Kat Caverly

Bringing JOY into people’s lives since 1986 creator/producer/bon vivant

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A Life Examined: Episode 1

photo file cabinets

I got started on April 1st. Seemed appropriate to start such a big project on my Saint’s day; April Fools Day. I had been putting this off for years because with over 850 shoot folders, and more than 72,000 frames, it was overwhelming to start. But it was well past time. I have over 1000 pounds of negatives and slides from a previous life; a life of a commercial photographer.

It is all organized in folders stored in file cabinets, and catalogued by shoot date in a written ledger since 1978. My first two years as a professional, 1976 to the summer of 1978, was a mountain of miscellanous which took me the first month to organize and scan, backup, and archive. It took me that long to work out the production pipeline.

Today is May 20, 2022. I just finished shoot No. 220.

photo folders

I backup the scanned files daily so that they are copied on to 4 drives on two workstations. On Saturdays I copy...

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It was the Night before Christmas

Ornaments in the Snow by Kat Caverly

We had already been to two other tree lots. It was after 10 pm on Christmas Eve and it was closing time. My friend’s mood went from bad to worse. At best Jim’s Christmas spirit this year could be described as “conscientious objector”. His wife, Lynn, is a genuine Earth Mother and full of holiday cheer-you-up. But none of it was rubbing off on Jim.

At first Lynn and I were so sure that it was going to be as easy as Christmas cookies to find a great tree for under $15. That’s all Jim would allow Lynn to spend on a Christmas tree. That was two hours ago. This is our last chance. The eleventh hour was near and the pickings are slim.

We left Jim brooding in the car, and we went skipping into the lot yelling out to anyone that could hear us, “Oh please don’t close, not yet. It’s Christmas Eve!” A young man who has already started turning off the lights in the back appeared. He said that...

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Sparky, studio 1981, new york

It all started with a Manuel Piña suit. My friend Pamela introduced me to this Spanish fashion designer. She took me to his showroom in New York City in 1981. I fell in love with the color of the gray wool jacket. It was 18% gray, or middle gray as we photographers like to call it. It is used for taking light meter readings, calculating exposure.

This suit demanded exquisite accessories. I chose a brushed steel grey silk blouse to go with it. The suit jacket is almost military, very straight lines, mid-thigh length. The jacket had an outer panel of gray, which revealed the back of the jacket is a crème color wool to match the skirt. The skirt continues the long lines, tapering to below the knees. I was measured for a custom fit. I chose a gray metallic pump with a variation on the theme wing-tips. This is my power suit. I am a fashion and beauty photographer still in 1981, and I...

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A Swimmer’s Song

Backyard swimming pool, South Orange, NJ 1986, photo by Kat Caverly
Swimming Pool Blues, © photo by Kat Caverly, 1986

Down     Down     Down

Deeper     Deeper

Turning,    I do the backstroke,     underwater

Above me,     the summer funsters

Floating     Flying     Flailing Angels

I can’t stay down for much longer

Straining my stamina

The air beckons me back

Back to the surface

In the down deep of my water world

In the quiet I hear the songs of laughter above

On this hot summer’s afternoon

I give in and rise back up effortlessly to join them

Tomorrow I will wait for daddy again

Beg for another quarter

The price of admission to this world of floating angels

So I can return

To seeking the bottom     of the pool

~poem by Kat Caverly, June 2014, all rights reserved

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daddy's photograph of Kat Caverly 1959
I take aim at my mother, Shirley, in 1959

As I entered into my teens I weighed less than 80 pounds “soaking wet” as my father liked to say. I could count on him teasing me about being skinny. I couldn’t count on him to protect me from my mother, Shirley. I had to wait to get big enough to stand up to her on my own.

Shirley was 5 foot two inches and 105 pounds. I lived in terror in her shadow. Like a hurricane she was unpredictable and dangerous. Years later, even as she was restrained in straps, tied to a bed, I still felt unsafe around her. I had only found out she was mentally ill after my little brother was born. All hopes of safety around Shirley were lost knowing she couldn’t control herself.

That makes what happened on a particular morning in 1969 all the more remarkable. I am 14 years old. My baby brother, Eddie, is three years old and Shirley is still a stranger to him since...

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September Twelfth

“What to do?” I ask myself. I am in survival mode. I call my friend, special agent Glenn Mann, my secret agent Mann. Glenn Mann has been part of the FBI anti-terrorism team since 1993. He’ll know what to do. It’s September 12th, 2001.

Last night, after a day filled with terror, I found myself frozen in fear, unable to walk through the dark to just go to the bathroom. I sit in the dark planning to get away, far away. It’s not safe here. I know this feeling all too well. I’ve already asked Tom if we should get out of Manhattan.

September 11th started out like any other day, until my father called at just before 9am. He knows I live in Manhattan. He wants to make sure I am ok. He informs me a plane has flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center. My father always calls when there is a disaster. I turn on the TV.

I call my assistant Sai Ming. He’s just arrived in the studio. I...

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A Throat Full of Hope

Few things bring me the thrill of anticipation like a chocolate Easter bunny. What to eat first? It boggles my four year old mind.

This is only my second chocolate bunny ever, but I’ve already decided the head must be eaten last! It is the crowning glory. I covet this second chocolate Easter bunny as a prized possession. It is mine and mine alone. Maybe I’ll nibble on his tiny toes first.

Mommy catches me worshipping this chocolate idol. I still don’t have the words to express how I feel at this moment, but I instinctively know this is my moment and no one else’s. Mommy asks, “Can I have a bite?” This question alone should have had me questioning her sanity, but I am only four years old and everyone around me seems crazy.

As a good Catholic girl I am required by my God to share all goodness, or so I was told. This wasn’t the first time mommy had asked for a bite of my chocolate Easter...

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Thank you Grandma. I love you.

Me and Grandma
Grandma and Me, 1958

I am eleven years old when Grandma dies of breast cancer. Life seems to fall into the deepest cold, and it seems that I will never be really loved again.

Grandma is more of a mother to me than my own mother, Shirley, who tried to kill me the first time when I was still in a crib. That lands Shirley, for the first time, in what was then known as an “insane asylum”.

When they tell me my mother is mentally ill, just after Grandma dies, all the things Shirley did to me don’t seem real anymore. Everything I’ve been feeling - the anger, the hatred, the violence – are all just dirty secrets now.

Grandma would have told me what it all meant. But now she’s gone. Grandma always told me the truth. She’s the one who told me she had breast cancer. All the other adults were too afraid to tell me.

I am five years old when she tells me. Everyone talks in hushed tones around...

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Reaching for the Stars

self-portrait of Kat Caverly, March 24, 2014
Kat Caverly, Self-Portrait March 24, 2014

I have had my head in the clouds for a very long time. When I sent my first letter to Leo Burnett himself in 1971 he responded with his famous motto: “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” Because of his recommendations I took classes at the American Academy of Art in 1972, the same year I came to the conclusion I needed a degree in psychology to succeed in advertising.

In 1966 I was reaching out to Dr. Norman Nachtrieb, the head of chemistry at the University of Chicago. Science had my brain. Art had my heart. Photography was the perfect marriage of art and science. By 1976, I fell in love with my life’s work when I started my advertising photography apprenticeship.

Photographer led to greeting card creator, led to comic performer, led to graphic designer. I worked in...

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I am Wonder Woman

Kat Caverly, Self-Portrait: March 10, 2014

Well, I am A wonder woman. I wonder about everything. Like the song goes, “I wonder wonder wonder wonder wonder…” and I wonder why I wonder. I am done with chemo, the surgery, radiation. With each I wondered about the unknowns. “I wonder if I’ll be strong enough? I wonder if I can take this emotionally?” I wondered if the side effects would prevent me from finishing the chemo, the radiation, and now I wonder about another unknown: the endocrine therapy that hopes to starve any remaining itinerant cancer cells.

I didn’t even know I had any estrogen left after menopause. I found out this fact the hard way, after I found out it was feeding my breast cancer. Like the other treatments it is a matter of the benefit far outweighing the risks, but still it is a profound wake-up call, especially when it comes to the brain and estrogen.

I can deal with the joint and muscle pain (exercise) and...

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