Catherine Just is an award winning photographer, artist and mentor. Her work has been published on the cover of National Geographic Magazine, and inside Photo District News Magazine, Oprah.com, Annapurna Living and other publications online and off. Her photographic career started in 1987 after she checked herself into drug treatment from a crystal meth addiction. In early sobriety she found that she could express visually what was so uncomfortable for her to express verbally. She studied Conceptual Photography at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and began an exploration of self-portraiture and alternative processes. Catherine believes that photography can be used to gather up evidence of what’s living in between the words. She uses photography as a tool for transformation. She is the co-founder of the here co. with Henry Lohmeyer, a space that offers photography courses, workshops and photo sessions with an emphasis on time spent together, supporting each other’s unique creative expression. Catherine is the proud mama of her 6 year old son Max, who happens to have Down syndrome. She’s in the process of creating the Max Harrison Foundation, a hub to teach children with DS how to express themselves through photography.
1. What’s your medium of choice and what do you love about it?
My medium of choice is photography. Photography, for me, is a tool for transformation. When I was 18 years old, photography was a doorway to heal after I got sober from an addiction to crystal meth. It was and continues to be a medium that helps me process through difficult emotions and experiences. It’s also helped me create evidence by marking moments in my life that really matter. It helps me shift my attention from my mind down into my heart.
I love Polaroid and the mystery that it provides as well as the immediacy. I love that it sees things differently than I do, so I never really know what to expect. I love that I can’t really control every aspect of it. I love using long exposures to investigate a world I sense, but can’t really hold onto. It’s a world that I cannot see with my eyes or capture at a 60th of a second. It’s a world that’s in between the words. I love using the camera to see the unseen places: the places within a relationship that are felt but not spoken, the places within my heart that are hidden and broken, the places where fear lives, the unspoken dreams and wishes. I love creating a visual language around subject matter that has been difficult for me to express verbally.
2. What are you working on right now? What’s on your camera/desk/easel or in your studio?
The Big news right now is that I’ve teamed up with Henry Lohmeyer to create the here co. We’re building the curriculum for several online photography courses, live photography workshops (Los Angeles and NYC are already on the schedule ) and teaming up during photo sessions for clients in the music, entertainment and entrepreneurial industries.
I’m also working on a fine art project called “Chasing the Fog::Learning how to Breathe” which has been a 2 year exploration of identity through self-portraiture, polaroids, long exposure, metaphor and symbology.
3. What practices/activities are most valuable to your creative process?
I love working with a mentor that I check in with monthly. It helps me do the work when my life can feel consuming. I also have a group of photographer friends I meet with monthly to go over our personal projects with and give really constructive feedback. Those are the external practices. I also give myself a lot of room to explore even when I think I know what I want an image to look like ahead of time. Once I start creating the images, I give up a lot of control and listen, watch, lean in and have a conversation with the work as I’m making it. I never really believe that a photo is “bad” because it gives me so much information about what needs to happen in the next photo. It’s all information. I have two very distinct ways of working…One is to journal in a very specific way with a mind map process at the end of the journaling session. I use that to then move into my art making process. The other is to throw all of that out the window and just start making work. Both are so valuable to me and offer personal freedom that I need in order to feel safe in the creative process. Having too rigid of a system or a personal dogma of how things need to go….would probably kill the flow for me.
4. What’s one thing you want to share with others about your art and/or process?
Photography has truly helped me to live. It’s helped me explore and express myself through the darkest of times and has helped me document incredibly meaningful moments I never thought I’d experience in my lifetime. When I’m devoted to myself and to my work a shift occurs that I could have never expected. A layer of pain is transformed or I become more deeply accepting of it and my work actually has something to say to me if I listen closely and try not to orchestrate an outcome.
5. What advice would you give to your young artist self?
I read this question several times and thought about where I was at in my life when I started out as an artist. I was newly sober and so insecure that I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. I was smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day just to put something in between my very sensitive, raw crawling out of my own skin self and the world around me. Making my work was a bridge from my intense desire to “leave” to my fierce devotion to “stay.” I really don’t have any advice to give my younger self! I think it was a brave move to stand up for myself and for another shot at living. I’m grateful I used the art process to get acquainted with myself and the world around me.
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