Kathleen Brennan —documenting life as it unfolds

New Jersey native Kathleen Brennan took her first pictures at age ten.

“I am one of eight children, so it was fun to act out and capture them when off-guard,” she said. “I also liked photographing trees and different scenes in the neighborhood.”

This interest in documenting the world has accompanied her all her life.

She moved to New Mexico and graduated from UNM with a degree in photography in 1977.

She hasn’t stopped shooting ever since.

Brennan’s art has been exhibited at the Peter and Madeline Martin Foundation for the Creative Arts in San Francisco, El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs and the Harwood Museum of Art, among other venues.

She also published In Praise of What Persists, Images of Breast Cancer, a collection of images that documents her partner Kat Duff’s triumph over illness. They became an exhibition at the Harwood and are a part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Working with artists

Brennan works closely with many artists, taking photographs of their work that they can use in their websites and portfolio. She also makes support materials like postcards, business cards, booklets and video clips.

“I photographed many of Annell Livingston’s paintings and she has the images on her website,” Brennan said. “I have also worked with Terrie Mangat, the Taos Municipal Schools and businesses like Casa Gallina.”

She does head shots and portraits, too.

Letting the light speak

Because she started out with film in the old days, Brennan only shot black and white for about 30 years.

“I specialized in hand-painted photographs, where I colored the photos with special oils,” she said. “This was a technique that I learned in college. I love combining the two elements. Later, I began to use color film and explored different ways of exploiting that.”

She learned studio lighting later in her career.

“It is something that really takes practice to become good at it,” she said. “My favorite way to photograph is to get in the car and drive around looking for things or the light that speaks to me.”

The business of photography

It can be very difficult to make a living as a fine art photographer, just like it happens with any other form of art, Brennan said.

“As a commercial photographer, it can be difficult as well, depending on one’s area of expertise,” she said. “Once a reputation is established, it becomes easier.”

Brennan points out a common misconception that has been fostered by the widespread use of digital photography.

“In today’s world of the digital imaging, we are essentially all photographers with the use of our mobile devices,” she said. “We have become a self-service culture where we believe we can do it all without having to hire someone.”

This has impacted her business negatively, she admits, but also positively when people realize that they aren’t quite getting what they are after.

“Everybody can be a photographer, but not everybody can be a good photographer,” she said. “People need to get familiar with their equipment, train their eyes, hone their skills and learn about the new techniques to be artists.”

Filmmaking, a new route

Brennan herself keeps updating her skills. In 2002, she went digital and returned to UNM to learn Photoshop.

She also took a course to learn filmmaking at UNM Taos and the result was the short film The New Neighbor about Dennis Hopper’s journey to his final resting place in Ranchos de Taos.

“As a filmmaker, I prefer making documentary films,” she said. “I like getting the stories of people’s lives, particularly artists and older folks, but also whatever interests me.”

She is now working on documenting the drought in New Mexico and the effects it is having on the land and lifestyle of those who live in the northeast corner of the state.

“The goal is to complete a 30 or 40 minute film sometime next year,” she said. “I’m collaborating with other artists and filmmakers in this project.”

The cost of technology

Photographers have a very close relationship with their equipment.

“I have shot Pentax, Bronica and Canon cameras,” Brennan said. “Most of my cameras are Canon because once you ‘marry’ a brand it makes sense to stay with it as long as it works for you. Lenses and accessories are too expensive to jump around too much.”

Despite the cost of new technology Brennan says she does love her equipment and keeps updating it.

“The digital world is changing things constantly so I always have an eye for the next greatest leap from what I currently use,” she said.

Brennan has studied painting, drawing, sculpture, and has even built furniture.

“I think it is important for any artist to study different forms and disciplines within the art world to help inform your own work,” she said.

She is also an accomplished gardener and a chicken farmer—she and Duff own eleven hens and a rooster.

“Photography is my expertise, but all the other things I have done and studied have helped to strengthen my work as a photographer,” she said.

Brennan’s exhibit The Art of the Documentary opened at the Harwood Museum of Art on February February 22nd and will be showing until May 4th.

To learn more about Brennan visit her website


or call (575) 737-5508