“I have been in a love affair with photography from day one, back in high school. Everything I know about photography has been from my own personal experience. I live and breathe photography. It is a beautiful way to see the world and connect with people. Discovering how much I love to teach is an extension of that joy. It is my job as a teacher to help my students express what is inside them, to help them express the beauty they see and feel.” – Catherine Karnow, professional photographer
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in the shoes of a National Geographic photographer on assignment? If you are someone who is passionate about photography and seeing the world, there is no doubt that being an acclaimed photojournalist tops high on your list of dream jobs. Like most children of the early 80s, I grew up reading National Geographic and was mesmerized by the photos of cultures and places so incredibly different from my own. Some of these images have remained forever engrained within my heart such as Steve McCurry’s iconic photograph of the beautiful haunting green-eyed Afghan girl who graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and has captivated the world ever since.
The power of photography is life-changing and transformative. Photographs have a way of touching us in surprisingly emotional ways. Perhaps this is why so many people love photography. It is an art like no other that involves both technical and creative skills, as well as an eye for seeing something magical. An element of photography that is often overlooked is the actual experience of it. A conversation with professional photographer, Catherine Karnow, whose impressive career has spanned over 40 years and whose work has appeared in National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian and other major international publications, enlightened me on the reasons why the experience of photography is so very special.
Catherine had an enchanting childhood. She was born and raised in Hong Kong by exceptional parents. Her father was the renowned journalist Stanley Karnow; and her mother Annette was a gifted artist who infused creativity into every aspect of her life. Annette’s eye for beauty and her passion for art was a strong influence on Catherine. From her father she learned a strong work ethic and the skill to be a story-teller. Her parents allowed her a great measure of independence and freedom, and as a young child she wandered around alone among the back streets of the Chinese fishing village where she grew up.
Catherine took her first photo class in high school and under the tutelage of an excellent teacher, she fell in love with photography. She graduated with honors from Brown University with degrees in Comparative Literature and Semiotics. After a brief career as a filmmaker, Catherine’s passion for photography drew her to Paris where she landed her first assignment 1986 and has been shooting professionally ever since.
One of the highlights of Catherine’s forty-year career is her special focus on Vietnam. Catherine’s fascination with Vietnam began in 1990, when her father interviewed General Giap for the New York Times. Although Catherine was not the photographer on that assignment, she found an opportunity to go to Vietnam on her own a few months later and had excellent access to not only General Giap, but also to many of Vietnam’s living heroes at that time. Catherine’s friendship with General Giap and his family opened the doors to twenty-six years of photography in Vietnam, a country that Catherine calls her spiritual home.