lot of fun for photographers, and our BRPAS group enjoys forays to Old City Cemetery and Kemper Street Station.

What types of scenes or people inspire you?
I often like to capture the single figure in a setting, standing alone in a composition that appeals to me, especially if there are strong tones, strong shapes and shadows.

I like humor. If there is an amusing interaction, I am thrilled! I like repetition, echoes: someone accidentally adopts the pose of a nearby statue, or two figures provide counterpoint to one another without realizing it. I also like lights, mystery, and any unanticipated magic.

You’ve been a part of the Lynchburg arts scene for a while now. What would you like to see in the area moving forward?
We have a number of wonderful arts organizations and a lot of very talented artists in this area. I would like to see the organizations thrive and grow, of course. I would like to see increased connection, more awareness. I’m a docent at the Maier Museum, and I think every artist in town should be visiting the Maier’s wonderful annual show of contemporary art. It is too easy to be limited to one organization, to stay rooted in one spot. I also think First Friday, which encourages people to visit a number of venues in one night, is fabulous.

What advice do you have for aspiring street photographers and other artists?
Probably the same advice everyone gives them: Do the work! Don’t sit around and think about it. Don’t wait for grand inspiration. Just do what you love—get moving. And while you are at it, notice what others are doing and know the history of your medium.

Do you have any big plans for the future?
I am going to France again in May. I’ve photographed in Paris a number of times, but this time I will visit the Dordogne for the very first time with some wonderful friends.

How can readers get in touch with you?
I’m very easy to contact. I’m on Facebook, which is a good place to message me, and my email address is ridiculously easy: kcudlin@aol.com.

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