by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
When you got it, you got it. And Nate Gowdy has it.
The Seatle Gay News staff photographer recently beat out 14 other finalists in the 2013 PDN Photo Annual contest sponsored by Photo District News (PDN), claiming the Grand Prize in the student category. The winning submission was a collection of shots called 'Portraits in Drag.'
Although the distinction doesn't come with any monetary rewards, Gowdy has been invited to New York City next month for a reception that will bring him and the other category winners together, along with insiders from the photography world and a panel of judges, who are expected to bestow more honors to a select few.
This isn't the first time Gowdy has won an award, or been shortlisted, for his work. His growing list of accolades includes top prizes in the American Photography and AIS Summer Photography contests, in addition to placing or being recognized four consecutive times by PDN.
THE FATEFUL MEETING
Gowdy, who is pursuing a BA in commercial photography at the Art Institute of Seattle, is among a minority of shutterbugs in Seattle who make a living taking photos - a remarkable feat for someone whose career began just 27 months ago.
'At the time, even though I was a preschool teacher, I'd gotten obsessed with my point-and-shoot camera,' he said by phone. At a social event, the Indiana native met SGN Publisher George Bakan and Associate Editor Shaun Knittel. That meeting led to a trial run for Gowdy to shoot photos for the newspaper.
The 29 year-old recalls telling them, 'Hey, I'm gonna get a camera for Christmas and be a photographer,' and I think they liked me. We hit it off, but don't think they took me seriously.' Gowdy, however, was dead serious.
'When the New Year came, I had my camera from my parents for Christmas and came into the office and said 'I'm ready to go!' so Shaun took me to a GSBA event - it was a business casual mixer - and I didn't know anyone, didn't know how to use a camera, and did a really awful job. I was trying to get that magic shot of people having conversations with each other and eating and having cocktails. I came back, the pictures were pretty blah, and Shaun gave me advice to engage people. He told me to just say, 'Hey, I'm from the newspaper and I'm going to take your picture.' So, I used that advice. The next event I went to was a bear party - a dance party at Neumos where it was all men, all with their shirts off, and I engaged them and said, 'Hey, let's take a picture,' and came back with some great photos, and George and Shaun were like, 'Holy moly, you're our event photographer! We're going to send you to parties to take pictures and post them on Facebook,' and I kind of ran with it.'
LEARNING THE ROPES
In case you didn't know, Gowdy is straight. His job, however, requires that he not only be present at Gay bar after Gay bar every week, as well as drag pageants, Pride festivities, and every other conceivable LGBT community event, a task that's made him recognizable wherever he goes.
'In college, one of my three roommates came out right after we moved in together,' he remembers. 'Growing up in the Midwest and Northern Indiana - at the time I was in school at Indiana University - I didn't really have much exposure and we learned a lot through him. We were all, of course, really accepting and IU has a huge performing arts school, a pretty densely Gay population there, so we kind of ended up having all the Gay parties hosted at our house,' he recalled with a laugh.
Part of learning the ropes for a heterosexual photographer representing a Gay publication was simply adapting to the culture.
'One thing about the Gay community, at least at the clubs, is everyone hugging,' Gowdy observed. 'That's how you introduce each other and greet people. I was always a shake-hands person. I remember when I was doing outreach for HVTU [Seattle HIV Vaccine Trials Unit], one guy called me out for my hug. He was like, 'What was that? What are you, straight?!' So, I think I'm getting a lot better at hugging.'
Then, there are times when he's completely taken advantage of, which Gowdy shrugs off with an embarrassed laugh.
'Once when I was new, I got straddled by a drag queen [while] sitting down,' the young photographer confessed. 'I get spanked here and there, and you just bat the hands away.'
SGN 'A PERFECT FIT'
As for being employed by SGN, Gowdy considers it a blessing.
'I couldn't have found a better niche. It's a perfect, perfect fit,' he says contentedly. 'It offers access. Shooting Katy Perry, Madonna, all the people at the shows, personalities, and politicians. It offers access, exposure, and - a big one for me, or any photographer - it offers you a reason to be there taking pictures. To be able to say, 'Hey, this is for SGN,' it gives me credibility.'
Gowdy and colleague Jennifer DeLeo have recently launched a collaborative wedding photography service on his website, www.nategowdy.com. They've already been hired by a few high-profile couples, including Washington State Sen. Jamie Pedersen and his new husband, Eric Pedersen.
On May 28, he plans to be in New York to accept his PDN award. If you see him out and about, give the guy a hug. I hear he's improved a lot in that area.
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