Detailed biography of Cathy Church
Childhood and college
Cathy Church (nee Catherine Hoffman) was born in 1945, in Altoona, Pennsylvania and moved immediately to southeastern Pennsylvania, remaining in Woodlyn, Ridley Township, until she was 16 years old. She has brothers Denis (deceased), Stephen and Matthew Hoffman and sisters Martha Williamson and Elizabeth Bollinger. She was an honor student and participated in Girl Scouts, music (piano, violin, chorus and can play two melodies on a Ukulele) and many sports, including basketball, lacrosse and field hockey. Her father, a Navy officer in WWII and then a mechanical engineer, moved the family to Michigan where Cathy attended Grand Haven High School in Michigan, active in debate, thespians and music and graduated in 1963.
Due to lack of funds she spent one year at Eastern Michigan until she found a financial sponsor (Leopold Schepp Foundation) so that she could continue for three years at the University of Michigan (continuing to play field hockey for U of M women's varsity) where she earned her B.S. in biology in 1967. She was introduced to SCUBA diving during summer courses at the U of M biology station at Pelston, MI and took a YMCA class in Ann Arbor with Dr. Lee Sommers, (who became a fellow of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences). She attended Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Biology Station in Monterey, CA for a summer course in Marine Invertebrate Zoology in 1965.
During that time she met Jim Church who was just starting to write for Skin Diver magazine and taught her how to take photographs underwater using a Calypso camera and a twin lens reflex Rollei camera in a Rolleimarin housing, both with flashbulbs. In 1966, she and Jim attended a course in underwater photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography. She completed her Master's Degree in Marine Zoology at the University of Hawaii in 1970. She married Jim Church in 1969 (he came to Hawaii on sabbatical from teaching high school business classes in Gilroy, CA.) Since women were not allowed overnight on the research ship nor at any research station, she dropped out at the masters level rather than pursuing a PhD. A move which she still wishes she could reconsider. While she loves underwater photography, she REALLY loves the intrigue of science.
Starting a Career
With a degree in marine biology, she wanted to work in an underwater job in California, but women were not being accepted to work as a scuba diver at such places as California State Fish and Game. Since Jim Church was teaching in Gilroy, she was recruited there as a substitute teacher. Since no other work was available, she went to San Jose State College to get a teaching certificate. She taught 7th and 8th grade science in Gilroy from 1971 to 1978.
She and Jim pioneered new techniques for teaching underwater photography. Jim was excellent at organizing the teaching material so that it was clear to their students and readers. Cathy's interest and skill in science made possible their careful research to make sure that everything they wrote was accurate. For example, she was the first person ever to identify and write about the common mistake that underwater photographers made of aiming a strobe erroneously at the apparent image. It was a simple concept, unknown then, but it is now common knowledge—made clear by their interest in sharing their findings in hundreds of magazine articles.
Jim and Cathy wrote primarily for Skin Diver Magazine, for which they were the contributing photo editors for fifteen years, (from 1970 to 1985). They also wrote four books, "Beginning Underwater Photography" (five editions from 1972 to 1987), "Choosing and Using Underwater Strobes", "The Nikonos Book" (1979) and "The Nikonos Handbook" (1986). Not only did they write the books, they produced the camera-ready layout in their home, and published the books themselves.
In 1974, they wrote and produced the first underwater photography course for use by a major certifying agency, regrettably NASDS, where John Gaffney usurped the copyright and the course was never updated. Since there were already several major lawsuits against this unscrupulous man, they decided not to pursue their case in court. (Ed Brawley, for example, won his lawsuit against Mr. Gaffney proving that he actually stole the entire "Gold Book," a complete instructor-training course from Mr. Brawley.) Soon afterward, Jim and Cathy also had difficulty with a photo agency distributing their photos without recognizing the amount payable to them. These bad experiences set the Church duo back quite a bit, and discouraged them from pursuing the use of large agencies as an outlet for their work.
The first SuperCourse
In 1971, Cathy and Jim went to Grand Cayman to visit with friends Ron and Nancy Sefton, who were preparing to build a dedicated dive resort (to become Spanish Bay Reef). The next year the hotel was completed and the Seftons invited them to help the guests at their hotel and Cathy and Jim could stay at no charge. During the first course students shot their first roll of film in black and white, (and then used color slide film), Cathy processed the film, and each student made their own "black and white" studio proof by holding their film and special paper out in the sun until the images showed.
The students had access to Cathy and Jim's only Marker Buoy extension tube, one housed Vivitar strobe, a Nikonos and a few other items. They did one dive each morning and afternoon, (divers were towed by rope to the nearby dive site at first) and lectures were in the evening. As larger boats were added, the format improved to include long, three-hour shallow dives for plenty of time to take pictures, and afternoon lectures. Thirty years later, Cathy's SuperCourse offered 15 complete Nikonos systems with many sets of lenses and strobes, the use of a housed system as well as use of a digital system, and still offered the famous long three-hour dives from a boat loaded with tanks, Nitrox, and snacks. This format became very popular and they were almost always full.
With the advent of digital systems, whereby everyone had a different camera, the Super Courses were discontinued in 2005 in favor of smaller, shorter classes that could concentrate on more individual needs.
In 2011, the idea of group instruction was modified for a new style of fun photo vacation at Sunset House --the Cathy Church PhotoFest. This format provided a low-cost vacation for a larger number of participants, a lighter lecture schedule with lots of options from several instructors and of course still offered the same long dives.
Accomplishments and goals
Teaching is Cathy's true love and she has opened the door to underwater photography for thousands of divers. She organized and taught underwater photography seminars in Seattle, Meadowlands NJ, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Columbus OH, Boston, Monterey, CA and more. Cathy has taught more students how to enjoy underwater photography than anyone in the world. She has taught her week-long photo classes yearly in the Cayman Islands (except for four years in the U.S. Virgin Islands) since 1972. Her first lessons, even in 1972, stressed buoyancy control and preservation of the reef. In 1986, she separated from Jim and they were divorced a year later. During the separation, she and Jim continued to teach one last summer session of about six week-long SuperCourses, assisted by Mike Mesgleski. In the first class in 1987, she met Herb Rafael, whom she married in 1991.