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Karin Catt Portraits

Previous exhibition
from Thursday 20 July until Sunday 12 November 2006

Australian photographer Karin Catt has photographed world leaders, a host of rock stars and Oscar-winning compatriots Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Cate Blanchett. This exhibition showcases Catt's strikingly direct portraits over the last decade.

Peter Garrett by Karin Catt
Peter Garrett by Karin Catt

In ten years Australian photographer, Karin Catt has shot across the spectrum of celebrity, her subjects including rock stars Elton John, Sting, Lou Reed, AC/DC, David Byrne, REM, PJ Harvey and Eminem, world leaders Bill Clinton, George Bush Snr, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama, and compatriot Oscar winners Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe. Combining her passion for photography with an enduring love of music, fashion, travel and people, she has woven her interests determinedly into a strong New York-based career.

Karin Catt was born in Newcastle, the daughter of British-born parents. Her father was a keen amateur photographer and her grandfather ran the film studios for MGM in Britain. Her grandfather's equipment became Karin's and the joy of taking her first polaroid photograph at the age of 5 has never left her.

At the age 12 she took her first celebrity portrait - charismatic Michael Hutchence singer of Australian band INXS at the Newcastle Workers Club. It meant sneaking out of her bedroom, photographing at night and then developing the film under the stairs in her own darkroom the next day.

Growing up in Newcastle, Karin was fortunate to travel often with her parents between England, Europe and Asia, developing an understanding of the diversity of the wider world. As a young person, Karin was interested in collecting European and American books, magazines and movies about the 1950s and 1960s and she daydreamed that one day she would live in such exotic locations.

After school, Karin commenced studies at Newcastle University but took time off to travel to Europe. Starting in Italy and briefly trying a career in modelling, she then moved to London to pursue other studies and work experience. After three years she returned to university to complete her Bachelor of Arts whilst living in Sydney. Though modelling as a profession was not for her, it did teach the photographer an important lesson - what it is like to be in front of the lens.

One of her first major breaks came from photographing her friend, Australian designer Marc Newson. He recommended her work to Vogue Australia who then commissioned Catt to do a portrait of Newson which in turn lead to other portrait and fashion shoots for Vogue, Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar, Elle, Rolling Stone and many other local and international clients. Friends are important as subjects and she called on her network of artists, actors, musicians and film directors whose careers were in their infancy. As fate would have it, figures such as Miranda Otto, Danielle Spencer, Russell Crowe, Heath Ledger, Guy Pearce, Marc Newson and rappers Eminem and Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson have established significant careers all over the world.

Catt has been given access to a variety of celebrities photographing them in a spectrum of private and public moments. Once she was allowed inside the closed world of actor Jack Nicholson. He agreed to do a shoot with Catt, and accorded her the compliment of coming up very close to her face and drawling 'you're a very lucky girl'. When photographing senior rock legend, Lou Reed, she recalls that she got the not-unaccustomed feeling that he was thinking 'Here's this girl... ' - but when she pulled out a Hasselblad camera he said, 'Oh, so you're a real photographer, Karin'. Another time she convinced Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook to be snapped inside a hotel dumb waiter - but in the process she was mortified when he singed the top of his head!

Karin Catt states her favourite photographers include Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Guy Bourdin, Jurgen Teller and Henri Cartier-Bresson but it is her camera selection that determines the final result more than her photographic heroes. Most of her portraits are taken on her Hasselblad. For her that camera's square format and sharp lens dictates a very symmetrical image. Whilst her lighter 35mm equipment allows her more freedom to shoot from the hip.

Catt works hard and fast, her commitment to photography going well beyond a job. Her work appointments are so numerous that little of the week is left for eating and sleeping. Travelling almost weekly across America and often monthly to Europe she is well used to jumping on a plane at a moments notice. The manic pace of shooting fashion editorials, advertisements and celebrities suits New York based Karin who survives on chocolate and coffee downed whilst trying to pull together a team of specialists to assist her on the next photographic assignment. It's the instant gratification of photography that remains seductive to her and the never ending list of interesting people she wants to go under her lens.

Simon Elliott

21 portraits

1 50 Cent,. 2 AC/DC,. 3 Pierce Brosnan,. 4 David Byrne,. 5 Naomi Campbell,. All by Karin Catt.

Related people

Karin Catt

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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