Photography

Capturing the dead and abandoned, the photography of Cathy Weaver.

Robert Mateo Keegan Burbano, SlashnBurn Managing Editor

11 July 2016

Several months ago, I noticed I had a surprisingly large number of professional photographers as Facebook friends. I figured, what the hell, maybe it was time for a legit author head-shot and posted a query on Facebook to see who’d bite. A Goodyear-based photographer, Cathy Weaver, reached out and we arranged to do the shoot on a Sunday in late April, since I was going to Phoenix anyway for a concert. The results of the shoot were more spectacular than I could have imagined.

That Sunday, my personal assistant and I drove up to Goodyear to meet with Cathy. She would then lead us to an abandoned house to shoot in. Being the disorganized writer/human being I am, we arrived nearly two hours late, met with Cathy in the parking of a fast food restaurant, and then followed her car as we drove out into the fields surrounding Goodyear. We pulled over and parked on the side of the road, and quickly unloaded the cars to get into the house and make use of the remaining sunlight. Cathy unloaded from her car her photographic equipment, as well as a dilapidated typewriter, mannequin arm, a large knife, a small, folding table and chair, and an articulated drawing anatomy hand. My assistant and I pulled out from my trunk the writing props I had brought: a suitcase full of writing and art supplies, a stack of notebooks and journals, a bottle of Jack Daniels filled with prop whiskey made from water and mixing food coloring, a drinking glass, and a couple of wardrobe changes. We carried everything to the house and climbed in through a window with no pane.

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Author pretending to be authorly, in Goodyear, AZ.

For the next hour and a half or so, Cathy tolerated and even encouraged every harebrained idea I had for photos (mostly consisting of me chain smoking and pretending to drink but, also having my personal assistant appear to kill me. We never did get around to using that knife.)

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“If I’m going out, I’m going out drunk,” in Goodyear, AZ.

What most impressed me about working with Cathy was her willingness to collaborate but also to be very firm in what she wanted to ensure the photographs came out as best as they could. She also pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was forced to stand in a bathroom that looked more like the slaughter room in a murder house, and next to nests that looked suspiciously like wasp nests. At one point, Cathy pointed to a spot on the floor in one of the front rooms where laid some bones. She explained it was the remains of a dead dog and, during a previous shoot at the house, she had convinced a female model to lie near the dog’s corpse. For a moment, I thought about picking up a few of the bones and including them in the writing scene we’d created, but thought better of it.

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Inspiration, frustration in the Slaughter Room, Goodyear, AZ.

The shoot ended in the field outside the house, as Cathy rushed us to capture the day’s remaining sunlight. We set up the folding table and chair, and I sat at the typewriter in the middle of all that green, with Arizona’s open, blue skies as my backdrop. Shots taken, it was a wrap, and all was left was to give Cathy my address so she could mail me a thumb drive with the photos. Within the week, the drive arrived with over a hundred awesome photos she’d taken. It wasn’t just the fact that Cathy was open to working collaboratively on concepts for the shoot that made me such a big fan, it was how obviously talented she was.

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Most lo-fi office in the world, Goodyear, AZ.

Cathy took a circuitous route to Goodyear, Arizona. She was born in South Bend, Indiana, and moved to Montgomery, Alabama after her mother married a marine. Cathy has also lived in California, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas.

In her forties, she enrolled in an online program to earn her Bachelor in Arts in history, but realized the program wasn’t for her. She is currently looking into academic photography programs.

Cathy’s interest in photography began with her love of history and abandoned places. It was only about five years ago that she got her first “real” camera, and started exploring photography by driving out to desert ghost towns and taking shots of images that interested her. She began photographing human subjects in 2013. One of her fist subjects was her daughter, who was also her first muse.

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Cathy’s daughter, Maia, in Oceanside, CA. 2013.

Maia in Goodyear, AZ in 2016

Maia in Goodyear, AZ, 2016.

Cathy went on to do some family sittings, which turned out well, but didn’t push her creatively.

“I really wanted to photograph models that I found unique and stunning and not just families that I had to tell what to do,” she said. “Even though the families were paying me…it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my photography.”

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Claudia Acuna, in Goodyear, AZ.

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Crystal Frost in Gila Bend, AZ

In January of 2015, Cathy went to a junkyard shoot out hosted by a local photographer. In the year and half since that shoot, Cathy’s photographic drive shifted and returned to her interests of history and the abandoned, now, with live models incorporated. Her change in artistic direction quickly reaped rich rewards.

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Savi Brewer in Salton Sea, CA.

“My Facebook profile had 334 friends and, in that short amount of time [since the junkyard shoot], I now have 5000 ‘friends,’ she said. “I’ve made connections with people and other artists that I would never have known if it was not for the medium of Facebook. In fact, every single model I have shot, I first connected with on Facebook.”

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Crystal Frost at a junkyard in Wittman, AZ.

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Chelsea Michele, in Litchfield Park, AZ.

Cathy views herself as primarily a “landscape photographer who puts subjects (models) in front of landscapes.”

“I started out shooting abandoned buildings and then progressed to putting models in those same abandoned buildings,” she said. “Anything that is decaying…discarded…abandoned I am drawn to. I love the contrast of a beautiful woman in a decaying house with the roof literally crumbling over her head.”

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Tuany Nyamat, in Goodyear, AZ.

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Amber Ann in Goodyear, AZ.

Cathy is currently working on a new photographic series, entitled Found Dead.

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Shelby Nichole, Found Dead, somewhere in northern Arizona.

“I also like the dark creepy things as well,” she said. “I like blood and how it shocks in a picture, I am drawn to morbid things and sometimes that comes out in my work…actually, I think it comes out a lot. Lol. I’m working on a series right now, Found Dead, you can imagine it’s pretty dark.”

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Shelby Nichole, still dead, her body washed down river in northern Arizona.

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Behind the scenes, with Cathy and Shelby.

A model Cathy has regularly worked with is, Shelby Nichole. The models who work with Cathy do so because they appreciate her talent. They do not get paid. Shelby is nineteen and has been modeling a year. Besides modeling, Shelby is also a college student and an avid video gamer. Shelby and Cathy first worked together at one of the junkyard shoots. She spoke about her surprising journey into modeling.

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Shelby Nichole at the Salton Sea, CA.

“I have never been a confident person,Shelby said. “I was a misfit from a small-hick town and I always felt out of place. I never expected myself to model (though America’s next top Model was my guilty pleasure). This has built me up so much and gotten me out of my shell.”

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Shelby Nichole at the Salton Sea, CA.

Shelby described how it was different to work with Cathy versus other photographers.

“Our process involves a lot of freedom. Models pretty much bring whatever clothes or props we want and Cathy works with it,” she said. “We see the location and she let’s us explore. I feel more like a kid at a playground challenging myself to climb and contort and she captures it.

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Shelby Nichole in Gila Bend, AZ.

Shelby described how one-sided shootings can be with certain photographers.

“For most photographers I felt more like a mannequin than a person,” she continued. “To the extent that some will actually move you how they want you to move. Cathy also never shoots overly sexualized photos, which I appreciate. I feel like, Cathy sets me free and documents what I do, from time to time I am given direction but for the most part I have the freedom to express and convey my passion in my own way.”

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Shelby Nichole at the Salton Sea, CA.

Shelby spoke about why she has worked with Cathy multiple times.

“Cathy is all around a fun, crazy, unique, kind person,” Shelby explained. “She has never made me uncomfortable or unhappy with a shoot. She let’s me be as crazy and fun as I want to be without restraints leading to some crazy pictures.”

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Shelby Lane at the Salton Sea, CA.

Besides modeling, Shelby is interested in environmental conservation and is an animal rights activist. She is currently studying biology.

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Crystal Frost in Mesa, AZ.

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Lydia Wilts, in a junkyard in Wittman, AZ.

Heather Renee Nance is another model who has regularly worked with Cathy. She spoke about how working with Cathy is different from working with other photographers.

“Cathy is a pleasure to work with,” she said. “I really like how laid back and patient she is. She’s totally open to ideas and suggestions and I like how she doesn’t have be controlling over every aspect of the shoot.”

A shoot with Cathy that stood out for Heather was a junkyard shoot similar to the shoot where Cathy got her start. For her, it’s particularly memorable because it helped her overcome a past, painful shoot.

“This [shoot] is very personal to me because, a year ago [in] May, I had a pretty bad fire breathing accident during a photo shoot at that same junkyard,” she said. I went back and actually found the car I was standing on when it had happened and I wanted to shoot on it. Cathy was the one with me that took those pics. They are extremely symbolic to me for several reasons and I appreciate that she was there to help and to share that with me.”

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Heather Renee Nance, Junkyard Fire shoot.

Aaron Oliver & Deanna Patrice at the Junkyard in Wittman, AZ

Aaron Oliver and Deanna Patrice in a junkyard in Wittman, AZ.

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Amber Ann in Goodyear, AZ.

Check out Cathy Weaver’s Facebook photography page for more of her work.

Heather Renee Nance’s modeling work can be seen here.

Amber Ann’s modeling work can be seen here.

Crystal Frost’s modeling can be seen here.

Claudia Acuna’s modeling work can be seen here.