Portrait artist and filmmaker Catalina Kulczar is a natural storyteller who connects easily and authentically with her subjects and what drives them.
Her work tends to be project based, or to involve groups of portraits that convey a bigger theme, frequently exploring topics rooted in women’s roles in contemporary work and society. She is interested in creating informed narratives about individual women who have courageously overcome resistance and obstacles in their paths, no matter what the sector.
Catalina was born in Caracas, Venezuela to Hungarian parents. She comes from a long line of immigrants and strong-willed women who have survived wars, the Nazis, and tremendous upheaval in search of a better life “elsewhere,” always with their optimism and sense of humour intact.
"The HUM is a music series curated by Rachael Paadzan and she's been doing this for four years; she knows all the phenomenal kick-ass professional female musicians in town and she partners anywhere from three to five women who have never performed together before to rehearse and perform together 3-5 songs.
Over the course of four evenings, these women perform their set in front of a live audience. When I knew that the HUM was happening last summer, I asked Rachael, if I could come and make individual portraits before they go on stage. This series was shot at the Good Room, a dance club in Greenpoint. I made these portraits in the green room. I took it on this shoot as a personal challenge because there were a total of 80 women performing for the HUM series. To light 80 individual women in the same spot, slightly different and get show personalities all in less than five minutes - this was a huge technical challenge that I gave myself"
Post-Election Day Portraits
"The night of the election, I was super excited. I think it was nine or 9:30pm and Hilary was ahead in the polls. When I woke up in the morning, I was physically ill and I was upset, I was pissed. I thought this is… we're fucked, we're fucked. I was full of rage and I needed to do something about it. I have learned that some of the best ways to release my anger are through running, swimming taking photos. I had to get this rage out of my body and I contacted a group of moms that live in my neighborhood… I told them i'd like to make their portrait with their babies and I also want to know from you, what do you fear the most about Trump winning the elections? 15 moms came into my studio. It felt good to take my rage and make it into something and not just let it eat me inside."
"Laboratoria is a social enterprise that was started in Lima, Peru five years ago. They empower women of low-income means, 17 to 35 and after 6 months of coding bootcamp, they graduate as front-end developers. In addition, Laboratoria helps place these women in jobs in the tech sector, and in doing so, they help these women TRIPLE their household income. Now keep in mind, some of these girls didn't even know where the power button was on a laptop. Some travel up to two hours each way, Monday through Friday, nine to five, to get to and from Laboratoria. Laboratoria started in Lima and they're now in five different countries and they've graduated over 1000 women and placed them in jobs in the tech sector, tipping the scales in the male-to-female ratio in the industry. I was so excited for these girls because they've gone through so much and they may face hardships at home and knowing what it took to get to where they were, sitting in front of my lens, I had the utmost respect for them. Some of them are mothers, some of multiple kids. I mean these women are made of steel. They're incredibly inspiring women."
"This is the phenomenal artist James Victore. He's also a motivational and inspirational speaker for creatives. We collaborated with MailChimp for eight months and together, conceptualized together this idea of "creative chaos". We wanted to find a way to represent all of the chaos that surrounds us as artists, and we landed on showing James, cool calm and collected in a monochromatic set, and we represented the chaos through milk. 50 gallons to be exact. He's standing in an exact replica of his studio on a sound stage at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We worked with a liquid rig team of around 20 people in order to throw the milk. They built a 3-story tall structure that held the milk, and released it at the precise angle and moment that I needed. I was the Director of this video - my debut - and James was a dream to work with. All in all, it took us 8 months of preproduction to make this shoot happen. Two days of set building, one day to light the set, and two days to fiom. We ended up with a total of 10 takes/ 10 throws. It took about an hour to clean up after each shot. We filmed this in slow motion - 1k frames per second to be exact - and also made photos with a rig that was located next to the video camera.
Prepping for a shoot
"I try to research whomever i'm photographing ahead of time. If it's possible, I also try to communicate with them ahead of time. For location shoots, I try to find out where I'm making the portrait - a home, office, etc - and if I can't get those answers beforehand, I have enough experience under my belt to be able to walk into the location and within a few minutes I know exactly how I want to light it. Once I have my basic lighting, then I am able to shape and adjust the light accordingly. I feel pretty confident walking into any space and lighting it quickly."
Handling your subject on a shoot
"I can't emphasize enough how important it is to do your homework ahead of time and find as many videos of the folks that you're photographing. That's one of the things that I've come to the realize. Watching videos and seeing their body language, and how they move, helps me prepare ahead of a shoot. I just had an experience with someone who never wore glasses until this past year. So that's a lighting challenge in and of itself because you don't want to get the reflections in the portraits. That was one of the questions that I had in my pre-production call. If glasses are a part of who you are, you're keeping your glasses and I will make it work regardless. Doing your research and finding couple talking for your time together is always a bonus.
"I've shifted how I present my work. Somebody in the photography industry gave me some really good advice. I now have a folder that is called "experimental", and when it's appropriate, I make a conscious effort to shot that first, because that's the work that I'm really excited to share. It's the pantyhose, it's the prisms, it's the kaleidoscopes. It's the gels. It's more of these things, these analog, these objects in front of the lens that really make for an interesting portrait that's going to make you stop for a minute. I also have an editorial folder and I have a commercial folder, so depending on where I go, I have folders for different clients.