Composing the Perfect Shot: How Katie McCurdy Views Photography
(Sandra Oh photographed by Katie McCurdy for the cover of S Moda. Styling / Petra Flannery; Hair / Derek Yuen; Makeup / Kirin Bhatty.)
When taking a picture, a photographer transforms into an orchestra conductor. The photographer almost hears the camera as they balance the settings, measure the light, and focus on the subject before pressing the button. The camera’s click marks the crescendo of years of practice and what is happening now.
(Yara Shahidi photographed by Katie McCurdy for Porter Magazine; Styled by Natasha Royt.)
Katie McCurdy is the Chopin of the camera. She composes images that draw your eye and make you feel. McCurdy melodizes the principles of photography and movement to allow you to see the essence of her subject. I had the chance to speak with her to learn more about her career insights.
(A self-portrait taken by Katie McCurdy for Departures Magazine ‘The Future of Fashion, 2020 Visionaries’)
1. What does photography mean to you?
To me, photography means capturing the moment. Sometimes, it's a moment I've already had in my head that I'm trying to articulate through the creation of the shot; it's a moment that happens organically, and I am able to find that moment and capture it honestly.
(Katie McCurdy photographed Sadie Sink in a series where "Sadie Sink says farewell to her teens:
“The memories I made in my hometown stick with me the most…. which is funny because I spent the least amount of time here. I think it’s because I’ve never associated this place with work. It’s always been the place where I could just be a kid...I always thought 20 was such a mature age. Now I think your early 20’s are just a glorified extension of your teenage years. I feel mature in many ways, but I certainly don’t feel like an adult. I’ll give it five more years. Maybe you have to be old enough to rent a car in order to truly feel like a younger adult.”)
2. How has your photography evolved from your earliest to most recent work?
I've always tried to capture an honest narrative or true moments as they are happening. I think when I was younger, my approach was less considered and I just wanted to get in there and take photos, which is a great place to start when you're making work. Now as I've grown in my practice, I'm much more specific, and the process is more thought out. Lighting, subject, narrative, how I'd like the project to be edited into a story, how it builds upon work I've already made, and how it speaks to me as an artist. Then and now the excitement of creating is still there which I think is important in any stage of career.
(Pete Davidson photographed by Katie McCurdy for GQ Magazine.)
3. How do you know you got "the shot"?
Sometimes, I don't know until after the shoot if I've got the shot. I shoot primality with film, which is both exciting and scary. I'll wait until the film is processed, and then when I'm editing, a shot will stick, and I'll know it's the one. Other times, while I'm shooting, I'll see the shot happen, and I'll get so excited, and that image will be burned into my brain until I have the film back, and I'm anxiously waiting to see it from the negative. Either way, it feels like lightning once you see it, and you just know.
(Marihhenny for Evereden photographed by Katie McCurdy in NYC; Styling: Solange Franklin.)
4. What advice would you give students and young professionals wanting to become photographers?
Above all, make work. Follow what you gravitate towards. Don't rush, ask questions, be humble, take time for yourself. Fall in love and make work about it, have your heart broken and make work about it, be kind to yourself, be patient. Call your parents if you are lucky enough to have them. Stay up all night working on something you can't put down. Always talk to the eccentric person in the loud outfit. Talk to everyone. Be yourself and keep searching for your voice. Find people you think 'get' it, be nice to everyone even if they aren't nice to you - but don't let anyone tell you who you are. Know when to shout and know when to listen, send handwritten notes, be gracious, and make friends with everyone you can. Believe in luck, but anchor in work that makes you feel something. Keep learning, keep moving forward even if it feels like you've taken 100 steps back. Help anyone who asks, and don't be afraid to ask for help yourself. Go outside your comfort zone, write down your ideas so you don't forget them, and never tell yourself no.
(Steph & Aeysha Curry photographed by Katie McCurdy in SF for Sweet July.;Art Director / Erin Hover
Photo editor / Noelle Lacombe; Styling / Sherri McMullen; Hair / Sonia Cosey; Makeup / Ashley Bias; Set design / Suzie Holmstrom; Production / Hinoki Group.)
5. Is a picture worth 1000 words?
I think a picture can be worth as many words as you feel when you're looking at it. Understanding the story behind the image is helpful for context, but in my opinion, a photo doesn't need any words or explanation. It should visually move you.
(Sarah Sherman photographed by Katie McCurdy in NYC. Styling / Ashley Abtahie;; Hair / Dana Boyer
Makeup / Mitch Yoshida.)
6. Who is one person you would love to work with?
Lady Gaga. I say this in every interview, hoping I will manifest it to life.
(Marc Jacobs Daisy Spring ‘21 photographed by Katie McCurdy in upstate New York; Set design by Andy Harman.)