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Meet Kathryn Zdan of OBRA: The Art of Work in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathryn Zdan.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kathryn. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I have my BFA in photography from the University of Michigan and one of my professors – Carol Jacobsen – was a huge influence in terms of opening my eyes to activism and awareness of women’s rights. That background plus the 2016 election and participating in the Women’s March in 2017 and 2018 set the stage for my blog OBRA: The Art of Work to come into existence.

Starting in 2016, I was looking for a long-term personal project that incorporated photography, because I wanted to focus on something creative outside of my day job. I was reading Studs Terkel’s book “Working,” and I loved the long, monologue-style presentation of the interviews he did with his subjects about their jobs, but as I read I noticed two things: 1) most of the people he interviewed were men, and 2) I found that I kept googling the people in his book because I wanted to see what they looked like (but because it was published in the 1970s, I usually didn’t have any luck finding images). And of course, I’m a huge fan of Humans of New York.

So between those two influences, in early 2017, it occurred to me that I could do something similar: I’d focus on interviewing women about their careers and incorporate photography, and present it a blog format because I knew I wanted the posts to be fairly long. I sifted through my Instagram and Facebook contacts for local friends who might be willing to let me interview them about their jobs, and I’m so grateful to my friend Sari Cohen, who immediately agreed to be the first subject. She jumped right in with no hesitation, and it was a blast capturing her story and then driving around L.A. taking pictures. As soon as I finished the first post I was hooked and couldn’t wait to do more.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
One thing that is difficult is constantly searching for women to interview. I’m fortunate to have friends and acquaintances who are willing to sit down with me to be interviewed and allow me to photograph them, but that’s a huge ask when you don’t know the person! I’m always on the lookout for potential subjects. I contact people through LinkedIn, Instagram, or through their website if they have one. It’s a numbers game – the more people I ask, eventually someone will say yes, and we find time to meet and everything works out.

I’m always a little bit surprised when someone I don’t know agrees to meet me… I’m a total stranger, so I’m super grateful when they’re willing to sit down with me and share their story and their time. This whole process has definitely taught me to be patient and persistent, and it’s interesting because many of the women I have interviewed so far have said the same thing about their career path: that they heard “no” many times, but they just kept pushing forward.

That has been an inspiration for me to continue with this project, even when I’m struggling to find the next interview subject, or I shoot a crappy roll of film, or I feel like I’m not doing enough to promote the blog. I’m also wrestling with which direction to take the blog in because I feel like it could go so many ways: do I want to focus on women who work in male-dominated fields? Artists? Entrepreneurs? Certain age groups or geographic areas?

In the meantime, I’m trying to get as many interviews as I can under my belt, so I have a solid understanding of the process and what it takes to get a great story out of someone, and I learn something new with each interview. But it’s hard not to second guess what I’m doing and where this whole thing is going. I have found that if I’m patient with projects like this, I’ll come to the answer eventually but I can’t force it, and I have to let it evolve naturally.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about OBRA: The Art of Work – what should we know?
OBRA: The Art of Work is a blog that documents women’s career experiences, including the path they took to get where they are now, what they do on a day-to-day basis, and what they have in mind for the future. I’ve always had an interest in the vast number of things that people can do for a living, especially when meeting someone who has a job that I didn’t even know existed.

Years ago, I spent some time with my sister while she was working at the corporate office of a large Midwestern retailer and one of her coworkers was responsible for taking apparel created by the designers and calculating the fit for the various sizes – I had never even thought about this step in the process of making clothing, and I thought it was so cool that it was someone’s job!

With the blog, I want to explore the ins and outs of what women do all day long and why they do it. I’ve found that so far, most people’s path wasn’t what they thought it was going to be and almost everyone experiences some sort of detour or roadblock. I think it’s important to hear these stories because there is literally always something that the reader can relate to.

What I’m proud of is that I’m capturing a slice of someone’s life and preserving it, and at the same time, it’s a way for people to share in each other’s stories. It’s amazing how relatable people’s experiences can be; even if someone’s job is vastly different from yours, I think at the core there are a lot of similarities.

There are many other blogs and social media pages that focus on women and their careers, but I think there is space for all of us. Taken together, it’s important to document every aspect of what is happening in this moment, and I hope the OBRA posts provide a glimpse into the lives and minds of women working in this time period. I really do believe that everyone has a story to tell.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Every one of the women who have agreed to let me interview them deserves credit for helping me with this! I so appreciate everyone’s time and willingness to share their story with me.

Each one of them brings important insights and a really honest portrayal of how they achieved what they have achieved, and whether I knew them personally when we sat down to talk or not, I am consistently impressed by their dedication, work ethic, and passion.

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