Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An Olympian, a Princeton alum, and a future orthopedic surgeon walk into a bar.
As it turns out, they’re all one person. Her name is Kat Holmes, and Philadelphia’s Jeff Wojtaszek photographed the Èpèe Fencing World Champion as part of a summer profile for Real Woman magazine. Jeff has worked with RW for the past five years and has produced 20 covers for the publication, with women like Kat — career-oriented females leading ambitious lives — as the primary subject matter.
Real Woman has always been so trusting and has been one of the best clients that I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside. [They always] want to keep a level of authenticity to the photos, as these are REAL women. I’m deeply grateful for the ongoing relationship and humbled that they continue to trust me with each cover.
Real Woman has commissioned Jeff for all but one of its covers. An appealing aspect of the partnership is that each assignment is a little different.
There are times when RW has a specific vibe that they would like to achieve. Other times, they can be fairly loose with direction. But on all shoots, there is a level of trust and creative freedom that is just plain awesome for a photographer [to have].
This project was one of Jeff’s favorites, mainly because of who he was shooting. Consider what Kat, 25, has already accomplished. In 2016, she represented the U.S. at the Rio Summer Olympics, narrowly missing out on a medal after succumbing to an overtime defeat.
The next year, Kat authored a senior thesis detailing the experience and what she learned from it, which helped her graduate from Princeton University with a degree in neuroscience. In July of 2018, the Washington, D.C. native led her country to its first world title in fencing, notching the key victory – in overtime, no less – against former Olympic silver medalist Choi In-Jeong.
Kat trains six-to-eight hours a day at her alma mater, where Jeff’s shoot took place, in preparation for her second Olympics. She took up fencing at the age of nine and has dedicated a large chunk of her life to this cerebral dance known as “the chess of sports.” As you might imagine, Kat’s disciplined disposition made Jeff’s life much easier in spite of the fact that the shoot only lasted one hour.
Kat was a pure professional on set. She was super calm, took direction very well, and gave us the time we had agreed upon.
Though Kat believes her team has a legitimate shot to take gold in Tokyo, the hunt for a medal doesn’t define her existence. Doesn’t come close, really. Kat’s amalgam of aspirations is too well-rounded for that to be the case. When she gets back to the states after next summer’s games, Kat will start medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. It’s pretty clear that failing to stand atop the podium in 2020 wouldn’t be the end of the world for the prodigiously talented èpèeist, a lesson Jeff takes to heart.
The definition of success looks different to various people, but we all strive for it and do the best that we can. My goal for each shoot, small or large, is to do the absolute best I can. One of my instructors when I was in photography school once said, ‘no matter how small or insignificant a job may be, treat every job like you are doing it for Sports Illustrated.’
It’s interesting Jeff mentions SI, because Kat was actually a finalist for the 2008 Sports Illustrated Sports Kid of the Year (her rèsumè is beyond ridiculous). Still, Kat’s approach to life is centered more around preparation and effort than compiling bullet points on a CV. Jeff knows he can apply this mindset to his own career.
Even if you’re not excited about [a shoot], even if you’re barely breaking even, give 110% and the results will surprise you. There are shoots where I gave 110% and failed miserably. I’ll walk away feeling very disappointed in myself and the work that was produced. The client may be very happy but, somehow, I missed the mark on what I had envisioned the final image to be.
That certainly wasn’t the case with this assignment, during which Jeff worked with RW editor Jess Downey to flesh out the shot that ended up as the magazine’s cover.
RW likes to shoot a lot of their covers on a background these days and finding creative ways to shoot on seamless can be challenging. I was like, ‘let’s have her cutting through the seamless with her èpeè. It will [either] be awesome or a terrible mistake, but I think we should try it.’ I think it’s original in terms of a fencing portrait. We had Kat for one hour, which meant we had to move very quickly. All in all, I think we had five minutes in this setup before being rushed off to the next setup.
Not only was this project was a clear success for all parties involved, it helped remind Jeff of something he’s known for a long time: your work doesn’t define you, whether it’s becoming an Olympian or photographing one.
My life here on earth is so much more than what I do for work. I’m a photographer and want to be successful at it creatively and financially, but that cannot be my identity. My success lies in the person that I am to my God, my family, and to my neighbor.
See more of Jeff’s work at jeffwojtaszek.com.
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