Let Love Reign is a Testament to the Real-Life Obstacles of Unbridled Love
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Nine years ago, WNW Member Catalina Kulczar interviewed and photographed Tim and Ron, a same-sex couple in Charlotte. Together in a committed relationship for almost 30 years at that time, Catalina describes them “as the epitome of what love and marriage should be.” For Catalina, that initial shoot was largely out of frustration with the marriage laws in North Carolina in 2009. She couldn’t reconcile why she and her husband, WNW Member Juan Miguel Marin, had more rights than two people equally committed and in love. Catalina has since photographed 50 same-sex couples, with the goal of delivering a collection that honors the real-life obstacles of unbridled love. “I knew I wanted to create a tangible testament to the struggle and challenges that same-sex couples were going through before and after marriage equality.”
Enter WNW Member Luke Williams, who Catalina brought on to lead the design of her book, titled Let Love Reign and now ready for your support on Kickstarter. In our interview below, Catalina and Luke discuss why this endeavor is important to each of them, the pressures to deliver a final product that honors the stories told within, and what they learned about each other through this collaborative process. The passion and urgency that both of them have brought to every creative decision is truly inspiring and embodies what it means to use your creativity for good.
Back this project on Kickstarter before November 2nd.
Hi, Catalina. Tell me a bit about your creative background. Who is Catalina and how did she get here?
Catalina: Hello! I got to where I am today thanks to four men in my life. The first was my biological father, who my mom tells me had a darkroom in our home in Caracas, Venezuela, when I was a newborn. After my mom remarried, it turned out that my step-dad, Alberto, was also a serious photography hobbyist. He had a Hasselblad camera and all the lenses and his photos were all over our home. Photos of his nephews, photos from his trips, photos of many objects he captured. I have vivid memories as a kid sneaking his photo albums into my bedroom so I could go through them over and over and over. My high school crush, Eric, was into photography and he was the first person who showed me how to print in the darkroom. And lastly, my life-partner Juan Miguel Marin was the person who ultimately encouraged me to pursue my passion and make a career out of photography.
I took a few photography classes - darkroom and photoshop, but I ultimately went to school for Business at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. I moonlighted with my photography through weekly assignments with Creative Loafing - editorial food photography - and then I also started to pick up street fashion photography assignments from The Charlotte Observer. I also developed a clientele during my time in North Carolina, when in 2009, we decided to give New York City a try. Juan Miguel wanted to further develop as an artist and musician, and I was ready to jump in head first, and give photography ALL of my time, rather than moonlight like I did in Charlotte.
I started as an intern at various photography studios in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and assisting photographers but I was also 30 when we moved here. I decided early on that I wanted to be a full-time photographer and hustled - and still do - to earn clients.
PSFK and Magnolia Bakery were my first two clients in New York back in 2010.
I have created advertising campaigns you might have seen - like Casper Mattress and Handy.com, I have worked with clients including MailChimp, Warby Parker, Deutsch, RG/A, Red Antler, David Byrne, St. Vincent, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Milton Glaser, The Type Directors Club, Tula Plants & Design, among other clients.
How did you come to start photographing same-sex couples in North Carolina?
Catalina: I started photographing same-sex couples in North Carolina out of sheer frustration. The laws in 2009 did not allow same-sex couples to marry. By that time, Juan Miguel and I were married and I was really upset. I kept thinking, “HOW ON EARTH is it possible that two people, committed and in love, who happen to be of the same gender, do not have the same rights in marriage as I do with Juan?”
It was LUDICROUS. I took this frustration and made it into art. My first couple, Tim & Ron, are the inspiration for Let Love Reign. At the time, they were together in a committed relationship for almost 30 years. They are the epitome of what love and marriage should be.
Since 2009, you’ve been traveling around the country photographing and interviewing same-sex couples. Did you always have this kind of scope in mind for Let Love Reign? Or did it evolve over time?
Catalina: I did. I knew from the moment I dreamed up of this project that I wanted to make a book and interview and photograph same-sex couples across the US. I knew I wanted to create a tangible testament to the struggle and challenges that same-sex couples were going through before and after marriage equality. I interviewed each couple and asked about their coming out stories, how their families reacted, how they felt about those against marriage equality. Each couple’s story is powerful and humbling, and these stories must be told and must be read by future generations.
There isn’t anything else like this out there.
Had you worked with Luke previously? What about his design approach told you he’d be a good fit for this personal project?
Catalina: I had not worked with Luke previously but heard so many great things about him through friends and colleagues. This was and has always been a personal project so the budget was modest, at best, but I humbly approached him about working together. I had no idea what he would say, but he saw just how passionate I was about this project and he jumped on board without hesitating. He believed in this project from the get-go, and that’s the spirit of everyone involved in this project.
I love Luke’s aesthetic and appreciation of the beauty in simplicity. Another thing I loved about Luke is that he had worked on several books prior to Let Love Reign and he spoke about designing a book as an experience for the reader. It’s not something I had ever thought about, and the level of design and care for the reader as they’re turning the pages and the spreads is intricately detailed. It’s a science.
Luke is putting so much thought and experience into this project; it’s truly humbling. I remember getting chills the first time he showed me a few layouts. I think I actually cried from the joy I felt because the work was so beautifully presented. You can really feel his passion in the design.
Luke, what led you to join this project?
Luke: Earlier in the year, I worked with Catalina’s husband, Juan Miguel Marin on a campaign effort for a film festival, during which he introduced me to the photography of his very talented wife, particularly regarding how her work captured subject matter dealing with popular culture and various iconic public figures. That primer for appreciating Catalina’s work helped me to jump enthusiastically at the chance to collaborate with her when she first reached out to discuss this impressive project.
Many of my closest friends are in same-sex relationships (in fact, I attended the wedding of two of my best male friends just last weekend!), so I am reminded on a regular basis what a normal and pure thing love is. Love and marriage are not values and commitments that one person should be allowed to control for others.
What were some of the design considerations that went into how you approached this project?
Luke: When design meets art, I quickly discern which of the two should be the primary versus supporting role in the project, since it’s important that they don’t compete on the same canvas. This is a principle for objective decision-making that I picked up while designing exhibition identities at MoMA in New York for a number of years, and I’ve applied it to many of my projects since.
Catalina has done such an exceptional job capturing these fifty couples over the last nine years, in such a consistent and handsome light. Each photograph is so real. I recognized early that I would be searching for a book design that would do all it can to elevate the presence of these images and stories upon their respective pages, as well as across the sequence of consecutive pages that feature narrative, whether that meant finding ways to echo the sentiments of these stories visually with typography and negative space, or to get out of their way to prevent distraction in the most critical moments.
Was there added pressure for both of you to deliver a beautiful final product to honor the stories of those you met?
Catalina: Totally! I’ve been working closely with my writer Megan Shepherd and my copy writer Jim Mitchem to make sure these stories are as inspiring as they are humbling, that they are as truthful as they are thought-provoking. Editing the photos for each story certainly has pressure too. I have so many photos from each session; I need to find the best image that represents each couple.
Luke: Absolutely. I knew the photography would be as amazing as it truly is, but I think it was always the interviews and stories that I read that gave me the most chills. There is an audience that will connect with the words on a much deeper level, looking to the images as a way of ‘meeting’ the couples from whom the stories originate. It was because of these messages that I felt an obligation to format text, as well as photography, in a way that would be mutually-prioritized throughout the book.
What did you learn about each other’s creative style and process during this collaboration?
Catalina: Being a visual person, I found it immensely helpful that Luke was always willing to try different layouts and show me the potential this book could have as a visual journey, page by page.
Luke: What I learned about Catalina was reinforced every time we met to review creative progress: she is very passionate about her work, in an emotionally-rich and visibly genuine way that I found to be contagious. The way she cares for this project motivates me to find something worth attaching to in all the projects I take on moving ahead.
Were there any particular creative influences or references that informed this project?
Catalina: At the very start of this project - back in 2009 - Andrew Zuckerman’s book, Wisdom, was an inspiration for this book. Since then, I have certainly been inspired by the portraits of Rineke Dijkstra, Zack Arias, and Joao Canziani.
Luke: I continue to search for ways to back my own subjectivity out of the projects that I design for others. The reason for that is because if I insert my preferences too deeply, I risk contaminating the work in a way that is selfish or stylistically-temporary. So as I pick up design references over time, I think those that influence the way I work the most are the ones that demonstrate a mode of designing that clearly places the subject in the front seat, complimentary, where alternative ornamental characteristics do not supercede.
What’s something you’ve learned on this creative journey that other creatives should hear?
Catalina: Trust. The best thing you can do with an enthusiastic and talented collaborator is to give them all of your trust. That is when I thrive and that is when everyone is motivated to give you 300%.
Luke: Risk. Isn’t that where we find the most creative reward every time? This project started nine years ago for Catalina on an ambitious note, so the final leg of the marathon needed to mirror that ambition. We hope to generate the funds to take the book to print, and I believe we will, but it’s that inherent risk involved that motivates me to put my best work into a project as special as this one.