Fine Art Photography Daily

Success Stories: Kathleen McLaughlin

I am absolutely thrilled to share the success story of Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin, as I have had a ringside seat in observing the long road from major project to self publishing a magnificent book, The Color of Hay. It is a culmination of 10 years of hard work and the result is a beautifully designed and printed exploration of Transylvania at the turn of the Millenium-a place of “waterwheels and horse-carts facing erosion by the incoming tide of a modernizing European Union. During this pivotal time, in a remote valley of northern Romania called Maramures, peasants have kept their traditions alive and defied assimilation since the Romans. Now, a final generation is going about their daily farming chores and raising children who have the opportunity to leave their ancestral villages and make a modern life in a world of change.”

For over two years, Kathleen and her husband lived as peasants do—relying on a wood burning stove, bathing without running water, and sharing one roof with three generations. Kathleen’s medium format photographs cover all four seasons of life in Maramures and essays by her writer husband, H. Woods, help add depth and explanation.

And for almost a decade Kathleen has actively promoted and exhibited this work, with the the idea of a book always on her goal list. After much dedicated research, she decided to raise funds and publish it herself, allowing for complete control over design, pacing, quality, and presentation. But this also means that she needs to distribute and sell the book herself. To purchase one, two, or ten, visit The Color of Hay. She is also raising funds on Kickstarter (see below) to help fund her final payments. Be sure to watch the video for deeper insights into the project.

Huge congratulations on your book being published! I know this has been an arduous long road and in some ways, it feels like you have given birth to your third child (Kathleen has two lovely sons, aged 2 and 6). What must it feel like holding your “baby”, that took over 10 years to create?

Thanks! Yes, it has been quite a long road to book publication. It has felt like a birth, though from a 10 year pregnancy, the last 6 years of which have been active labor. My intention since the beginning of this project, in 1999, was to make a book. When villagers asked me “why are you here?” I would say, “to photograph your traditions and life – and to make a book.” As strange as that may sound, they understood this because their national t.v. and church tell them their land (Maramures) is blessed. So they know they are special.

Let’s back up. I often share your resume with my students as an example of how much a photographer can accomplish with one major series. Your work crossed back and forth into fine art and documentary, finding a voice in both worlds. When you were making the work, how did you see it, what arena were you hoping to launch it in?

In 1997 I was in grad school with Carol Golemboski and was in awe of the quality of her fine art photographs. Even though I was not a conceptual photographer, I wanted to make fine art quality silver gelatin prints. The following year, I interned at Mary Ellen Mark’s studio. There I was able to see the quality of her prints (she uses medium format film) and understood how her work crosses over in to fine art photography. I decided then to go with medium format and bought a Mamiya 7.

What was the most exciting accomplishment you have had with the work?

I received both IREX (funded by the NEH) and Fulbright Senior Scholar grants from the strength of this work. These grants enabled me to return to Romania for a second year, fully funded. Also, having my portfolio published in LensWork and receiving the Houston Center for Photography fellowship were just as significant and exciting because they were validations from the fine art photography community.

The way photographers promote and market themselves has changed radically in the past few years. Have you continued to market the work using new areas of the Internet?

I launched a Kickstarter campaign, a crowd sourcing website for creative projects. I need some remaining money for my book and took the bold step to put myself out there. It has been surprising and wonderful to see how many people have come forward to back my project. People I know and many I don’t know. While I’m attempting to raise money, I’m also promoting my book.

Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, or any other sites?

I have loads of friends on FB 😉 I think it’s interesting how several years ago I would never have known personal things about a gallerist or curator, and now I know what they did on a given day and what their niece looks like. I love that there’s more of an open connection between us and them. I created a page on FB for my book and am trying to get people to ‘Like’ it. I finally joined Twitter and sometimes feel I have something twitterable. I joined Flickr so that I could join the NPR Picture Show in hopes they choose my image for Picture of the Day – and it worked. I love Tumblr and use that to promote my book – uploading images, sayings, captions, and such. And I have some of them connected – so when I tweet it gets posted on FB.

How does having created a large, luscious book compare to having a solo show–is one more satisfying?

They’re satisfying in different ways. Having a solo show can be physically demanding and intense. At some openings, it felt like my wedding night all over again. It’s a great reward after having put so much hard work in the darkroom and framing the photos.

And having a book lasts longer. The work takes longer but the book is out there and more people can appreciate and see the work.

As an educator, photographer, and person who makes things happen, what advice can you give emerging photographers about navigating the photographic waters?

Look at other photographers’ work and attend exhibitions. Join the Society for Photographic Education ( and attend SPE conferences – both regional and national. This is one example of where to network. It’s important to meet your peers – not just on Facebook. Keep up to date with how images are represented and shared. And lastly, one I hold dear – be persistent. Anything is possible if you work hard and make it happen. It took me three attempts at the Fulbright and a lot of determination to make this book come to fruition.

Spreads from The Color of Hay

Can you give us some insight into the process of publishing your own book–costs, hours, frustrations, thrills….

It was important for me to find a book designer who was willing to collaborate with me. This is in addition to the fact that the designer’s work is amazing and someone who I’d be honored to design my book. My designer, Frances Baca, was the third designer I worked with, and she graciously allowed us to go back and forth for 3 years. Knowing that I did not have the gift or skill of book design, I gave her full reign. She edited and sequenced the work. I did my best to fight for some images that didn’t make her cut, while respecting her when she said no, and of course, loving it when she said yes.

I looked for a printer for years – since 2001. I attempted to find a publisher and gave up because my subject – peasants – is narrow and I wasn’t getting any bites. I realized I needed to print this book myself in 2004 (after attending Fotofest and Santa Fe Review). Fortunately, a lovely publisher gave me the tip to a Chinese printer, Oceanic Graphic Printing, who prints for MOMA, Radius Books, and Nazraeli Press. I adore Alex Hau, who holds your hand from start to finish.

The cost of having a book is expensive, and will continue to be. Once you establish your funding, the process is exciting and at times stressful because of the added costs involved (proofs and FedEx). The advantage of being your own publisher is that once your loan or funder is paid back, any remaining profits are yours. This could go towards your second book, a new Epson printer, a new project, that is if you market your work and sell the books. Also, there was once a stigma attached to self-publishing, but that’s fading.

How are you going about selling, distributing, and getting the word out about your book?

I’m selling the book online at which has a PayPal account and I take checks as well. My website has actively tagged words so that people fine my site. A search on Transylvania will get you there. When I get the orders, I fulfill them out of the giant cube of book-boxes stored in my garage.

There are days I’m on my computer all day, researching for possible exhibition, publication, or lecture/book signing opportunities. I send loads of emails, post on Tumblr and Facebook (hoping my FB friends aren’t tired of me yet), and reach out to Romanian institutions and communities. All the networking and friendships from SPE and life have been tremendous. The suggestions I have been receiving have been terrific, as well as direct links to people I email and hope to hear back from. This marketing aspect of the book project is fun for me because it’s challenging and exciting because I have a book to share.

And finally, describe your perfect day.

The kind of day where there are no plans and I’m hanging out with my family and then we go somewhere, like a park or a walk and bump into friends. Then we all decide to hang out and spontaneously pick up food somewhere and go to one of our houses – and on the way bump in to the League of S.T.E.A.M., filming another episode with a leprechaun on the most gorgeous overcast day and we stay to watch and take photos. Walking back to the car we meet an archer who is practicing his aim and gives my husband a lesson – whose first try is a bull’s eye. Go home, visit with neighbors, have roasted marshmallows and go to bed thinking how wonderful the day was.

Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.

NEXT | >
< | PREV