Local Photographer Plants Roots in Her Hometown

Katherine Birkbeck was a student at Berry College when she took a few photography courses and caught the shutterbug.

“I loved being in the darkroom. It felt so artsy and cool. I knew I’d have a darkroom in my house one day, and then it all went digital, which is way easier,” she says, laughing. “I got a camera for Christmas, so I’d walk around campus taking pictures. I didn’t think it would be a career, that it would just be a hobby, but I learned quickly that it’s an expensive hobby.”

When a friend from high school asked Katherine to take her wedding photos, the young creative agreed. Something clicked, so she went back to school and got her master’s degree from Kennesaw State and developed a photography business plan. The hobby was officially a career.

Growing a photography business is no small feat, but Katherine’s timing and talent were ripe for success. Not only was social media an invention perfect for photographers, but her gift for catching the right angle in the perfect light meant clients were eager to refer her. Soon she was booking weddings by the weekend, a schedule she could readily manage pre-kids.

“Starting my business before having kids was good for me. I could do 43 weddings a year,” she says. “Some of that is how this building came about. My kids start kindergarten this year.”

When the principal of her children’s school asked her to take photos of downtown Clinton for her, Katherine got up early one morning to explore her old stomping grounds. That was when she saw the vacant building for sale. An idea flashed in her mind that she couldn’t shake for two days.

“It brought me back to the early days when I thought about a storefront or studio. I’m gone too much on the weekends, and before my kids started school I could keep them home with me if I wanted to. I just thought, ‘this is not likely,’ but then I mentioned it to my husband, and I thought he’d think I was nuts,” Katherine says. “But he agreed it made sense. We started asking all the questions and said if we got a big ‘no’ we’d be done. We kept getting all these yeses.”

The Anderson County Chamber has been working steadily to build up its county seat, and the Birkbecks are in full support.

“It just made sense for our family and our town. We want to help the community. We wanted to bring life to the street that the building is on. I grew up in Clinton, so the town is special to me. My best friend and I, when we were in middle school, would walk to Hoskins to get a milkshake and then walk to church,” she says. “I envision having that for my kids.”

The building at 303 Market St. has been a handful of restaurants in its previous life, so it needed a full reboot. Since Clinton is known for its antique stores, Katherine wanted to keep the building’s aesthetic in line with the town’s character. She hired Henson Construction, and together they drew up plans for new floors, fewer walls and antique fixtures that aligned with the exposed brick walls. The outside color palette was approved by the historic commission, and the second-floor space was fully renovated to be an apartment. The century-old building was brought up to code and officially opened for business in February.

“‘Spindle Tree’ comes from a song by Ryan Long, a local musician. I listened to that song a lot in high school. It has a lot of meaning for me and my foundation here in Clinton. It’s just what I wanted for this space,” Katherine says. “I’m taking a chance with this building, and there’s a line in the song that says, ‘I’m leaning into you and you’re leaning into me.’ I’m hoping that for this community.

303 Market St., Clinton