We spend way too much time browsing social media where auto-portraits are no longer the work of fine artists; now, it is a selfie, and everyone is doing it. Welcome to the contemporary world. Yet, a few souls on these platforms can take us back to reality, and their visuals bring back the taste of authentic life. They can trigger our journey back to that special place - the beach.

Cate Brown gets you hooked on real life, makes you savor it, and lets you know you do not have to give up the beach this winter.

Cate Brown started shooting when she was only a little girl. Aged 13, her mom showed her how to load the old 35 mm film camera and got her hooked.

She took her newfound love for photography to Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Communications Media, before returning home to southern Rhode Island to reconnect with the coastal community. It was there where she found her calling.

The contrast of black and white, along with soothing blue and green shades of the sea, sometimes tinted by the sundown, is what Cate’s art is all about; in a world where blue and green represent the most loved colors, who wouldn’t relish her work? Cate’s art can trigger that deep desire that might get you out of your comfort zone to that heavenly place, the beach.

Cate, you started photographing sailing in Narragansett Bay while being raised by a sailing family; what are the challenges of photography at sea?

At sea, you’re shooting in an environment 100% not conducive to electronics. Quality gear that is weather sealed, having extra lens cloths and towels on hand, rain gear, and splash guards are all a must—and just being constantly aware of your surroundings!

The marine environment is constantly changing; it can change on a dime. You must anticipate your subject, the situation, and factors for your safety at all times.

Was it these challenges that made you switch to seascapes images?

Seascapes just came about as a more seclusive escape from the hustle and bustle of shooting action. I can go to the beach or shoreline by myself to shoot until the sun goes down, and it’s a much more calming and quiet experience.

What do you love about outdoor photography?

It’s a great way to combine everything that I love! It forces me to be outside more when my subject matter is the outdoors. Many people go into other types of photography — weddings, studios, etc. But this way, I get to shoot what I already love and make it into my career.

What is your favorite time for ocean texture photography? The time of the best light.

My favorite is the golden hour for sure, but particularly at the end of the day approaching sunset. When the light is lower, it just rakes across the surface differently. And when you shoot sunset instead of sunrise, you can see how the light will change and predict your shots a little bit easier.

What are the difficulties of seascapes photographers? Since your shots are not very commercial, how does one make it in seascape photography?

I do have a combined portfolio of fine art and commercial lifestyle work. When it comes to making it in just seascape fine art photography, I’m not sure there’s ever any clear answer! It’s just about getting your work in front of as many eyes as possible and approaching galleries to pitch exhibition proposals that fit the gallery’s curator’s style. But being dependent solely on fine artwork is incredibly hard, so I diversify with other work like sailing and commercial lifestyle.

Breaking off the feigned, coming of the real: Cate Brown

Which of the sports you capture have you tried yourself and enjoyed the most?

I’ve participated in almost every sport I’ve ever shot. Sailing is my second nature at this point. Surfing I have pursued in the past but had difficulty ever finishing to learn. Once I got a water housing for my camera, I got way more satisfaction from shooting than I did surfing!

You are a sailor. What is the longest you stayed out at sea? Have you ever been seasick?

Yes, I was on boats sailing as an infant. I’m very much a bluewater sailor; I don’t ever venture more than a few miles offshore. The furthest I’ve gone is to Provincetown in Massachusetts, or Nantucket offshore, about 30 miles. I’ve never had to spend a night at sea; whenever my family goes for a cruise, we have days of transit, but we’re constantly at a port by nightfall. We’ll sail along the coast for about a week, so it’s like going on a camping trip, but you’re on a sailboat.

And yes, I have been seasick, not until I was in my 20s, though! When I was about 25 or so, I was shooting a regatta off Brenton Reef in Newport, Rhode Island. There was quite a sea state, with swell at 8-10 feet (ca. 2.4-3m), some even more like 12 feet (ca. 3.66m). It’s more comfortable to be on sailboats in these situations, but I was on a motorboat shooting and got properly seasick.

I’ve been mildly nauseous a few times and have learned to manage it successfully. As my dad says, everyone gets seasick at some point; it’s just a matter of what conditions will get you there!

Sailing runs in your family since your father is a sailor. Was it for pleasure or business that he started to sail?

My grandfather was in the Navy and raised my dad and uncles here in Wickford, Rhode Island. There is a strong sailing community here. So my dad and uncles also learned to sail at a young age. My father then continued to the Merchant Marines. So it was a bit of both, I suppose.

You are also a climber and yogi; what climbing style do you follow? What yoga style? How come I have not come across climbing photos?

Yes, I’ve been practicing yoga since I first discovered it when I was about 16, and I have been climbing for about 6 or 7 years now. I prefer Vinyasa yoga with plenty of movement and transitions, and I like top rope gym climbing, mostly because I don’t have enough gear to do outdoor climbing properly. I have wanted to get into sport-climbing a bit more too!

I started to do a bit of climbing shooting, but it requires a whole new set of equipment and gear to do it properly, and I have been focusing on building out my water kit and investing more there instead. This way, climbing can be a bit of an escape where I can focus solely on the sport instead of shooting.

Can you elaborate on the differences in equipment required for climbing photography?

You would need any number of things, from extra static ropes that wouldn’t necessarily be the same ropes you have for actual climbing to equipment, such as top rope anchors, tethers, ascenders, shoes, etc. It’s an entirely different medium and requires other equipment altogether. I have some gear for outdoor climbing, but I’ve also borrowed equipment from friends whenever I’ve climbed outdoors.

It’s also beneficial to be at a certain skill level in any sport you photograph first, and I would only consider myself an intermediate-level climber anyways. Shooting climbing is a whole other discipline, and right now, I prefer climbing for enjoyment. Financially I can focus on investing in gear in the water where my authentic aesthetic lies.

Breaking off the feigned, coming of the real: Cate Brown

You spend a lot of time outdoors and seem to be devoted to physical activity; this sounds like you must have a calm and balanced lifestyle.

I use yoga and climbing as my physical activities for myself and “self” time. I go to massage therapy for the physiological benefits of keeping my body healthy and meditate when I need to clear my mind. I also rest outdoors, whether just going to the beach with friends or being outside with a book. When I need time indoors, I take a hot bath or even play some video games.

What kind of video games? Care to give us some examples?

[Cate laughts] Oh, goodness. Mostly console games. I have an old Nintendo 64, where I love a good old-fashioned round of Mario Kart or Goldeneye, and a Wii that’s mostly collecting dust. But lately, many more modern games on the PS4 like Destiny or Horizon.

Apart from photography, what are your other passions?

The environment. I try to stay engaged in local initiatives, donate when I can, and help spread the word. I try to educate those closest to me about new ways of reducing consumption, reducing waste, eating healthy and local, staying informed, and voting on matters that will make a difference for the environment.

I’ve also recently become more involved in protecting public access to the coastline here in Rhode Island. A group of like-minded citizens like myself are monitoring the public right of way, particularly ones to the coast, and help protect them from encroachment from private landowners or public rights losses. I enjoy the coastline thoroughly for professional and personal reasons and want to ensure that access to the coastline is there for everyone.

How do you ensure the rights of public access to the coastline?

In the United States, coastal access is primarily a state-controlled issue. In Rhode Island, we’re a little unique because our state constitution guarantees access to the shore.

Article I Section 17 states:

The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore…

That access is guaranteed to the entire public along the water at the high tide line. There are also locally recognized right-of-ways at the town level that help ensure access by towns and cities.

The town recognizes multiple ways to get a right-of-way. Although there is a log of bureaucracy, there are, at the same time, various levels of how to ensure the public right of access.

Although there is a governmental department that protects these rights, they are understaffed and underfunded. That is why concerned citizens play a critical role. They report infringements, such as landscaping over public access points, installing illegal signs about access, and putting up fences along the beach where you are not allowed to impede shoreline access by law.

Anyone can report to the CRMC, which offers some enforcement capabilities. It also involves local politics since much happens at the town level.

It’s all very grass-roots. We’ll take notes about instances in other states like California and Connecticut where they’ve been fighting bigger and longer private vs. public coastal access issues over the decades. We have found it’s easier to protect what we have and fight for expansion than reclaim access once it’s fallen out of public use and into private ownership.

It comes down to spreading the word and getting people to attend town council meetings when critical issues arise. It is essential to make the public access points known to everyone. Several cases have made it to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which automatically increases awareness.

The “Adopt-a-Spot” program made it possible for private citizens and companies to take over the management and cleanup of access points. It is an excellent idea that, however, becomes, in some cases, a double-edged sword. Some individuals in favor of coastline privatization use it to block access.

Thus, it becomes necessary to elect sympathetic officials to protect public access rights. It is a lot of work but necessary, especially when isolation due to Covid-19 makes the coastline the best spot where people can enjoy some leisure time during social distancing and venue closures.

Photography: Cate Brown (USA)

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Text & Editing: L.S.V. for Freedom Writers

Photos: Cate Brown