Katie Currid’s family moved a lot when she was growing up. During her adolescence, they settled in Missouri, where Katie stayed through college. After college and internships, she settled for a spell in Staunton, Virginia, and is now living in Italy, where she continues to take pictures. In the middle of her move overseas, she spoke with us about the differences between living in a small town as a child and as an adult.
Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Katie Currid: I grew up moving around a lot. I think I’ve lived in ten different states across the United States. Most of my childhood from middle school on was spent in Missouri. My first experience with photography was in 8th grade, when my parents gave me a little digital point and shoot for my graduation. We lived on a farm, so I would go and take pictures of my sisters running through the fields with the cows on our farm in the Ozarks in Missouri.
DY: And you eventually went on the study photography.
KC: Yes, I studied Photojournalism at the University of Missouri’s Photojournalism school. The University of Missouri does a really good job of showing the importance of community journalism. One big thing that I took part in when I was there was the Missouri Photo Workshop, where they go and spend a week in a small town in Missouri to document it and photographers from all over come down to take part in this workshop. That really shaped my future career in terms of the kind of work I wanted to do.
During college, I was also the Executive Producer for My Life, My Town, which was a multimedia project that The Missourian (the city newspaper) and KBIA (the local NPR affiliate) would work on together and the whole purpose of it was to focus on issues facing rural teens to give this group of people who aren’t often heard from a voice that way.
DY: What was it like talking to those teens as someone who was once a rural teen herself?
KC: The project was really good. There was a lot of variety in the stories- a gay teen, a story about a brother and sister that lived on a farm and their diverging paths as they graduated high school. We did a screening at a local movie theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and it was very cool. Our friends came, as did the families of the people in the movies and people from their hometowns. All these people converged and we discussed what we thought about these stories and these issues and how important they were to tell.
I also did a story about my own hometown called Bored in Lawson. I think a big thing when you’re growing up in a small town is the boredom you face. You talk about how bored you are all the time and you spend a lot of time trying to just find something to do. So I ended up hanging out with my younger sister and her friends and spent the weekend shooting them, and talking to them about what it’s like to grow up in a small town.
I wanted to do that story because that was my experience growing up. I knew what it was like to go cruising on a Saturday night because we didn’t have a movie theatre and the only thing we’d do was go drive around cornfields and meet up with people in fast food parking lots and talk and make up things to do, basically.
DY: Until recently, you lived in Staunton, Virginia, working for the local paper. How did you end up there?
KC: I was interning at the Dallas Morning News, and it was my second internship out of college, and I started getting really nervous about my finances and so I started applying for all these jobs and this one in Virginia at The News Leader popped up and the ad was everything I wanted. They talked about community journalism, they talked about wanting to get into more online media, which is uncommon for smaller papers, and the town sounded really cool. I went and visited while I was still at the internship, and I fell in love with this adorable Victorian town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I felt that this was where I could do what I always wanted to do, which is community journalism. They always did a really good job with providing me with the tools to do the stories I wanted to do.
DY: What was it like being a staff photographer for a paper in a small town when you didn’t grow up in that town?
KC: I felt this huge responsibility to take care of the community that I was shooting in and be really sensitive to the issues I was covering. It wasn’t like I was an outsider coming in and just going there for a story and then leaving. I was an outsider coming in with a duty to be these people’s voice and tell their stories and I knew that I had to do a good job because I was going to be there for a long time and they would hold me accountable. I didn’t do any really controversial stories, but I was always trying to be super informed about anything I was doing because I was a Midwesterner coming into this Southern culture where they had traditions like fox hunting or historical traditions that had to do with the Civil War that I wasn’t used to at all.
DY: Do you think being a reporter in a small town makes you more accountable for your work?
KC: Absolutely. I never had anyone call me out on anything, but people would come up to you and say, “I saw the story you did last week. I think it’d be really great if you did this story.” I would go to the farmer’s market just as a citizen and people would say “Oh, you’re the lady from the newspaper. Just so you know, this creamery is opening up and I think it would be a great story for the paper.” It was really cool to be this citizen of the town but also be a person people recognized as a journalist and if they cared about something they could go to you and tell you about it. And then if you thought it warranted a story, you could do it.
DY: Some of your early work deals with the struggles of living in a small town as a young person. What is the difference in your perception of rural life when you were a kid versus living in a rural place as an adult?
KC: That’s a funny question. When I was in college I did an internship on Long Island. And I remember going there and doing the Manhattan thing on the weekends and being on this giant populated island with all these people and I felt like I could never live in a place like this because it drove me insane. And I feel like a lot of your upbringing when you living in a rural place is you talk smack about it, like “Oh, my town is so dumb, I can’t wait to get out of here.” That’s what everyone says. And then you grow up, and now I’m like, I love living in a small town. I love knowing my neighbors and being able to depend on the community. I felt like I made a difference in Staunton. You feel like you can help people and become a part of the community and you are this active participant that makes a bigger impact. When you’re younger you just want to leave, and now that I’m a bit older, I appreciate it a lot more.