Kara Adams (C’21) and the photographic process

Photo courtesy of Kara Adams.

By Erin Elliot
Contributing Writer

Among the various art mediums taught at Sewanee in the Nabit Art Building, photography adds a small but versatile element of visual creativity. Among its majors is Kara Adams (C’21), recent co-winner of the Shepard Award in photography along with Cecile Denton (C’21).  An aspiring professional event photographer, Adams has had a long history taking and editing photos for classes, clients, and personal enjoyment.

Adams’ passion for photography began five years ago, during her sophomore year of high school. “An art class was required to graduate and I couldn’t draw,” Adams explained.  

“It was not love at first sight, but the more I explored the medium the more attached to it I became,” said Adams. “I slowly began to understand what a photograph could say and what it could achieve. There were photographs that would stir emotion in me before I studied photography, but it was not until I had spent years studying that I knew the labor behind [creating] a single image, before I knew that a person could spend years attempting to print the perfect image from one negative.  It was not until this that a photograph could ever move me to tears. Before I could feel a photograph, I first had to learn what a photograph was.”

Adams’ work, courtesy of karalouiseadams.com.

Adams received her first formal training in photography at the MTSU Governor’s School for the Arts.  She applied and was selected to study in an intensive film program. “Sometimes our days went from 5:30 a.m. to midnight,” remembered Adams, “but in the end every student produced a music video and a few short films. One of my instructors actually played the coach in the original Footloose movie.”

The process of creating a photograph, for those who have not worked with the medium, is often unexpectedly meticulous and complex, both in setting up the shoot and editing the results.  If one detail of a shoot is off, it could ruin the entire session or film roll.  

“The first time Kara asked me to help her with a photo shoot,” recalled Adams’ many-time model Lillian Fulgham (C’21), “we went to Abbo’s Alley to take pictures of spring flowers. In the rain. In March. She had to take photos while our friend held an umbrella to keep her camera from being ruined. We started out taking portraits with flowers, but at the end of the day, I was standing barefoot in the [extremely cold] creek, soaking wet, wearing a sodden hobbit cloak. When she tried to develop the film, we realized that none of the film had actually been exposed [due to a technical camera malfunction] and they were all blank. But it didn’t matter, because Kara had realized that I will do almost anything for art.”  

Fulgham poses for Adams.

Since that session, Fulgham has volunteered to assist in a number of Adams’ more arduous and complicated natural shoots––in which Fulgham often ends up, as she describes it, “naked in the woods, covered in mud, and [sitting] on thistles.”

However, Fulgham recounted these memories fondly. “Kara is super fun to work with—she and I both make suggestions as to what she wants to do,” she explained. “We’re both pretty laid back and like to get creative and incorporate nature into her art.”

In the studio, the first step in developing a photo is to process the film. This takes about 45 minutes and requires a room that is completely light-proof.  After a series of chemical reactions, the film finally hangs to dry, after which it is cut and placed in plastic sleeves. Only then can it finally be printed using an enlarger.  

As Adams described it, “The bare-bones description is that you use light and a lense to expand the size of your film, then project your negative onto light-sensitive paper. After you develop the paper you’ll have an enlarged, positive version of your image.”

Outside of taking pictures for her own aspirational goals, Adams is heavily invested in helping other students through the process of photo development.  “Though I’m not a work-study student in the dark rooms, I do spend a lot of my time at Nabit teaching photoshop and camera skills,” Adams stated. “I also volunteer sometimes in the dark rooms, teaching developing and printing.”  

As for her recent recognition at the Foundation Day Convocation for her work, Adams was taken by surprise; she was away from the Mountain during the ceremony, and was cued into her win through the congratulatory phone messages of fellow students.  

“I was very thankful and shocked that I was nominated to receive the Shepard award in photography,” Adams said.  “I certainly was not expecting it. It was a source of encouragement to continue my work and exploration through the medium.”

Adams’ work, courtesy of karalouiseadams.com.

According to Professor of Art Pradip Malde, “Kara and Cecile Denton jointly received this year’s Shepard Award for Excellence in Photography. The award is normally given each year to an Art major junior in the Fall and senior in the Spring semesters. This year, the award was shared by two Art majors, both of whom have displayed an extraordinary commitment to photographic art. Kara’s work is replete with unusual combinations of shape and viewpoint, and Cecile has a vision that surprises and enchants us. Both of them make fine prints, and with these, embrace the core of photographic art. Their work pushes us into considering the print as both an object and a window into another time and place.”

The Shepard award was created by Art major Boo Shepard (C’97) in honor of her father, and has generously supported more than twenty art majors since its inception.

For more of Kara’s work or to book a session, visit karalouiseadams.com.