Artist Spotlight: Kathleen Lighty
Digital photography serves as both employment and enjoyment for this artist
When handed lemons, some people make lemonade. When handed a daunting diagnosis, Kathleen Lighty made art.
While working as a retailer of fine art in 2004, her life changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Forced to leave her job due to the side effects of chemotherapy, Lighty went through a personal and artistic renaissance where her creative forces were reawakened and renewed.
"I had not picked up a camera in 20 years to shoot fine art work, but with the spiritual awakening and confidence developed during my battle with breast cancer, I decided to finally pursue a career in fine art photography," Lighty said. "The diagnosis began to transform me as a person and an artist and I became acutely aware of details."
Specializing in digital photography, she recently released a 2011 calendar "Water" with Ray Hooper Design that has been well received and could possibly out-sell her fine art photographs.
"My images are mostly of natural subjects," Lighty said. "I capture close up views of the patterns, textures and reflections offered by Mother Nature. Currently I am focused on water, as I love the abstract reflections and refraction that the water creates. There is a lot of activity and movement in my work and viewers are exposed to the magic of that decisive moment in time when all the elements come together in perfect alignment."
As a child, Lighty was always interested in the arts and was encouraged by her parents to explore all kinds of creativity - acting in the local dinner theater, taking dance class and art lessons. When she was in high school, her father introduced her to photography and it quickly became a passion for her, so much so that in 1987 she earned a bachelor's degree in communications with an emphasis on photography from Ithaca College.
Lighty ended up working in retail management in order to pay the bills, and although she had developed a successful career, she could no longer suppress her artistic urges. In 1995 she made the change from selling designer clothing to fine art, as it was an opportunity to be creative and still earn a living.
"The thought of making a living as an artist was at first preposterous to me, as society tends to frown on the idea that you can make a sustainable income pursuing your passion," Lighty said. "In the early '80s there was a debate as to whether or not photography was even a true art form. Especially now with the popularity of low-cost digital cameras, many people think that anyone can come up with a great image.
"However, anyone who has taken that ‘great picture' and tried to blow it up to anything larger than would fit in a photo frame will see there is more to photography than just ‘point and shoot,'" she continued.
Lighty's photography is primarily close up images of patterns and textures found in the natural world. She has chosen to use digital photography as opposed to film that requires chemical processing, using a "digital darkroom" and remaining faithful to traditional darkroom techniques without exposure to harsh chemicals. The images are printed using archival inks on both fine art cotton paper and stretched canvas.
"During chemotherapy my body was giving out, but my inner vision had changed and improved since the days when I was a student," she said. "In the wake of treatment my world slowed to a pace that enabled me to see things more intricately. Mother Nature and her forces are my inspiration and I'm particularly drawn to water and it's fluid motion, the ever-changing reflections revealed are mesmerizing to me."
Lighty said the images of water have attracted the most attention, with the unique nature of the prints often causing people to assume her work is created and altered in Photoshop. She takes joy in seeing people spend time viewing the images and watching their expression change when it becomes clear to them what the subject matter is.
Projects and tools have changed as her creative process has grown and expanded with meditation, and she discovered that sitting in silence was making her acutely aware of the power of the cleansing of the mind.
"Now, instead of pushing and pursuing creativity, I fall quiet and pay attention to the subliminal answers to the questions I have," Lighty said. "The feeling of a more direct connection to the world around me comes naturally now. I have awakened as a person and an artist and now have the courage to create what I am drawn to, regardless of the medium."
During treatment she also started to experiment with mosaics. Over the course of a year and a half she created a life-sized mosaic self portrait in the form of a mermaid made from shattered pieces, reassembled, and now more beautiful than ever as a cancer survivor.
"I continue to work on other mosaic and found object projects," Lighty said. "All of these creations celebrate the female form and have evolved spiritually as I fight daily to save my life."
Lighty has plans to expand to galleries in Wilmington, Philadelphia and New York and Ray Hooper Design has plans to release the second volume of her water calendar for 2012. He is also producing notebooks with her images of lichens.
"I would like to get into the studio and create beautiful still life images of my enormous and varied sea shell collection," Lighty said. "I'm hoping to turn out some sexy sepia toned photos that emphasize the dramatic beauty these shells possess."
Having worked all her life in sales, Lighty knows that retailers need to possess excitement about and believe in the product they are selling. It is important also to know the product. In her case, the calendars and other products offered by Ray Hooper Design have great selling points such as being environmentally responsible and made in America. Lighty said in some instances her work sells because people relate to her personal battle with breast cancer and can feel the spiritual nature of her work.
And when it comes to her life both professionally and personally, she really only has one regret-that she listened to all the people who had ever told her "no."
"I paid so much attention to warnings and criticism that I developed rather low self-esteem," Lighty said. "I went through the motions in college, but was not a strong enough person to take advantage of those learning years.
"Most people go through life and are unable or unwilling to see the details, but I am in a unique position to truly understand how short life is," she continued. "There is beauty in the details; there is understanding in the flaws. I am able to embrace the raw emotion and expression of the human experience."
By Abby Heugel,Managing Editor