Make yourself known: Photographer Cait Oppermann
When Lecture in Progress launched back in April 2017, American photographer Cait Oppermann shared some stellar advice on starting out for emerging creatives. So when we heard she was back in London, we jumped at the chance to find out more about the twists and turns of her own career. Listening to between six and eight podcasts herself a day, we sat down to record her very own journey, from shooting sports, self-promotion and why she is ‘obsessed’ with her own productivity.
Airbnb, Nike, Bloomberg Businessweek, WIRED, TIME, The New Yorker
BFA Photography and Art History, Pratt Institute, New York (2007–2012)
A graduate of Pratt Institute’s photography course in Brooklyn, New York, Cait’s work has taken her all over the world. Working across editorial and commercial work, these days she counts the likes of Nike, Wired and TIME magazine as clients.
Cait’s photographs, rich with colour and intrigue, showcase a range of subjects, including sports stars, athletes and strange subcultures. And in the past, Cait has photographed everything from the world’s most expensive cars and the Westminster Dog Show (“so much fun, and so weird”) to Nike’s attempt to break the two-hour marathon record in Kenya and later, Milan.
But on top of this, Cait also avidly pursues a healthy roster of personal work. In fact, it was a personal project documenting the US Women’s National football team in 2015 that helped land her more sports-related commercial projects. Because of this, Cait feels it’s key to create the kind of work you want to be commissioned for: “If you want to get hired to shoot something, start shooting it yourself. Don’t wait around for that thing to come to you.”
“Make yourself available to the world. No one is going to come to you if you don't make yourself known.”
Growing up with a love of sports, it’s perhaps not surprising that Cait would go on to turn her lens towards athletes and training grounds: “I’m so interested in athletes and how their body is their work,” she affirms. Photos of locker room floors and sweat-lined temples and chins top up a portfolio that rigorously documents the realities of sporting life. “Authenticity is really important,” Cait explains, “When I first started shooting, I would just ask people to do things [...] It's so important to talk with your subjects, even before the camera comes out.”
None of this came easy, however, and Cait has seen her process – and confidence – evolve over time. Recounting an early commission to photograph a young, millennial republican for Bloomberg Businessweek, Cait explains how being forced to find a new location proved to be a pivotal lesson. Walking into a nearby Hilton Hotel in New York, “we just looked like we knew what we were doing. If you do something with confidence, people really believe you. I've really tried to live that way in how I work; if you need to get something done, you do whatever it takes – ethically – to get it done.”
When asked to describe what she does, Cait says, “I guess it’s pretty straightforward...” but the path to getting there wasn't quite so linear. Initially enrolling at Pratt to study graphic design, Cait made the difficult decision to take a year off, during which she realised photography was the correct calling for her: “Looking back at that decision, I felt like a failure. I felt awful about leaving school. But I'm so, so happy that I did that [...] it solidified what was important to me.”
Looking back on her initial years starting out, Cait shares some advice on self-promotion, telling us how she reached out to industry by sending out photographic postcards to magazines, before encouraging emerging creatives to remain open and humble as their careers develop: “Make yourself available to the world. No one is going to come to you if you don't make yourself known.”
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
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