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Seeing the Light

In conversation with photographer Kate Jordan

Scroll through our Instagram page and you’ll see beautiful images of our Upper West Side and Mount Kisco markets, many of which were shot by Kate Jordan. The New York-based photographer specializes in capturing interiors and still lifes for independent interior designers and architects, as well as big brands like Target or Williams-Sonoma's Green Row—and we’re lucky enough to work with her, as well.

Kate’s talent lies in her ability to manipulate light. She can achieve whatever mood the client seeks, whether it’s dramatic or sunny. Either way, she uses her images to tell a story. “My parents were both television news producers,” she shares. “My dad was a founding producer of Nightline and I feel like that kind of storytelling is in my blood. I just do it in a different way than they did, but I've learned so much from them.”

This knack for storytelling, combined with Kate’s experience as a stylist and her degree in art history, allows her to create incredibly compelling images. Here, she shares how she first became a photographer, what she loves most about her job, and how her support system lifts her up every single day.

Photography courtesy of Kate Jordan |

Mast Journal: How did you first get into photography?

Kate Jordan: I got exposed to the whole photography world when I was in high school, actually. I had a really dear friend who I admired and looked up to and she was the food editor-at-large at Child magazine for almost its entirety, until it folded. And when I had some time off from school, I would assist her. That was how I got exposed to what a photo shoot was and I was just so enamored with the whole thing. I felt like I couldn't believe that this was a job. I just thought it was so cool. Everybody that was on set—the prop stylist, the food stylist, the photographer, the assistants—everybody just was so cool.

In college, I worked at Anthropologie. I was a sales associate for two years and I just fell in love with the brand. After I graduated, almost immediately I got a job at their home office on their textile buying team. I did that for about nine months before I realized I really wanted to work in the photo studio. A position had opened up there and I became friends with the stylist. I was always running samples back and forth to her. And one day, I had said that I was interested in photography and had a little bit of a background in it. So when this styling position opened up, she asked if I was interested. I lept at the opportunity. 

Within a month of my moving over to her team, she left to join another team. So I've always just had to figure it out as I went. Aside from having my little bit of assisting experience in high school, I never actually assisted a stylist really, or a photographer, and I've just figured it out as I went. I was at Anthropologie for about seven years, mostly as a stylist, before I went freelance. I’ve been freelance for about 12 years.

MJ: When and why did you transition from styling to shooting images? Or do you still style, too?

KJ: I basically transitioned from one to the other. I don't do any more purely styling projects. I just do photography, but I do have a few clients that I also style for. I love being on set with other people, other creatives. You get this mind-meld that happens with everybody on set and your pictures only get better when you work with other people and everybody contributes and has opinions. But I also really like working solo because I just go into this sort of weird dimension of my brain and just create the image in its entirety. It's nice to have a vision and then figure out how to execute it, but I really could go either way.

I really started to transition during COVID. I had a lot of clients that were trying to figure out how to still sell their products and create catalogs and do campaigns and all that, but obviously there were really big restrictions and limitations on that. So they would just ship me pallets of product and I would shoot the whole campaign in my house with either my kids or myself or without anyone as talent. I realized how much I loved it. I loved being behind the camera and I loved creating. I loved building and capturing light. So I just was like, ‘There's no turning back now. This is what I'm doing.’

MJ: That’s amazing. Did your college education help prepare you for this work?

KJ: I have a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts with a focus on art history. I didn't really know what I wanted to do in school. I knew I wanted to do something creative, but I didn't know what that was. On my first day of school, I was in an art history class and sitting there waiting for the class to start. The professor walked in, she turned the lights really low, and we just talked about art—and it was the most amazing thing. I just was so seduced by the whole idea that you could get a degree in just the history and the making of art: all of the historical and economic events, all of the movements and ways of self-expression. It was something I loved so much, but I didn't really realize until after I had graduated that there really was a path for me in the arts that wasn't what you would expect.

MJ: Totally. What is your favorite thing to shoot?

KJ: I don't know that I have a favorite thing to shoot. I think every shoot is really exciting and wonderful. Each time, I become more technically advanced or I learn something different or something new gets sparked within me or I meet new people. This industry is difficult, but it's also really amazing with some of the most amazing people. Every time I get to work with old friends, it’s really special. I have friends that I would always connect with in the prop house before, when I was a stylist, and now I'm able to work with them.

I love shooting interiors and I love capturing light on location, but I also love building campaigns for brands. I've shot a few books now and it's so amazing to have an actual body of physical work. I love telling the story that goes along with this. It's true storytelling, so I love that aspect of it. There's not one thing that resonates more than another. 

MJ: That makes sense! How would you describe your style?

KJ: I really do love making sure that the light is a present character in an image and the light itself tells the story. I think my style goes one of a couple of ways. I really like to have a little bit of mood in my images and make sure that the light is really palpable and directional, but at the same time, I can go bright and open, as well. It really depends on the mood of the shoot and the direction of it. I just really love telling the story. Whether it's working with an interior designer and making sure I tell the story of the space that they've created or working with a big brand and making sure that I've fully told the story of that campaign or if it's shooting food where you're getting a more aspirational environmental image of a beautiful set table and then you punch in tighter to really capture the texture of the food or the drink, I love getting all of those aspects of the story. 

MJ: Definitely! Can you tell us about your photo studio?

KJ: I've had it for a few years now. It’s on the Hudson side of Westchester, and it's a really cool space. I had looked for one for a while that felt like an old industrial warehouse that you would find in Brooklyn or Soho or something. We're in the land of historic farmhouses over here, so I wasn't really finding anything. But then I found this building that's literally right on the Hudson River in Dobbs Ferry. It was formerly a brewery and it's super cool and the light is beautiful and it just has a very different feel than what I have here in the woods. So it's a special little spot and it's a really cool, creative hive where there's a lot of other makers and artists in the building, which is really inspiring to me. It's a really wonderful space and I'm very lucky and fortunate to have it.

MJ: That sounds dreamy. So if you’re not shooting on location, you shoot in your studio?

KJ: Yeah, I use it for still life. Basically, I do a lot of tabletop stuff or smaller images there. I shot a plant book there. I've done a couple of plant and garden books now. My next one's coming out in October. I'm really excited, it’s about gardening. So we did a lot of still lifes there in space. 

MJ: How cool! What books have you worked on?

KJ: I did shoot Terrain's latest book. It's about houseplants. The incredible woman who wrote it is their head plant buyer and she is knowledgeable about literally every plant. And so it was really amazing. I got to work with her and their in-house landscape designer. They're two of the most brilliant people, so I was very lucky to work with them. It was also special in that I got to go and visit a lot of their specialty growers and shoot all of the incredible plants that they nurture and grow on location. 

And I have a book coming out in October with Chronicle, and it's about planting a moon garden. The woman who wrote that is super brilliant, as well. It was a really fun experience. It was really just beautiful still lifes of plants and flowers. So it was a different take on gardening, but I'm really excited about it, too. 

MJ: That’s so exciting. Do you have any goals for your future as a photographer? Any dream projects?

KJ: I'm so excited to be partnering with Mast on so many different things. I have admired and respected everything that they've done for so long now, and they work in such a special way. I remember Michael said a few years ago, ‘We do everything the really hard way.’ And I really appreciate that. They’re hyper-focused on their craft and sourcing and making sure that everything is perfect and beautiful. And that's something that I feel a kinship to, that idea of making sure that it is really its best thing. I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to images. I can noodle on things forever. So I just really appreciate that mindset. They're also so encouraging and they really always want to just make beautiful images—clients like that are so incredible. I feel so lucky to be able to work with Michael and Rick because they're so encouraging and lovely and wonderful.

There are so many amazing brands that I would love to work with. I love shooting interiors, so there are so many interior designers that I have admired and loved. I love traveling for work. I love being in new spaces. I love seeing new people and having new experiences. And that's part of the job, which I love so much. I always get really excited whenever I get hired for a job because it means people trust me and they're excited about what I bring. So I think every job is so special and I'm so grateful for each one.

MJ: That’s such a lovely perspective!

KJ: I'm a mom that lives in the woods. I have two daughters that are the most important thing in the world to me. And I'm so lucky to have my husband, who is so supportive. Every time I'm like, ‘I don't know if I should do this.’ David alway says, ‘Just do it. Go for it.’ And he's really the one that pushed me to start shooting, too. So I am incredibly thankful to have such a supportive partner. My mom is my childcare right now and she is truly the most amazing person. So I'm very fortunate to be able to do what I do because I have a really amazing support system.

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