Katie McCurdy, who graduated from Perkiomen Valley in 2005, is living a fantastic life. Katie is a professional photographer who has photographed some of the biggest celebrities of our time, such as Selena Gomez and Billie Eilish. Katie didn’t get where she is today just by luck; she got there by many years of hard work and dedication, and all of that started at PV.
Katie had always been involved with art, taking art classes since she was young, but it wasn’t until high school that she took her first photography class. Once Katie started learning about photography in this class, she immediately discovered how much she loved it.
“It was like this self-discovery moment where I realized this is what I really love and it was something that I was really good at,” she said.
Katie spent so much time in the high school photography room that the photography teacher at the time, Mr. Barnett, suggested she start a photography club. Katie created the club to help other students improve their photography skills while still improving her own. Another way Katie practiced her craft while in high school was by going to punk shows and taking pictures of her friends who were in bands, along with just doing fun impromptu photoshoots with friends when she had free time.
On weekends, Katie began taking photography classes at the University of the Arts, where she would later attend college and earned her photography degree, learning more about photography while gaining the opportunity to work in a bigger studio.
When Katie was a junior she attended a summer workshop at the University of the Arts for two months, which she described as “a dream experience.” That summer camp convinced Katie that she wanted a future career in photography.
“I feel extremely fortunate to have found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at such a young age and to have had the ability to pursue that dream,” she said.
Something many people struggle with when coming to the decision that they want to pursue art professionally is getting the support of their parents. Fortunately for Katie, this was never an issue as her parents have always been extremely supportive. Katie explained that growing up, her parents encouraged her to do whatever she wanted to do because she would discover what she was really interested in as she grew. Her parents gave her the freedom to make her own choices while also instilling good values in her such as the importance of having a job.
Katie has worked since she was 14 years old, doing various jobs in high school and waitressing throughout college. She credits her parents with encouraging her interest in the arts while also teaching her the value of hard work and financial responsibility. According to Katie, this has allowed her to express herself creatively while also supporting herself financially.
Katie has also been influenced by her sister, Samantha, who is a sculptor. Katie said they have both inspired each other artistically in many ways.
Not only was Katie’s family super supportive of her chosen career path, but so was her high school art teacher, Mrs. Klinger. Katie recalled how hard Mrs. Klinger was when grading Katie’s work in that class. While Katie didn’t understand it at that time, she now realizes Mrs. Klinger was harder on her because she knew Katie had the potential to improve and be better. This created a new work ethic for Katie as she discovered that if she pushed herself a little bit harder and out of her comfort zone maybe her work would be a little better.
“It is incredibly gratifying as a teacher when any of my students become successful, particularly in an art-related field. I am so proud and grateful when they reach out to let me know I had an impact on helping them achieve that success,” Mrs. Klinger said.
Like her former art teacher, Katie also finds joy in helping young artists. Last year, Katie came back to Perkiomen Valley to teach a photography workshop at the career fair. She said it was a cool and nostalgic experience to return to her old high school and, in a way, she found it humbling. It made Katie think back to when they had guest speakers when she was in high school and how sometimes that one person can change the way you think about things. She feels it’s important for her to try to provide students with a new perspective.
During quarantine, Katie reviewed high school and college students’ portfolios, and she said that she was grateful to do it even if she was only able to have a 20-minute conversation with someone, but still give them valuable advice or help guide them toward some type of path.
Katie reflected on the difficult journey to get to a place where a person is completely content, and in order to arrive, that person has to be excited about what they are doing while taking the scenic route through life and cherishing those times. This may have been a piece of advice that she could have used when she was younger.
“I would tell my younger self to just chill out and not be so hard on yourself, and enjoy [being in] the moment a little bit more,” McCurdy said.
Photo: Allison Brady