Kat Swansey: Blog https://www.katswansey.com/blog en-us Kat (Emily) Swansey (Kat Swansey) Sun, 26 Jun 2022 21:45:00 GMT Sun, 26 Jun 2022 21:45:00 GMT https://www.katswansey.com/img/s/v-12/u254016828-o642236446-50.jpg Kat Swansey: Blog https://www.katswansey.com/blog 120 80 08 Kat Swansey x Drive-By Film; An Interview https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/7/08-kat-swansey-x-drive-by-film-an-interview Last month, I sat down with my friend, Christopher Hamberger of Drive-By Film, on Instagram Live. We spoke about everything from how I got started shooting film, why photographing rural and abandoned Texas is my love letter to the Lone Star State, and what advice I'd share advice for people who are interested in shooting similar subject matters. I also talk about upcoming plans, but I can't give away all my secrets! You'll have to tune in to the full interview to find out! 

Christopher and the folks at Drive-By Film are doing great work in the community. You can see more of Christopher's work here and follow Drive-By Film by visiting their Instagram



(Kat Swansey) 35mm analog photography drive-by film film film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo texas https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/7/08-kat-swansey-x-drive-by-film-an-interview Mon, 05 Jul 2021 18:29:37 GMT
07 Big Bend Birthday; An 8mm Short Film https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/5/07-big-bend-birthday-an-8mm-experiment Every February for my birthday, I make my annual trek out to the Big Bend region of Texas. It's always my first trip of the year and helps me slow down, reflect on the year before, and set intentions that carry me through the next ten months. I find the area very inspiring and do some of my best thinking on those long drives southwest.

Last year, my dear friend Kellee Bolden gifted me a Yashica 8T-2. The camera is from 1953 and was the first of the 8mm movie cameras. I knew I had to take it on my annual birthday trip to document why I love the region so much.

Though a devastating ice storm hit Texas the week of my birthday, I was able to postpone my trip to March which allowed to experience my favorite region in the springtime. The Bluebonnets were in full bloom, birds sang lovely tunes, and the weather was perfect.

I started the trip with a night of camping at Rio Bravo Ranch outside Presidio, Texas on 1,100 acres of private land overlooking the Rio Grande River. I eventually made my way to Big Bend Ranch State Park for a day of exploring ruins and relaxing riverside with the coldest Lone Star beers one could find (note: drinking beer in Texas' state parks is illegal but I've never been much of a rule follower). The following day, I took a drive into Big Bend National Park and enjoyed hiking Boquillas Canyon (Pron: Bow-key-us). The Boquillas trail sits on the U.S. side of the Texas/Mexico border, with Boquillas del Carmen, a small village of 50 families, sitting just on the other side of the Rio Grande. I watched burros grazing before crossing the river into Mexico and sat in awe as vaqueros rode horseback along the border before continuing into the river through the canyon. 

This trip was my first time shooting with the Yashica 8T-2. I loaded it with a roll of Cine8 Daylight 40 ISO film from the Film Photography Project, which is a 25ft roll of film that records 16 frames per second or roughly four minutes worth of movie footage. 8mm film is double sided, so when you're finished with the first half, you'll remove the spool of film from the camera and flip it over, load it back into the camera, and record the other side. While I realize black and white film might feel more authentic to the camera, I prefer to shoot color so that's exactly what I packed along. I'll admit that I have probably never been so excited to try a new roll of film. Unfortunately, due to new user error (note: Kat error 😬), I loaded the second half of the film into the camera wrong and I only captured the first leg of the trip. Damn those pesky spools...

8mm film is more difficult to develop than most other film stocks, so very few shops still process it. Processing times typically run a month and a half so patience is certainly a virtue when shooting with these films. I sent my film to Cinelab near Boston, Massachusetts. While the footage turned out great and I strongly believe they do good work, I did not have a good experience working with them in large part due to miscommunication with the staff. In the future I will utilize another shop.

Though I am disappointed about losing the footage from the second half of my trip, I'm thrilled with what I was able to capture. And, hey, having a few mistakes here and there is just part of shooting film! All in all, I got to spend a week in my favorite place while learning how to shoot a new format so I'm calling this a win.

🎞: Cine8 Daylight 40 ISO by Film Photography Project
📽: Yashica 8T-2
📍: Rio Bravo Ranch, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Big Bend National Park, Boquillas Canyon



(Kat Swansey) 8mm analog photography cinema film film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo motion picture texas https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/5/07-big-bend-birthday-an-8mm-experiment Mon, 17 May 2021 20:58:23 GMT
06 Corsicana, Texas; Hottest Thing in Town https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/5/02-corsicana-texas-hottest-thing-in-town
With the recent passing of Billy Joe Shaver, I felt the next town I wrote about had to be none other than Billy Joe's hometown of Corsicana, Texas. With a population of roughly 24,000 people, Corsicana isn't even close to being a ghost town. But it still deserves an honorable mention for two of its most notable residents and two of my favorite musicians; Billy Joe Shaver and Lefty Frizzell. 

Unlike most of the towns I photograph, Corsicana has an interstate running through it and sits just 58 miles southeast of Dallas. The town is in Navarro County and was named after Texas Revolution hero Jose Antonio Navarro, an early Texas legislator and a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence (Side note: in case you didn't know, Texas was once its own country). While Jose Antonio Navarro was a native Texan, he named Corsicana after Corsica, a small island in the Mediterranean where his parents were born. Navarro County was created in 1848 by the Texas Legislature and soon after its inception, a committee was appointed to choose a site for the county seat. One of the town's earliest settlers, David R. Mitchell, donated 100 acres of land that would soon become Corsicana. 

Corsicana was governed by a commission whose responsibility was to map the town and sell lots. Another early settler in town named Hampton McKinney built a log cabin to live in that also served as a school, post office, courthouse, and public office. He also operated the town's only hotel at the time, the McKinney Tavern. The town's first courthouse, a two-room log structure, was built in 1849 and also served as the town's church and civic center until the new courthouse was built in 1853. Corsicana seemed to be thriving, as they also had a hardware store, carpenter shop, drug store, saddle shop, saloon, and a blacksmith shop. The town's first newspaper, the Prairie Blade, was founded in 1855, only to be replaced by the Express in 1857, which was later replaced by the Observer on the eve of the American Civil War in 1861.

The town saw significant growth in 1871 when the town's first bank opened and the Houston & Central Texas Railroad made its way to town. The coming of the railroad brought numerous new residents, many of whom went on to open stores near the train depot. By the mid 1880s, Corsicana had become the leading trading and shipping center for the area. By 1872, the town established a mayoral form of government and organized a public school system, fire department, telephone system, and an orphanage.

In the early 1890s, the town experienced an oil boom. While drilling for water, workers struck a pocket of oil and gas leading to Texas' first oil boom! Soon after, nearly every lot in town was under lease and wells were being drilled within city limits. By 1898, there were 287 wells producing oil in the Corsicana area.

The oil boom brought a wave of prosperity with the construction of a new courthouse well under way, as well as the Corsicana Chamber of Commerce. In 1902 the town left behind mule-drawn carriages and upgraded to electric trolleys. By 1923, a second and even larger oil boom hit the area and once again brought prosperity to the town. During the oil boom's peak, Corsicana is said to have had as many as 28,000 residents. However, by the Great Depression, many residents found themselves out of work. The number of businesses in town dwindled from 780 to 500 by 1936. The cotton industry suffered the most, but the oil industry helped mitigate the effects of the Depression. By the end of the decade, Corsicana's economy was showing signs of a rebound and soon the town was thriving again with five banks, a daily newspaper, and multiple hospitals, hotels, movie theaters, and oil pumping stations. 

These days, Corsicana may not be considered a thriving town, but it's certainly not doing poorly by any means. The town still has well over 1,200 operating businesses and access to Interstate 45, which connects the Houston area to the Dallas area. And most notably, it was once home to two of Texas' most beloved country music crooners, Lefty Frizzell and Billy Joe Shaver. While both Lefty and Billy Joe have sadly left this earth, their music still lives on though Texans everywhere. It's not uncommon to roll into a honky tonk or beer joint and hear "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" by Lefty or "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train" by Billy Joe. At the end of the day, we have Corsicana to thank for two things: Texas' first oil boom which led to much of the state's economic growth and the birth of two Texas singer-songwriter legends. Thank you, Corsicana, and we love you. 

Scenes from downtown Corsicana. Pictured here (and above) is the State National Bank Building, erected in 1926. It is the towns only "skyscraper" standing 8 stories tall.

A restored Dr. Pepper mural outside of Dee's Place, a local diner and soda shop. Sadly Dee's Place was closed when I visited, but the inside is as vintage and amazing as you'd expect of a small town soda shop!

The Palace Theater, built in 1921, served as Corsicana's vaudeville house. The theater still operates and serves as a venue for live music. It was saved from demolition and restored in the 1990s. 

Withrow Furniture is still alive and well and has been selling furniture to the Corsicana area since 1930. 

A ghost sign on the side of Withrow Furniture.

The Corsicana Opry was built in 1905 and can be rented for live music, weddings, receptions, and other social gatherings. According to their website, the building has ghosts! 

I don't know much about the Nut House, but Chris Ruiz from Old Sad Songs Photography told me he was going to leave me there. 

Click here to buy or see more photos of Corsicana, Texas.


Sources: Texas State Historical Association, Texas Escapes



(Kat Swansey) analog photography billy Joe shaver corsicana film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo lefty frizzell photography small town small town texas texas https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/5/02-corsicana-texas-hottest-thing-in-town Mon, 10 May 2021 16:36:25 GMT
05 Playlists and Podcasts; Road Trip Essentials https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/5/playlists-podcasts Name a more iconic duo than road trips and tunes. I spend a majority of my free time on the road and I'm always asked how I manage to stay sane or pass the time. My answer is always, "You gotta have good music to listen to!" Most of my travels to abandoned and rural Texas are alone, so playlists and podcasts are an easy way to pass time down the long stretches of highway where very little life exists. So as a self proclaimed road trip queen, it only makes sense to have curated playlists perfected for each type of road trip.  

Here are a list of my favorite playlists and podcasts. Leave a comment with your favorites... they just might make this list! I'm always updating and adding new tunes to these, so don't forget to subscribe to get all the latest updates.



Redneck Road Trip: For rednecks who love road trips... sort of.

When you look at me, you probably don't think redneck. But hell, what does that even mean? I'm a native Texan and we have our own way of doing things down here, including making playlists. 

This particular playlist is usually my go-to at the start of every trip because, well, it starts with Road Trip by Gary P. Nunn. This one is full of classics and lesser known country and Americana artists that are sure to get you revved up for your long drive (sorry, that was a terrible pun). 

For fans of: Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Billy Joe Shaver.

Vaquera Cosmica: For all my cosmic cowgirls out there 

Sometimes you just need some tunes to bop to and this playlist is guaranteed to do it. If you get past the second song and don't find yourself wishing you were decked out in your best rhinestone suit cruising down the highway in a red convertible, well, you *might* be doing something wrong. 

For fans of: Doug Sahm, Nikki Lane, Margo Price, Gram Parsons, and Paul Cauthen.





Funk It Up: Put a little Earth, Wind, AND Fire in your day

Come on, now. You know you wanna put on your boogie shoes, so dust 'em off and get to groovin'. This playlist is six solid hours of funky tunes. Best played at the loudest volume.

For fans of: Stevie Wonder, The Staple Singers, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and the Ohio Players.






Sam Saturdays: For all the Sam Cooke lovers

Another Saturday night and I ain't got no money...
 🎶  Sam Cooke is the greatest soul singer of all time. He wrote songs that could heal a broken heart, inspire change, make you fall in love, and help you twist the night away. He was sadly taken from this world too soon, but his legacy still lives on through the beautiful music he left behind... and THAT's where it's at! 







All Through A Lens: A podcast for film photographers

Eric and Vania are legends in the film community as far as I'm concerned (and I'll die on that hill!). Every two weeks, All Through A Lens walk us through the ups and downs of film photography, introduce us to new photographers via interviews, and drop knowledge bombs that make most of us look like amateurs... all while simultaneously making us laugh and feel like the only person in the room. This podcast is a goldmine and I highly recommend giving it a follow. 

New Slang: An interview-based podcast for fans of Americana and country music

I'm a sucker for country music and I can't seem to ever get enough of it. It's hard to stay on top of new albums, especially with new records coming out almost every week. But Thomas Mooney, the host of New Slang, stays on top of it and is generous enough to spend his time keeping the rest of us in the loop. Each week, Thomas interviews a new singer-songwriter, musician, or bands and digs into their influences, songwriting, and all things in between. Most of the interviews are an hour long, which makes it a great listen for long drives.



One By Willie: For fans of Willie. 'Nuff said.

Come on, who doesn't love Willie Nelson? You don't have to be a fan of country music to appreciate Willie's career. Through his 60+ years in the music industry, Willie has written and recorded hundreds of tracks that have influenced all of us in one way or another. One By Willie, hosted by John Spong of Texas Monthly, interviews prominent artists about their favorite Willie tunes. While this podcast is music based, it covers so much more than that. Hear why legends in the music industry love Willie Nelson, what their favorite songs mean to them, and laugh as they share ridiculous tales of their experiences working AND playing with the Texas legend himself.

(Kat Swansey) analog photography film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo music playlists road texas trips https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/5/playlists-podcasts Mon, 10 May 2021 02:39:40 GMT
04 No Tell Motels; A Photo Series https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/2/04-no-tell-motels-a-photo-series
We've all seen them. They line the outskirts and downtown areas of almost every town with a highway. A no-tell motel. One you check in and out of in the same day, or maybe one with the roof caving in. 

Here are some of my favorite abandoned or seedy motels across Texas, New Mexico and Las Vegas, Nevada that I have photographed on 35mm through my various travels. Below each photo you will find updates or booking information for each hotel featured in this blog.  

To the right: The Cortez Hotel and Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. The hotel still operates and rooms can be rented. 

The Las Vegas Motel in downtown Las Vegas. This view on Google Maps from April 2019 shows the building still standing but the sign no longer exists. 

Motel BienVenido in Alpine, Texas. At the time of this photo, the motel was being renovated. It now operates as the OYO Hotel though it doesn't appear most of the renovations were completed.  

The Boulder Courts in Pecos, Texas. Unfortunately there isn't much information about this motel online. This postcard was dated in June 1941, so it's clear the motel had been around for decades before it was finally razed. 

This old motel in Lobo, Texas appears abandoned but the entire town was purchased by a group of friends from Germany. They occasionally host festivals at the site. You can read more about its history and events here

The Wayside Motel in Hempstead, Texas. Very little information exists for this motel, but a quick look at Google Maps shows it was bulldozed sometime before April 2019. 

The Cedar Hills Motel in Segovia, Texas. The sign says rooms rent for $29.95 and you can rent one at the truck stock adjacent to the motel.

The Falls Hotel in Marlin, Texas was Conrad Hilton's eight hotel. The hotel was built in 1929 and once attracted people everywhere for its mineral baths. The hotel was under construction from 2016 to 2017 to replace broken windows and other hazards. It's unclear what the building is used for today. 

Sands Motel in Grants, New Mexico. This historic hotel sits right off Route 66 and has been lodging people traveling the Mother Road for decades. The motel's claim to fame is that it was a personal favorite of Elvis and wife Priscilla while on tour. The motel still operates and can be rented through Expedia for just $32 a night. 

  The Blue Spruce Lodge in Gallup, New Mexico. This motel also sits right off Route 66 and was built in 1949. The motel has 19 units and it's old selling points were steamed heat for winter, tiled bathrooms, wall-to-wall carpeting, and "radio clock combinations." The lodge still operates to this day. 


The Golden Desert Motel is still operating and was under renovation when I visited in September 2019. I'm sure the new updates will include some modern amenities. 

The Blue Swallow Motel, one of the most photographed motels, is a staple along Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Though the hotel is a bit dated, it's very cute and feels like home. 



(Kat Swansey) abandoned abandoned places analog photography film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo Las Vegas New Mexico photography small town small town texas texas https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/2/04-no-tell-motels-a-photo-series Wed, 03 Feb 2021 02:57:58 GMT
03 All Through a Lens; A Podcast https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/1/03-podcast Last May, I was interviewed by All Through a Lens, a podcast dedicated to film photography hosted by Eric and Vania. Both are photographers based on the West Coast with very different styles; Vania is a self proclaimed Beach Alien who focuses on surfing and beautiful ocean scenes, while Eric uses 100 year old cameras and expired film to capture gorgeous views of the desert.   

We discussed my photographic style and what it's like as a small-town-turned-city-girl visiting rural communities across Texas. We also talked at length about why I prefer to keep my photos devoid of humans and why I made the choice to move away from shooting professional-grade films and start using grocery store emulsions, like Fuji 200 or Kodak Gold.  

To wrap 2020, All Through a Lens invited previous guests to call in and reflect on the year and how it shaped their photography. I'm excited to have been included and share plans for an upcoming zine showing Polaroid images taken on my recent trip along the border of Mexico in far West Texas. I can't give away all the details just yet, so stay tuned! 

Give the podcast a listen by using the player at the top of the page. I come on at the 48 minute mark, but I encourage you to listen to the entire episode to hear from other talented film photographers. You can also find this episode and more by subscribing to All Through a Lens on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

If you'd like to listen to my first interview with All Through a Lens, please click here. A full, uncut version of this interview is available by subscribing to All Through a Lens on Patreon.




(Kat Swansey) all through a lens all through a lens podcast analog photography film photography film photography podcast kat swansey kat swansey photo photography podcast small town small town texas texas https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/1/03-podcast Tue, 05 Jan 2021 04:11:07 GMT
02 Kat Swansey; A 2021 Introduction https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/1/02-kat-swansey-a-2021-introduction
Hi y’all! I figured my first blog post of the new year should be a quick introduction to my new and old friends. I’m Kat and I’m glad you’re here! 

I picked up my first camera at age 13 and I’ve been obsessed with photography ever since. I’ve primarily shot film for the last 15 years when me and my dad accidentally bought my beloved Canon Rebel K2 instead of a DSLR - my favorite mistake! I still own this camera and shoot with it often. Though I did briefly dabble with digital, I knew shooting film was where my heart was and quickly shelved my DSLR for nine years before eventually selling it in 2018.

I’ve always had a deep love for the small towns I grew up in. I did my best to photograph them and those scenes from everyday life, but I never quite loved any of the photos. I decided to give it up and spent nearly all of high school and my early 20s photographing bands and people. ✨Surprise!✨ I didn't always photograph abandoned buildings! I refer to this era of my photography as my 'identity crisis' because I truly hated portraits, but I was lost and wanted to be behind a camera. 

Sometime around 2013, Chris Ruiz and I began venturing into small towns around Austin, Texas, where I have lived for the last 12+ years. Visiting those small towns reminded me of home and how much I always miss it. At first I was insecure and felt like I still couldn’t get my photos where I wanted them, but I knew I was on the right track. Some days I still struggle with this and I'm always working hard to improve, but overall I’m extremely proud of my photography. Though I’m sometimes disappointed by what I see in small towns (politically, etc), I feel sharing these mostly forgotten places is one of my life’s greatest gifts. I have learned that there is so much more than meets the eye. These places may be slowly falling off the map, but there is still a huge sense of community. Everyone looks out for each other. Most of these places have been left to rot, but at one point that building, car, or home was filled with pride and love for those who inhabited it. So while I intentionally leave humans out of my photos, my ultimate goal is to still bring some humanity or breathe life back into those places. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that life does exist outside of my comfort zone but visiting these towns and having conversations with people who live there is a great reminder of how different our lives can be, and that I am always so grateful for what I have and the luxuries I’ve been afforded.

When I’m not out shooting, I love watching the San Antonio Spurs, reading old westerns, and shooting the shit at the honky tonk. I am all hat and no cattle these days, but I proudly still wear my cowgirl boots and hat (yes, I’ve been asked) and I love my record collection full of country and western that I mostly stole borrowed for an indefinite amount time from my grandparents. It was my grandparents' fondness for looking through their old family photos that instilled in me a love for photography. They also spent a good chunk of their retirement raising me and making sure I got my shit together. I owe them the world but I pay them in hugs and admiration. My paternal grandfather was a school teacher and hobby photographer who had an insane collection of cameras, lenses, and darkroom equipment. I was always fascinated by it as a kid and I wish we’d had more time together so I could learn from him. He died when I was 10, but I am fortunate to have his old Miranda camera and several telephoto lenses that I display proudly in my home. They are a good reminder to keep doing what I love, and that is being behind a camera as much as possible.

Thanks for taking the time to read more about me. The film community has been so welcoming and supportive of me throughout the years, so I hope in 2021 I'm able to get to know you all better too. As always, if you'd like to know more or just say hi, please drop me a comment below or shoot me an email

This portrait was taken by Jordan Martinelli on Fuji 200 using a Canon Elan 7NE. She’s a wonderful photographer and one of my best friends, please check her out on Instagram! 

(Kat Swansey) abbot analog photography film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo photography small town small town texas texas https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2021/1/02-kat-swansey-a-2021-introduction Sat, 02 Jan 2021 18:48:48 GMT
01 Abbott, Texas; Always On My Mind https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2020/10/AbbottTX
Abbott, Texas' claim to fame is that it's the hometown of country crooner, Willie Nelson. The town sits right off Interstate 35 just 25 miles shy of Waco in Hill County. Though Willie and his sister Bobbie are the town's most notable residents, Abbott was named after Joseph Abbott, a lawyer, teacher, judge, and U.S. congressman. The town was well on its way to prosperity with the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad arriving in 1881 and a post office just one year later. In the 1890s, cotton was a major crop in the area and the town flourished with two cotton gins and a gristmill. The town also had more than 15 businesses, including a general store,  drug store, town doctor, barbershops, two hotels, blacksmith shops, a photography studio, newspaper, and a bank. Quite the feat for a small community in rural Texas! 

While the town appeared to be moving full steam ahead (no train pun intended), Abbott was not without tragedy. A series of fires struck in 1897, 1903, and 1904. Resilient as ever, the residents of Abbott came together to rebuild each time.

The future looked promising for the town and in 1920, a paved highway was built. Though the Great Depression was well on its way, the town continued to succeed as it became a major stop on the railroad. In 1890 Abbott had only 156 residents but by 1914, the town was flourishing with well over 700 people. Sadly by 1928 the post office had closed and by WWII, only 264 people were left in town. These days roughly 360 people call Abbott home. 

While Abbott is far from where it used to be, the town still holds a lot of pride. Some Texans claim it is against the law in Texas to mention the town without also mentioning that Willie Nelson grew up there. Though Willie hit critical acclaim after his move to Nashville and later Austin, many folks who grew up in Abbott remember Willie carrying his guitar to school and one resident even claims his sister, Bobbie, plays the guitar better than Willie.

I'll let you form your own opinion with this video of Willie and Sister Bobbie performing live at Farm Aid in 1994. If all this talk about Willie Nelson has got you craving more, this wonderfully curated playlist is sure to get your feet moving.

Abbott Cash Grocery & Market

Inside the meat market

Abbott City Hall

Whatever! It's unclear if this was a store or a bar.  Downtown Abbott at a glance with the United Methodist Church sitting proudly in the background.

Click here to buy or see more photos of Abbott, Texas.


Sources: Texas State Historical Association, Texas Escapes



(Kat Swansey) abbot analog photography film photography kat swansey kat swansey photo photography small town small town texas texas willie nelson https://www.katswansey.com/blog/2020/10/AbbottTX Tue, 27 Oct 2020 01:42:14 GMT