Catherine Elizabeth Patton is a Memphis-based photographer, born and raised in the city, who is the current UAC Billboard Series artist. We spent some time with Patton to learn more about her artistic practice and her beautiful blue image currently on view.
EA: What led to your becoming a photographer and did anything inspire you to become a photographer?
CP: “I fell into it. I was originally a broadcast journalism major and over time I started to take photos of friends and put them on Instagram because I just needed somewhere to put them... and people began to notice. I also was a dancer for a long time, so that probably contributed in some way.
It still feels unreal because I feel like an amateur.
EA: Does Memphis Influence your Work?
CP: I grew up in East Memphis and then went to Millsaps in Jackson, MS and realized I really wanted to stay in Memphis, so I transferred to University of Memphis because I love being home. Yea, I think Memphis influences my work. I have a lot of creative friends and I like to capture their vulnerability in the form of a photo. Also, me budding as an artist, I wouldn’t get the opportunities that I have now.
For example, just getting noticed for things like the billboard series and the opportunity to be shown with other black artists...I feel spoiled. I’m currently in a show called Fiber at the CLTV, and Tobacco, one of the artists, said in all of her years of showing that was the first time she was in a show with all black female artists. For those reasons, Memphis is helping me spread my wings and expand my art.
EA: What’s the story behind the Billboard photograph?
CP: Rudy (Memphis-based artist) was gearing up for an art show that she wanted to promote and she commissioned me for a series, in which she wanted to be presented like Eve… innocent, but still very knowing. She wanted to be confident in her womanhood because her series was playing on the idea of Eve without Adam; therefore I wanted to present her with a strength and softness.
Initially the blue light wasn’t being used, we played around with flowers and props, but I knew I wanted to work with blue light, especially on brown skin. I’m obsessed with it! There are people who don’t find blue light appealing on brown skin and I wanted to try my hand at proving that wrong and the idea of what black girls can and can’t do.
It became a mental note. We did it, it’s gorgeous and we [black girls] can do whatever we want. We created something really beautiful, not just in the lighting but the feeling. It’s one of my favorite photographs.
EA: What do you desire your work to convey when people interact with it?
CP: Other people tell me they see a theme in my work, especially with my portrait work. They say there’s an honesty with the way I capture my subjects and their vulnerability. I’m starting to realize that part of being an artist is being vulnerable...it makes you vulnerable.
EA: Has your work challenged you to become more vulnerable?
CP: Yea, it’s something I haven’t exactly liked to be either, but I definitely want to be more vulnerable I’m working on it. That can be so difficult for me because I find comfort behind the lens; however I’ve done one portrait series that will never see the light of day and that’s directly challenged my vulnerability.
Well, until I showed some of the work. It was a show curated by Lawrence Matthews at Lipscomb University. It’s basically a self-portrait series that addressed my anxiety and I get anxious when all eyes are on me. So, one night, I decided to create a hodge-podge set, took pictures of myself in a raw way, like never before. I wasn’t going to do anything with them, but in addressing those anxious feelings I knew I had to present the photos somewhere and show them somewhere. So I showed those portraits at Lipscomb and put myself in the space with the people who came to the show. They were seeing me and it allowed me to dissect myself and see how I deal with my anxiety.
EA: Who and what inspires your work lately?
CP: There are a lot of artists who inspire me and my work. Some are visual artist and some are performing artists. For example, Felipe Pantone inspires me because of how he works with color and patterns. The way he uses color is really intriguing. I love color too! Felipe Pantone’s mentor Carlos Cruz-Diez also inspires me. He’s a master at using color as well. They are amazing to me.
It’s funny though. I feel like a lot of the inspiration I get for my work lie outside of photography. There are different artists - performing artists like Auntrion Bradford. He’s a dancer whose movement inspires me and he’s also a really dear friend. I also work with Unapologetic, a collective of artists and musicians in Memphis. Seeing them be unapologetic helps me be as true to my work as they are to themselves. Also, local photographers like Ziggy Mack and Lawrence Matthews inspire me too. There’s so many! Oh yea, Raven Varona (Beyonce and Jay-Z’s concert photographer), is sick!
EA: You’ve mentioned that you see your work at the beginning, Where do you see your work going?
CP: “I’ve been thinking about this a lot,'' Patton said as she sighed. As mentioned before, her artistic practice is at a critical juncture where she is hoping to expand her photographic abilities and her capacity to create new things. We shared a few moments of silence and she relayed the following: “Where do I see my work going? ..Well, I love photography and I definitely like my work; however as of late I feel there should be more. The picture itself feels like a base for something...something more.
I see myself adding different elements to my work.
I see myself doing more in post-production…
working more with my hands to feel like I’m getting closer to the end of the sentence. Like I’ve started the phrase [with photography], but whatever that next element is will help me punctuate it. It’s something I’m excited about. Its helping me get deeper into my artistry”
One day, I would love to show at the MoMa of course, but I also want to explore the opportunity to show outside of brick and mortar. I would love to bring my work into the natural world. That’s why the billboard is important to me because I want more time to take up space in the natural world.