Q&A with Kendall McCaugherty, FAA ’13

Nationally-ranked high jumper, model, and photographer, Kendall now works at Hedrich Blessing Photographers, an architectural photography firm in Chicago.
Interviewed by Meaghan Downs
Photos by Kendall McCaugherty

What made you decide to come to Illinois and enter the College of Fine and Applied Arts?

I started photographing as a freshman for my high school journalism program in Bridgeport, West Virginia. I was immediately drawn to the medium, so I began covering sports and community events for local newspapers. I knew that I wanted to explore photography as my major and career. But since I grew up in a small town, my opportunities, beyond photo-journalism, were limited. Luckily, the University of Illinois was among the schools recruiting me for Track and Field. My athletic scholarship gave me the chance to become a part of a successful fine arts college at an elite public university. The fact that Urbana-Champaign is only hours south of Chicago was an added benefit because the city is such an iconic place to photograph. I couldn’t pass it up.

Tell us about your Illinois experience. What would you say was most rewarding? Challenging?

My transition from photo-journalism into fine art photography was the biggest challenge I faced at Illinois. Discovering who I was as an artist and how I was going to apply my talents after graduation took some time. Between preparing for class critiques, shooting for the Daily Illini, photographing my teammates, and wandering around campus with my camera, I was able to figure it out. Another challenge was majoring in in the fine arts while also participating in athletics. Finding a balance between each of these endeavors was an incredibly rewarding experience. I learned to manage my time effectively, which has helped me handle the demanding schedule of my current position with Hedrich Blessing Photographers, an architectural photography studio in Chicago.

During Illini Days in Chicago last fall, you captured the perfect shot of the orange and blue lights at Willis Tower. As an alumna, any thoughts about seeing orange and blue in the Chicago skyline?

The difficulty with photographing the Willis Tower is that it has already been captured from every angle, countless times. I believe the shot is successful because the eye has no choice but to follow the building’s lines all the way up to the orange and blue antennas, making them the most prominent feature of the photograph. For dusk shots I like to be on location early, so I can photograph as the sun goes down. The anticipation of waiting for the antennas to light up was half the fun. When they finally did, it was exciting to see my Alma Mater’s colors shining from the highest point in Chicago.

What, if anything, at Illinois (either a class, group, relationship with professor or student) was most beneficial for your career post-graduation?

It’s really difficult to pick one particular thing. The relationships I developed at Illinois and the accumulation of experiences I had there were invaluable. Dozens of mentors, coaches, teammates, and friends contributed to my success while on campus and have had a lasting impact on my professional career. I didn’t take my time at Illinois for granted. It has forever shaped who I am.