So many things come to mind when I think of Karen Gowen. Artist, friend, mom, wife, community builder and someone who will scale a cliff and take the leap, literally. And, as a photographer what makes Karen’s work so special is the way she captures the human spirit. When I look at her pictures I see a story, not just a moment in time.
I met Karen during summers in Greensboro, Vermont, but I really got to know her on a lady’s trip to Havasupai in the Grand Canyon. While I had known Karen before, it was during this adventure where I really got to know her heart and humanity. I loved getting to see our surroundings through her artistic lens.
While I am in awe of Karen as an artist, it is her sense of community that I admire the most. Karen loves bringing people together and supporting those she cares about. Karen takes the time to dig into the many layers of a community finding its gems and using her voice to share it with others. She is so thoughtful and generous and you can have no bigger supporter in your corner. Karen is also famous for bringing lots of different women together. I love it because through Karen I have gotten to know a lot of amazing women I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
Karen’s latest project has been a bright spot in this crazy time. Through her photos, she is capturing hometown heroes. Her images capture the bravery and humanity of the people who are out there still doing their jobs, risking their health to make our lives easier. You can find these beautiful portraits on Karen’s Instagram page @KarenGowenPhotography.
HERE IS MY INTERVIEW WITH HER
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
I have been a portrait photographer for over 20 years and have been fortunate enough to have had many mentors along the way. The most important advice they gave me was to learn to say “no thank you” to clients who did not fit my style. In the early days of my business, I thought I had to say yes to every client who contacted me. Many had used a few other photographers in my area who were known for staged and highly posed portraits. I tried to be like them and my art really suffered. Once I shifted to being true to my natural, unposed journalistic style and shed the clients who didn’t fit, my business took off. I even rebuilt my website to reflect my style which scared off people who were looking for posed and polished images rather than images of kids being kids. A funny thing happened a few years into my shift…I noticed my competition trying to shoot images like mine!!!
What other women do you admire, and anything you want to share about them?
When I was younger, I did not have tons of female friends. I hated the drama and was not one to travel in a large pack. Who would have thought that in middle age the women in my life would become essential to my survival! I am now the connector who gathers large groups to circle up and support each other. My Vermont pack is filled with talented, intelligent and really interesting women, just like you Whitney! A group of us hiked the Grand Canyon a few years ago and it was epic—-and DRAMA free! We all Zoom regularly during this difficult time and they are all making it just a little bit better for me on the days we connect.
I will give a shout out to a dear friend, Marion Stegner, who became a friend and artistic mentor the minute we met. We collaborated on projects, traded books and puzzles and she inspired me to learn how to carve wooden spoons which has become a great Zen break from the hustle and bustle of photography. She lived well into her 80’s and chose joy even in her darkest times. Often when I would tell her about adventures I had planned, she would reply “I did that when I was your age!” We would then trade stories about hiking the Grand Canyon, Walking in Scotland and being from Pennsylvania. We both escaped to the North East Kingdom where we could be wild and free! I miss her every day but feel her presence in Vermont whenever a hummingbird visits my feeder.
What app can’t you live without?
I love Instagram and have been using it since it started. I also love many photo editing apps including Pic-Tap-Go, Hipstamatic and Snapseed. The New York Times Crossword app is also part of my daily brain training routine!
What is your favorite podcast and or book?
I love listening to audiobooks and podcasts when I drive from PA to Vermont. Dak Shepherd’s Armchair Expert makes the time fly by. Michelle Obama’s Becoming is beautiful and made better by listening to her read it aloud. I recommend The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. My claim to fame is that I read the first 5 Harry Potter books out loud to my three kids using voices for all of the characters! I am sad that some children have seen the movies rather than reading the books. My daughter was Harry’s age as each book came out and it was truly magical for her!
What piece of advice would you share with other women?
In this uncertain time, be sure to take time out each day to reflect upon what you are grateful for and like Marion, choose joy! I see lots of posts on social media about people cleaning madly and feeling stressed if they do not accomplish great things each day they are stuck at home. Instead, stop what you are doing and get out in nature and breathe deeply. If you are home with your kids, read to them, laugh with them and make memories that will last forever. Oh and of course eat chocolate every single day!! Humans are resilient and we will find a way forward. It is my hope that we will all connect more and support each other despite having different views, backgrounds, and approaches to life.
What are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for my family. They are my everything and I am counting the days until we can all be together again to hug, laugh and dance!
Is there anything else you want to share with my readers?
I’d love for your readers to check out my personal project I am working on during this crisis. I am photographing the unsung frontline heroes who are delivering our packages, cooking our takeout, fixing our broken appliances and more. I would love to photograph the doctors and nurses who are putting their lives on the line each and every day but I am STAYING HOME!!!