By Nicole Moorefield
Catherine Powell first picked up a camera when she was 4 years old at Disney World — or, at least, that’s how her mother tells it.
“That feels dramatic,” Powell says.
In Powell’s version, the story takes place in fifth grade at photography club. Regardless, she began shooting concerts at 14. Her first photo pass was for All Time Low and The Maine at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey.
More than a decade of determination later, the 27-year-old has a successful career as a tour photographer for artists like Dan + Shay and Kacey Musgraves. She shot All Time Low and The Maine on a bill together again in August — very full-circle.
She gets to live the life she once dreamed of — traveling the world, rubbing elbows with celebrities. But it’s not as glamorous as she might have imagined growing up.
An only child, Powell grew up in a sports-loving town in New Jersey that celebrated lacrosse as a holiday. However, athletics weren’t her strong suit — her father flat-out told her she wouldn’t make the softball team — so she found photography.
Amanda Schechter, Powell’s friend since they were 4 years old, likens a young Powell to Kimmy Gibbler, the overly enthusiastic neighbor from “Full House” who became an honorary member of the Tanner clan — “but in a good way,” Schechter says.
“She was always just barging into my house,” Schechter says.
She describes Powell as outgoing, determined and “kind of a tomboy” as a kid.
“She’s really confident, but she wasn’t always,” Schechter says . She grew through life experiences.
Flight after flight, shoot after shoot
Powell was only ever interested in shooting the entertainment world. Avid fans of the Warped Tour, Powell and her friend Ariella Mastroianni were frustrated that magazines weren’t covering their favorite artists, so they decided to start their own. In 2011, NKD Magazine was born.
Powell says deciding to end the magazine was the most difficult decision she has ever made.
“I started thinking about it two years before I actually did it,” she says. “There was no actual profit and I was putting literally every hour I was awake into it.”
By then, she was juggling too much. Powell was the only photographer for every issue. She oversaw a small team of writers herself — Mastroianni left in 2013.
It was a small miracle she graduated college — four years at the School of Visual Arts that she hated, except for the opportunity to move to New York City.
Her professors didn’t consider her work true art. Balancing shoots for the magazine with classes was difficult. For most of her final semester, she was on tour.
Her school had a strict absence policy — three missed classes per course — and Powell managed to meet that. But one professor had a limit of two absences.
“I had to petition my dean to let me graduate,” she says. “Yes, I missed three of his classes, but I also had the highest grade in the class with a 97.”
Her ‘Golden Hour’
Enter Kacey Musgraves. Powell was shooting a festival in London that Musgraves headlined. She offered Musgraves’ team her services. They had an opening, and the rest fell into place.
This was three weeks before the release of “Golden Hour,” Musgraves’ fourth studio album that would go on to win Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammys.
Suddenly, Powell was caught up in a whirlwind. She followed Musgraves on tour with Harry Styles and then shot Musgraves’ “Oh, What a World” tour.
The Grammy win was an exponential change.
“I think she shot up like half a million (Instagram followers) overnight after the Grammys or something absurd like that,” she says.
Powell got her first photos in Rolling Stone — first a small picture and then, a month later, a two-page spread of Musgraves backstage with drag queens.
Paying New York rent to rarely see her apartment finally became too much, so Powell moved to Nashville, where she lives today.
That was in 2019. She published NKD’s last issue four months later.
Now Powell could finally focus on her career.
Then COVID-19 struck.
The entertainment industry lurched to a halt, leaving her with few job prospects. It had all the makings to be the worst time of her life.
Instead, she found her life partner.
Powell met William Stone at a 2020 New Year’s party.
“After our first date, he never slept at his own apartment again,” Powell says.
Six weeks later, his things and his cat, Ellie, moved in.
Dating through a pandemic means Stone knows a lot more about Powell than most relationships of the same length.
“The joke our friends always make is that our relationship is in dog years,” Stone says, because they covered years in the first six months.
“She is amazingly concise, professional, knows everyone, everyone loves her, good at everything she tries to do,” Stone says. “Except maybe hanging shelves.”
Now that the pandemic is nearing its final chapter, things look bright for Powell. In fact, with the release of Musgraves’ newest album, one could say things look “Star-Crossed.”
“It’s like, ‘How do you go up from there?’ And she’s somehow found a way,” he says.
‘Just pushing buttons’
But Powell wants to highlight that life in the entertainment industry is not all that it seems from the outside.
“I think a lot of people assume, ‘Oh, you work for someone who is rich, so you must be rich,’” she says. “‘No, man, I am living very firmly in the middle class right now.’”
Some people assume her work is too expensive and unattainable; others think she can cut them a discount.
“I’m not doing well enough for you to not pay me,” she says.
Despite that, she loves her life, and wants to be remembered for “not being an a******.”
“The tombstone could read, ‘Good at what she did and wasn’t rude,’” she says.
Stone wants to emphasize how “universally loved” Powell is.
“It’s amazing that she has managed to be a creative and be the force that she is without being a narcissist,” he says.
Spencer Jordan, one of her Nashville friends, says it took three months of friendship before he found out what Powell does for a living.
He compliments her on that humility, saying that “she never throws it in anybody’s face” when she does bring up the names she works with.
As for her photography, Powell says it’s just pushing buttons.
It’s her passion, and it’s her livelihood. But it’s not her whole life. She’s an avid Marvel fan, always buying her friends tickets, and a surprisingly good cook, though she’s allergic to bananas.
But it’s not by luck that Powell is at the top of her field — she worked hard to get here, and she’s not stopping now.
Edited by Mary King and Montia Daniels