Vargas has a BFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1981 and in 1984 received her MFA.
Kathy Vargas became interested in the hand-coloured photography around 1970 when she worked for Bill and Jerry Hayes in her hometown at a small production company. She was placed in the animation department and from there learned how to do special effects. Vargas learned dark room work here before she began learning about photography.
At the Southwest Craft Center, Kathy learned rock-and-roll photography from Tom Wright in 1971, which she practiced professionally from 1973 to 1977.
Kathy Vargas began classes with Mel Casas, a Chicano artist, who asked her to attend a Con Safo art group meeting after seeing some of her photographs. She felt welcome here and loved what the group was doing with art. Kathy gives credit to Casas for opening her eyes and sharing many Chicano and Chicana artists with her. When she began to feel limited, she notified them that it was time for her to create her own art and departed from the Con Safo art group. Vargas wanted to experiment with the medium and create her own photographic style.
A few years later, while working on a documentary project about yard shrines in her home town of San Antonio, Texas, she began researching Mexican and pre-Columbian myths and literature, and to produce works based on a photographic 'magic realism' involving layering by multiple exposure and hand colouring (Marshall).
In 1993 she produced a portfolio titled, Revelaciones, and a year later was published in Nueva Luz photographic journal, volume 4#2 (En Foco, Bronx: 1994)
"Photography and Nostalgia: The Touched-up Images of Kathy Vargas".[pp. 29-41] in David William Foster, Picturing the Barrio: Ten Chicano Photographers. 
- Sala Uno in Rome
- Galeria San Martín in Mexico City
- Centro Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina
- McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas
- “Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry,” a traveling exhibit commissioned by the Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C.
- “Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation (CARA)”
- Vargas, Kathy, and Connie Arismendi. Intimate lives: work by ten contemporary Latina artists. Austin, TX: Women & Their Work, 1993.
- Muñoz, Celia Alvarez, Chon A. Noriega, José Piedra, Kathy Vargas, and Victor Zamudio-Taylor. Revelaciones = Revelations: Hispanic art of evanescence. Ithaca, NY: Hispanic American Studies Program, Cornell University, 1993.
- Goldberg, Jim, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Jack Radcliffe, and Kathy Vargas. Hospice: a photographic inquiry. Boston: Little, Brown, in association with the Corcoran Gallery of Art and National Hospice Foundation, 1996. ISBN 0-8212-2259-7.
- Lippard, Lucy R., and MaLin Wilson-Powell. Kathy Vargas: photographs, 1971–2000. San Antonio, TX: Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, 2000. ISBN 0-916677-45-1.
- Art at Our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists featuring Kathy Vargas. Edited by Nan Cuba and Riley Robinson (Trinity University Press, 2008).
- Henkes, Robert (1999). Latin American Women Artists of the United States: The Works of 33 Twentieth-Century Women. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 219–226. ISBN 0786405198.
- "KATHY VARGAS – IN HER OWN WORDS". latinopia.com. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
- vargas. "Kathy Vargas : The Wittliff Collections". www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
- William,, Foster, David (2017). Picturing the barrio : ten Chicano photographers. Pittsburgh, Pa.: U Pittsburg Press. ISBN 9780822982388. OCLC 988048028.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- "Kathy Vargas". www.uiw.edu. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
- Anglo-American Name Authority File, s.v. "Vargas, Kathy", LC Control Number no 9502087, cited September 10, 2006.
- Marshall, Peter. 'Any Colour You Like', About, Inc., cited September 10, 2005.
- Kathy Vargas on En Foco