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kathryn chapman

Kathryn Chapman Interview
00:00 / 26:34

Please share a bit about you and your artistic background.


I’ve been a photographer for about 14 years professionally. I started when I was on maternity leave with my daughter but I’ve been photographing since I was 8 years old. I was totally fascinated with how photographs transposed themselves from the image you have in your heads or how we see things. When we look through a camera at the world, things change and things are different.  I decided I wanted to be a photographer when I was 16 years old but I didn’t realise my dream until I was older. I started off photographing weddings, families and events and then moved into product photography and headshots. I loved it but I did something for myself around 3 years ago which totally changed what I do now. 


In my early 20s I was suicidal and I had a suicide attempt. 25 years in talking therapy didn’t really work for me, it helped a bit but it never seemed to get me where I wanted to be which was consistently happy. I wanted to wake up and have purpose in my life and value for myself. I decided I wanted to look myself in the eye and see if things were as bad as they felt. I was always comparing myself to other people, thinking I can’t justify feeling the way I do because other people have it worse. I decided to sit with my most difficult emotions and photograph what was there. I didn’t know what to expect but when I looked at the images I was really surprised at what I saw because I didn’t see this contorted, disgusting woman. What was going on in my head was not what I saw. I found this really confusing and interesting. I just sat with it and didn’t look at my gallery for a few months. Within that time, it dawned on me that the only person who could help the woman in this picture was me. After my 'Face to Face' shoot, I started a self-care process. I starting looking after myself like I'd never done before. I started liking myself, I’d never done that before. I had no idea what it meant to love yourself. Slowly these things started coming because of what I’d seen in my images.

I was feeling so constantly good and my life felt completely different. I thought ‘wow, maybe this is something I can offer other women.’ I was feeling so good that I thought I could hold other women in this space and reflect back to them amazing things they may not be able to see. After being in this good place I decided I wanted to celebrate who I was. I bought a parachute off the internet, cut a hole in it, did some needle work and made a frock. I decided I’d go stand on a windy hill and photograph myself flapping it about, which was amazing. I called it my Freedom Shoot because I felt free to express myself and free to celebrate who I was. That’s now what I offer my clients as well. In both processes, reflecting back things they can’t see about themselves which is really obvious to me and I capture that through photography. 


Opening up possibilities for people is so powerful. Showing them things like courage and bravery is so empowering and saying ‘this is who you really are, go achieve what your potential is, you don’t need to hold yourself back anymore or doubt yourself because you’re so incredible.’ There’s the freedom of expression and then the freedom to go on in yourself and be who you want to be. 

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Kathryn's 'Freedom Shoot'

Nature seems like a big part of your photography shoots, could you share a bit about your relationship to nature and how it informs your work?

Nature was a big thing for me during lockdown. I took my camera out when walking my dog and just photographed nature. I spent a lot of time in nature. That was part of my self-care plan after my ‘Face to Face’ shoot,  going out and grounding myself in nature. The more time I spend in nature, the more connected I feel to myself, to mother-nature and to the universe. Everything makes sense in nature. Part of the process for the ‘Freedom Shoots’ is connection work and visualisation before we start shooting. So I ask my clients to connect with the earth, connect with the universe, connect with themselves and me. This is really just to feel and experience where they are, to draw on those things to help them create these amazing shapes and feelings of freedom. So they can let go as authentically and beautifully as possible and can have draw-dropping images of themselves.

Often in the gallery viewing my clients say ‘I cannot believe that’s me,’ and all I’ve done is given them a space to let go and the tools to be able to do that. It’s all them, allowing themselves to feel that and to be that. It’s a co-creation and I get so much from the work too. Through my own self-portraiture, I found my life purpose. To be able to join other women on their journey is such a privilege, honour and joy. It just confirms and strengthens my purpose, my values and what I love to do. 

I can imagine some clients may be a bit apprehensive about standing in front of a camera, how do you manage this? 


There’s a lot of prep-work that goes on before the shoots. We create a safe space together and decide how we’re going to work together - that’s really important. We create boundaries so there can be safe, free expression. I teach them something that I created for myself called ‘my inner critic tool.’ The morning of my ‘Freedom Shoot' I photographed my inner critic. That was totally weird and eye-opening and revealing. I was expecting her to be really scary and horrible, but she just turned out to be really sad, pathetic and massively disappointing. I started relating to my inner critic differently after that shoot. Everything that I learned while I was processing that, I put into my ‘inner critic tool’. It's a tool that my clients can use whenever they hear that negative internal voice. They learn how to quieten it down but not push it away. If we do that with any emotion it just gets bigger and it’s way too much work. 


For me, when I changed my relationship with my inner critic it felt like this fog of criticism had been moved. There behind this fog was me waving to myself saying ‘hi, I’ve been waiting a long time for you to find me.’ So it’s offering the client a different perspective of their inner critic, realising it's just another part of them. We check in with the inner critic during the shoot to make sure they are quietened down so we can be our most authentic self. 


With the ‘Freedom Shoots', I teach my clients breathing, movement and connection work that we do at the shoots. The idea of that is to give clients something to do. In all of my shoots there’s no posing or looking directly at the camera, it’s all about immersing yourself in the process and coming out of your head and into your body. I started working with a lady called Maria Koripas, who is a movement genius. She founded the Birkbeck School of Dance and trained at the Royal Opera House. She taught me this technique of breathing and movement, which set me free during my shoot. I use this, coupled with connection work, for my clients to go as deep as possible. There’s a magic moment in this work that I look for. I know exactly where it is, so it’s just about allowing my clients to feel safe enough to just let go as much as they can. It’s about doing less rather than doing more. It’s not about trying to do anything, it’s about letting go of the need to do anything. 

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Kathryn's 'Face to Face' shoot

Could you share a bit about the work you sent over to us?


This piece was really early in my ‘Face to Face’ shoot and was the first one I shared on social media. Although, I went into the shoot with the intention that I’d never share any image. My ‘Face to Face’ shoot was the catalyst for me to look after myself. It was the pivot point from which everything began to change. Change is constant and we’re constantly working on ourselves and this was the image that summed it all up for me. I’m looking directly at the camera and probably thinking ‘oh my goodness, I’m sitting with my most difficult emotions, where do I start? What am I going to do?’ This is me completely stripped bare. 


I don’t use any props with my clients in the ‘Face to Face’ shoots but the barbed wire for my image was deliberate. I wanted to express myself through that prop because that’s how my mental health felt. I felt completely trapped and I couldn’t get out. I would come across something spiky and it would be awful so I’d shrink back. 


This photo is really significant for me because it was one of the first ones I saw of myself and probably one of the first moments when I thought ‘that woman needs me, she needs me to look after her.’ With the work, once you see an image you can’t unsee it. I didn’t need to look at my gallery again for ages because I was processing what I had seen. I was processing in my body and my mind. Not looking after myself wasn’t an option then.

I know you’ve been involved in some exhibitions and events, could you tell me about one or two that have stood out for you?


Last year, I was asked to be involved in the '2020 Vision Project, Behind The Mask' for NHS and healthcare works, which was the brainchild of the wonderful Sophie Sheinwald. There were around 100 photographers up and down the country.  We were given our own area and task to find NHS or healthcare workers who’d be willing to be photographed for the project. I think there were upwards of 400 different people who were photographed in the end. There was an exhibition in London which was extraordinary.  It meant a lot to me because my mum, who passed away earlier this year, trained at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the 1960’s and was a nurse for most of her working-life. My brother is also an anaesthetist for the NHS, so it was wonderful to be part of the process and give my little nod to those who are looking after us so beautifully. 

Please share any lessons you have learnt from your photography and creative practices? 


Soon after I did my  ‘Face to Face’ shoot I met my creative mentor, a lady called Claire Louise. She unlocks people’s creativity in a very magical and beautiful way. I did a workshop of hers called ‘Shooting with Soul’ and it changed how I photograph. What she has taught me is to lean into my view of the world, to lean into my creativity, to trust my instincts and to go with what feels right and not what I should do.  


One piece of advice to anyone who likes photography is that you can’t get your creativity wrong. Just go with what you are instinctively drawn to and do what you feel called to do. Experiment and see what you come up with. Another lovely thing to do is to spend time with your images, rather than just to look at them. There will be a reason why some stand out to you, whether it’s of yourself, someone else, nature, or an urban shot. Why do you love it so much? What is your body telling you? What is it bringing up for you? Equally, it could be an image you absolutely hate. Why do you hate it? What is it reflecting in you? That’s really interesting in terms of what it can tell you about yourself, your own work and what you need to do. It’s equally important to notice what you’re drawn to and what you’re drawn away from because they will both speak to you powerfully and give you incredible insight. 

When I am choosing images for my client’s gallery, I want to be really considerate about why I’m choosing them. What is it about this particular image that I’m drawn to and is it to do with me and my stuff? So I have to make sure I'm checking in with myself. That’s part of the mutual journey. What do I see in myself in my clients? I may reflect that back to them in the gallery viewing. That kind of discussion is really interesting because it opens up chats that go in a completely different direction than what you’re expecting. The idea is to open up the conversation about what could be there and what the image is saying to you. What do you want to say to the person in the image? How will the image serve you in the future? 

I look at my images everyday and they are my anchor. I want my client's images to show them the amazing things that they are and help them make sense of the past. I also want the images to show them what is possible for them in the future. My images say to me: go with what you think and feel, don’t stop believing in yourself. That’s one of the gifts I want to give to my clients so they know that they matter, they are valued, and have been seen and heard. 


I fall in love with my client’s courage and resilience. I love the fact that they are there and happy for me to take them on this journey. They trust me and I’m a safe space for them. It’s such a beautiful journey; the self discovery and the revealing that goes on through their images. The little gasps when they first see their images is so lovely. 

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'Freedom Shoot'

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'Freedom Shoot'

What’s next for you? Do you have any future plans?


I’m speaking at the Photography Show in September at The NEC, which I’m really looking forward to. Only last week I started a project with a lady who I’ve interviewed and photographed. We’re doing a project together around the female voice and we are curious about what it means to be seen and heard. So we’re doing interviews and photography exploring how women can see and hear themselves and what we can learn from them. We are starting with a call out with women of colour and then we’ll widen it out because that’s where we feel is really important to start. 


What do you want the world to hear? If the world is listening, what would you say? How can we express that in an image? How can you see and hear yourself better? It’s a project we’re both really excited about. 


I also have my What Now?’ project going on which is a response to the pandemic. It’s an invitation for people to get curious about what they’ve learnt about themselves during the pandemic and what’s important for them to take forward. I’m interviewing some people about that and getting people to submit their images. I’ve got a gallery on my website and I'm hoping to turn some of those interviews into a book. 

See more of Kathryn's work on her website, instagram and facebook page. 

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