Thursday Spotlight: Catalina Kulczar on Capturing the Light in Others

Melissa and Aneesha from Catalina’s Let Love Reign series
Catalina Kulczar is the best kind of photographer: selfless. Her portraits illuminate the beauty in others, and her projects — individually crafted and triumphantly executed — are marked by a social justice bent that lets underrepresented voices sing. Her many and diverse photography series have included moving portraits of girls celebrating their quinceañera and portraits, both loving and poignant, of same-sex couples awaiting marriage equality. That last project is the inspiration for a new book she discussed with Greenpointers — a queer-affirming anthology she’s looking to publish with the help of a Kickstarter. We caught up with the local photographer to discuss her passion projects, inspirations, and favorite neighborhood hangouts.
Greenpointers: How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
Catalina Kulczar: I have lived in Brooklyn since 2011 — three years in Fort Greene, then we moved to Greenpoint in summer 2014.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood spot?
I love going to Brooklyn Label. I love how much natural light fills the place year-round, and the staff there is always friendly and welcoming.

In your portraits, what kinds of people do you most enjoy capturing?
The people I most enjoy capturing are those who are open to my vision for their portrait. There’s thought that goes into each session and when I share ideas with my subjects, the feedback I receive is telling of how open/willing/closed they are to trying something new, something unexpected, which in my experience tends to lead to beautiful, powerful and honest versions of themselves.
A portrait of singer David Byrne
You have a Kickstarter! Can you share the link and purpose of the campaign?
In 2009 — a few months before moving to New York from Charlotte, NC — I was talking to Juan Miguel (my life-partner) about my frustration with the lack of marriage equality in our state, and across other states in the USA.
How is it that in this forward-thinking country, something as basic as marriage equality was not in effect?
Why was it that two men or two women in loving, committed relationships did not have the same rights in marriage that I did?
I took my frustration and turned it into art: My inspirations for this project were Tim and Ron, a couple in Charlotte who at the time had been in a committed relationship for 25+ years, 10 of those running a beautiful design shop in Charlotte — a store I frequented. After I photographed them, I photographed six other same-sex couples and Let Love Reign was born. I won a grant that allowed me to exhibit portraits of the seven Charlotte couples in an art show, and I also had a billboard featuring Tim and Ron over one of Charlotte’s busiest highways — with over three million impressions — which, if you think about it, was a pretty ballsy thing to do in 2009.
Tim and Neil from Catalina’s Let Love Reign series
After the billboard was taken down, I found a company in Texas that recycled it and made 100 unique messenger bags. I plan on offering some of them as rewards for my Kickstarter campaign.
Fast forward, I spent the next seven years traveling the country, meeting, interviewing and photographing same-sex couples. Each couple has a compelling, inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking story to share about how they came out, how they were accepted (or not) by their family, and how they found their partner.
I knew from the start of this project that I wanted to take these stories and portraits and make a book. A time capsule, if you will, of a moment in our history that needed to be documented. Between lack of interest and two offers that required me to pay a large amount of money (that I didn’t have) upfront, I decided to take matters into my own hands and crowdfund the book.
I am doing a Kickstarter so I can print this 208-page book that features 50 same-sex couples; their portrait and their story of love, heartbreak, resilience and hope. My writer, copy editor and proofreader are in the final stages of the book. My designer is putting the finishing touches to each layout, I’m finalizing each of the 50 photographs and my printer out in California is waiting for the final files! We are so so close, but the cost to print books is very expensive, and my hope is that through Kickstarter, enough people pre-order the book so we can finally print it.
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform so if I don’t raise the $50K, I won’t be able to print the book. There are plenty of reward tiers, and I feel confident that enough people out there feel this is an important book to publish.
I’m also hopeful that people be excited enough to share the campaign with their friends/family/contacts and in doing so, more people will find out about the project and more people will pre-oder/support me in some way.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind your series The Taper Principal, where we see people’s portraits but of their backs?
Absolutely! Mike Sposito, a friend and talented barber here in Greenpoint, talked about collaborating on a project and originally, we planned on making portraits of his clients to make a 2018 version of the old school buzz cut posters. I ended up photographing 40 of his clients in a few positions – including a front-facing portrait and a portrait of the back of their heads. I printed out 2″x3″ proofs of all the photos I took, and when I started to move these prints around, I started to group all the back-of-head portraits and fell in love with them. I remember thinking that the back of haircuts is beautiful and its a work of art all unto itself! I thought this was an underrated and overlooked perspective and created The Taper Principle with Sposito. We had a lot of fun putting that together.
Do you have any artistic endeavors outside of portrait photography and direction?
I love making GIFs and stop-motion pieces — literally getting my hands into a project and away from the computer screen. Clients are asking for more quirky, unexpected motion pieces that are short and sweet.
A photograph from Catalina’s Post-Election photo shoot
Anything else to add?
Photography is a legacy of a person or an object in a specific point in time. I love that the work I am creating will be here for future generations and it’s why I feel so passionately about many of my personal photography series, including my Kickstarter for Let Love Reign, the Quinceañeras — a group of orphan girls I photographed in Quito, Ecuador; my collection of David Byrne portraits and collaborations over the last seven years;
my post-election day portraits, where I took my rage with the election results and made portraits of fellow moms and their children and asked them a few poignant questions, among other projects.
I am grateful that these projects all enrich and make me a better, more patient and more empathetic human being., and I hope I can inspire people with my work.
A shot from Catalina’s Quinceañera series

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Indiewire, HowlRound, Eclectica Magazine, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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