Archive: May 2012

Five days after an Iraqi suicide bomber blew a bridge out from under Cpl. Eric Morante and his men, the wounded Marine talks to his mother back in Houston from his hospital bed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in late April 2007. "Don't cry, Mom. I'm good," he says. "I'm perfect. I'm just happy to be alive."

Congratulations to all the Texas photographers represented in the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism 2012!

 

Five days after an Iraqi suicide bomber blew a bridge out from under Cpl. Eric Morante and his men, the wounded Marine talks to his mother back in Houston from his hospital bed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in late April 2007. "Don't cry, Mom. I'm good," he says. "I'm perfect. I'm just happy to be alive."

Lara Solt – 1st place, Returning Veterans, Coming Home
Dallas Morning News
Among the Wounded: One bridge, two paths On April 20, 2007, a suicide bomber detonated a dump truck packed with 3,000 pounds of explosives under Bridge 286 where a squad of Marines were standing post near Fallujah in Iraq. Among the wounded were squad leader Cpl. Eric Morante (far right) and Navy Corpsman Anthony “Doc” Thompson (left), the squad’s medic. Eric woke up in an Army hospital in Germany to discover his leg had been amputated, and later suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Anthony, who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, has yet to fully wake up. Traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder are the signature combat wounds of the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan. One in five of the almost 2 million service members who have been deployed have sustained one or both of these injuries.

 

 

Underweight cattle wait in a pen to be auctioned at the Gillespie Livestock Company in Fredericksburg on August 10. Ranchers were forced to sell their herds because they could not afford hay for their cattle or could not find it to buy.

Jay Janner – 1st Place, Environment Picture Story
Austin American-Statesman

2011 was the driest year ever recorded in Texas. The state suffered through an extreme drought that dried up its lakes and creeks. Crops and trees withered and died. Ranchers were forced to slaughter their hungry and thirsty cattle. Agriculture and livestock losses alone were more than $5 billion.

 

 

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and players celebrate after Game 6 of baseball's National League championship series against the Milwaukee Brewers Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, in Milwaukee. The Cardinals won 12-6 to win the series and advance to the World Series.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and players celebrate after Game 6 of baseball's National League championship series against the Milwaukee Brewers Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, in Milwaukee. The Cardinals won 12-6 to win the series and advance to the World Series.

David J Phillip – 3rd Place, Sports Photojournalist of the Year
Associated Press, Houston, TX

 

 

Willie, a heroin addict, lies in bed in a drug house inhabited by addicts in Ciudad Juarez on June 13, 2011. Ciudad Juarez is in the midst of a bloody war between rival cartels fighting for control of the drug trade. Ciudad Juarez has for decades been renowned for it's relationship with drugs, besides being a key transit point for drugs into the U.S. the city has had a long term problem with drug addiction, particularly heroin and cocaine. There are numerous drug houses throughout the city that addicts use to get high.

Scott Dalton – 3rd Place, Portrait Series
Houston, TX

 

 

Arlington firefighters Three units of a two alarm fire were damaged at the Castillian Condominiums on Ave J in Grand Prairie, TX, Monday, January 24, 2011 after afire broke out just before 7am. A few neighbors were treated for smoke and asthma issues. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Tom Fox – HM, Domestic News
Dallas Morning News

Nicole Mlakar ©

Nicole Mlakar ©

Nicole Mlakar ©

 

Nicole Mlakar ©

 

Austin-based Nicole Mlakar-Livingston‘s photographs appear in May 2012′s issue of Readers Digest for “50 Secrets Your Vet Won’t Tell You”.

 

 

Matthew Mahon ©

Matthew Mahon ©

Matthew Mahon’s photographs of the Striker Vehicle were published in May’s issue of WIRED UK.

Matthew Mahon ©

Matthew Mahon

 

Austin’s Matthew Mahon, photographed Paul Qui from Top Chef for the May issue of Austin Monthly!

A member of the Battle of Flowers Association judges high school bands as they pass in front of the Alamo during the Fiesta Battle of Flowers Parade, Friday, April 27, 2012. (JENNIFER WHITNEY for the San Antonio Express-News)

Jennifer Whitney is an editorial photographer based in San Antonio. Her love of people, food and the great outdoors inspires her work. Jenn spoke with ILTP over iced coffee on the dog-friendly patio of Spiderhouse in Austin.

Who are your mentors?
I’ve had a lot of incredible mentors… Neal Menschel from the Salt Institute – he always said it’s about imagination, heart, and intention and I’ll never forget that. Rita Reed taught me to be a badass and not put up with anyone’s bullshit basically by osmosis. I look up to Lisa Krantz immensely because she’s not only an awesome photographer but an awesome person. I’m completely in awe of her way of seeing things, her sense of humor, and her incredible patience.

Best career decision?
Sticking to what I believe in and not compromising myself for anything, which led to the decision to go freelance. I never quite fit in at newspapers – too many rules for me and I didn’t like turning work over that quickly all the time because the quality suffers. I have a lot more freedom now to work on projects and the ability to work with clients who expect a higher quality of work. I’ve grown immensely as a businesswoman and have had a lot more space to be creative and find my own groove.

I’ve grown immensely as a businesswoman

Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
I’m a total sucker for Americana, and I love the quirkiness and the bright, saturated color. Really, its a lot like my home state, Florida, in so many ways but with a bit of a western flair. I love the independent values and progressive thinking that led explorers to the promise of the West, but I’m a true Southern girl at heart. Texas is really the crossroads between the two cultures.

Current Dream Assignment?
Pretty much anything having to do with strong women or wise old people. But I don’t want to limit myself because there are so many things I’m really curious and passionate about. I’m dying to work for Texas Monthly and Garden & Gun.

What’s the weirdest thing in your camera bag?
I try to keep my bag pretty light, but I do carry a purple Leatherman and a tube of Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers, which always brings a little sweetness to a rough day. Also, I carry a stepladder in the back of my truck that was a gift from a good friend. As a small person it comes in handy all the time.

Gear obsessions?
I’m not a gear head. I like to keep it as simple as possible. I couldn’t live without my fixed 50mm lens.

 I couldn’t live without my fixed 50mm lens

How do you stay motivated?
I’m the kind of person who functions best when I’m busy, so I’m always juggling a lot of balls in the air. Making sure I always have at least one story going that I ‘m really passionate about is huge.

What was your first big break?
There are so many ways of looking at it.  Working on the first project I cared about and making the realization that this is what I have to do. As nerdy as it may be to say it out loud, I remember feeling super excited the first time The New York Times called.

I remember feeling super excited the first time The New York Times called

How you established your personal vision?
Through a lot of hard work, experimentation, and finding inspiration outside of photography like in music, film, literature, and other visual media.

Was there one project that gave you that “ah ha” moment, where you knew this is where you wanted to take your work?
At Salt I did a project on two sisters that did beauty pageants in rural northern Maine. They were 8 and 11 when I met them and we still keep in touch. I’m going back to visit them this summer. It was the first time I really fell in love with a subject and realized how powerful the images become when you make yourself vulnerable to people, and what a gift it is when they give you so much access to their lives.  I learned so much from that project, and I’ve pretty much been hooked ever since.

Who are you inspired by?
Erykah Badu, Dolly Parton, Billie Holliday, Yoko Ono, Tina Fey, Kiki Smith, Ann Richards, Alice Waters, Georgia O’ Keefe, Stella McCartney, Annie Oakley, Miranda July, Sofia Coppola, Nina Berman, Lauren Greenfield, Dorothea Lange, Lynsey Addario… I could go on and on…

These are all women, what’s up with that?
I think women have such an important role in society and in our industry and we don’t get enough credit anywhere. There’s such a double standard- we still have to work harder to get what we want. In general, women approach their work with a lot more sensitivity, and that’s important to me

All time fave photo books?
Robert Frank, The Americans

Diane Arbus, Monograph

Donna Ferrato, Living with the Enemy

Sally Mann, At Twelve

Susan Meiselas, Carnival Strippers

Brenda Ann Kenneally, Money Power Respect

Mary Ellen Mark, Ward 81

Alex Webb, Sunshine State

David Alan Harvey – Cuba

Danny Wilcox Frasier- Driftless

 What was the most helpful part of your ‘education’ that wasn’t photo related.
A lot of moving and traveling taught me how to shift my perspective and see things from the outside and how to adjust easily. Also waiting tables for many years taught me a whole lot about people, their habits, and human character in general. Also, I got to try and learn about a lot of amazing food.

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
I think with every new project. I try to take it one day at a time and make the most out of everything I do. Being happy in life and finding some semblance of balance is really important to me. Also, I really want to make the people I interact with smile, so I try to be a source of positivity in people’s lives.

Any exciting projects in 2012?
So many great stories, so little time. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Florida exploring how the Gulf Coast commercial fishing industry has changed. Its complicated and exciting to deal with the environment, food, and politics all wrapped up in one package.

Hobbies outside of photography, aka, how do you stay sane?
I’m not: I think its more fun to live a little on the edge and take risks. But I do exercise a lot- I’m a student and teacher of Ron Fletcher pilates which, much like photography, never ceases to challenge me and I need that constantly. Also, I try to spend as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors.

I think its more fun to live a little on the edge and take risks

How do you think you distinguish yourself from the competition?
Relationships. I’m a people person. Being able to make people comfortable and to be present and empathize. Also, exceptional reporting skills and strong intuition: it’s key to being prepared to capture those moments that really push a story above and beyond.

People are thinking of the industry in a very negative way and I think it’s exciting what people are doing, all the possibilities. I feel constantly challenged by my peers and everyone is so dedicated. I’ve never seen it as doom and gloom, I see it as opportunity to make room for new ideas.

Favorite BBQ?
I’m a (mostly) vegetarian, but I do like the occasional bite of great BBQ. Franklin’s in Austin is the best hands down, but I sure miss my side of Southern greens.

Favorite breakfast taco?
Taco Haven in San Antonio – Bean and Cheese with Nopalitos and Avocado. It’s not on the menu- I made it up and its awesome.

Favorite margarita?
Rosario’s in San Antonio – The Mexican Handshake.

Photo by Chris Chrisman for Inc.; Roy Ritchie for Working Mother (from L to R)

Alison Zavos is an Austin-based freelance photo editor and curator of the very popular photo blog Feature Shoot.

Tell us a little about your background. Did you ever want to be a photographer? How did you come into the industry? 
Halfway through a graphic design degree at Parsons, I took a photography class where one of my first assignments was shooting the Mermaid Festival in Coney Island. When I came back with the film, my teacher told me that I should change my major to photography.  This was actually a relief as I was struggling as a design student.

After graduating, I started taking photographs while working as a waitress in a vegan restaurant. I was very naïve back then and thought that one day I could make a living selling my work in a gallery.

When in 2005, one of my images was selected for the prestigious American Photography Annual, I thought for sure I would be discovered as a fine art photographer. I waited for the calls/emails to come rolling in and to my surprise, nothing happened.  At that point I realized my dream of “making it” as a fine art photographer was wishful thinking.

Around this time, a good friend was working at a shelter magazine called O at Home (now shuttered).  She managed to get me a paid internship working in the photo department and on photo shoots. That was my first foray into publishing.

Did you have any mentors along the way?
Not really.  I’ve always learned best in situations where I’m in a little bit over my head.  When I’m not sure exactly what to do or how to begin.

You were a photo editor in NYC for quite a few years. What publications did you work at?
I worked as a photo editor for 6 years before moving to Austin last summer.  I got my start interning at O at Home Magazine. From there I moved on to Working Mother, BizBash and Inc. 
Since moving to Austin, I’ve been taking on freelance assignments (production, photo editing, curating) as well as working as a consultant for photographers.

What’s a typical day like for a photo editor at a magazine?
It really depends on the magazine.  At Working Mother I did a lot of stock research (mainly lifestyle imagery) and negotiating because I was working with a very small budget.  I produced all the shoots and also worked as a fashion stylist for our “real mom” cover shoots. I was the only person in the photo department for the most part, aside from interns, so I pretty much did everything and rarely picked up my phone.

At BizBash I was responsible for 9 different magazines that came out quarterly.  I hired event/documentary photographers in New York, LA, Chicago, Boston, DC, Toronto, Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando to cover 4-5 events per night.  The job entailed lots of scheduling, editing for print and web, and liaising with pr people and event planners.  I ended up photographing a lot of the NYC events as well which were always pretty phenomenal.

At Inc. magazine I assigned a lot of corporate portraits.  Most of my day was spent scheduling, handling travel, meeting with photographers and going over layouts with editors.

What are some of the unique challenges that an editorial photo editor faces?
Depending on the number of people working on a story, it can be tough trying to please everyone involved. You can have many different ideas, opinions and expectations for a shoot, and if the images do not work out, the photo editor is usually the one to blame. Being clear with the brief to the photographer is paramount.

What makes someone a good photo editor? Do you have any advice for people considering a career as a photo editor?
Good communication skills, attention to detail, resourcefulness and foreseeing problems and planning ahead are all very important traits/skills for photo editors to have.  There is so much more to the job than just picking the best image out of 20.  It obviously helps to have a good eye, but so many non-creative people weigh in on the final decision that you can’t really get hung up on that.

My advice for people considering a career as a photo editor is to get an internship with a magazine or work in the studio of a busy photographer.  It’s all about working experience and most people want to see that you’ve had magazine experience before they will hire you.  Once you’re in, make yourself indispensable and don’t burn bridges.  It’s a very small industry.

Do you enjoy researching image libraries when looking to license work? What are some of your favorite collections (outside of the usual stock houses)?
I did a lot of stock research in my early days as a photo editor and I truthfully don’t miss it.  Back then, I filed photos in folders with titles such as: ‘Pregnant women eating fruit’, ‘Kids doing homework with dog’, ‘Beautiful woman enjoying face mask’.

Today, I’ll pick up a lifestyle magazine in the Dr.’s office and recognize images that I used for an article 6 years ago. While photo editors and art buyers are probably the only ones that make these connections, I think it’s pretty sad that agencies are peddling the same outdated imagery and editors are going for it.
I always enjoyed getting images directly from photographers because you are less likely to see it in a competing magazine the next month or worse yet in an ad in your same magazine (yes, this has happened).

In my free time, I used to scour photographers’ sites and make screen grabs of images that I thought I might need in the future for the magazine.  I also had a list of photographers that I would email when I needed something specific. I’ve always enjoyed discovering images that have not been seen elsewhere and also feel good about all the money going directly to the photographer.

About a year ago, I discovered that you could search PhotoShelter and then contact the photographer directly to license a photograph. There is not as much selection as a stock agency, but there are a lot of images you won’t find anywhere else.

I also like flickr for finding images.  Most of the photographers are not professionals so it takes some patience explaining why you can’t pay someone in advance (through PayPal) for use of their image, but if you can get past that there are some gems to be found.

When did you launch Feature Shoot? And why?
I started the site 4 years ago because I wanted to keep track of all the amazing photographers that I was coming across on a day-to-day basis.  I thought other photo editors and art buyers could use it as a resource to find new talent and that photographers might be also be inspired to see what other people were working on.

Has the mission of Feature Shoot changed since you started it?
The mission has not really changed, but the approach has.  Initially, I wanted to highlight the photographer so I would choose unconnected images to feature and interview them mainly about their creative process in general.  Now, I’m mainly interested running a specific series of their work. Talking about the work engages more people, not just the photo-centric, and also I find it more compelling to learn about why photographers choose certain topics/subjects and what it took to make those particular images.

How many photographers have you profiled so far on Feature Shoot?
Over 2,000 photographers from all over the world have run on the site in some capacity.

You obviously have a love for discovering and sharing talent. What keeps you motivated to continue to publish new content every day?
The amazing work I see everyday keeps me inspired and I’m happy to be able to share that work with a larger audience.

I also love getting emails from people saying how much they enjoy the site.  I get some nasty emails too which I often find hilarious and also strangely motivating.

Any exciting projects on the horizon that you’d like to share with us?
I’m curating a show with fellow Austinite Amanda Gorence for Photoville, a photo festival happening in Brooklyn this June.  We are showing work by young photographers entitled, ‘Underage’.  The work we’ve chosen is pretty broad, but ongoing themes throughout the show are first love, experimentation, and the search for adventure and belonging.

Matthew Mahon ©

Matthew Mahon ©

 

Puntographs by Austin based puntographer, Matthew Mahon has been published in Fortune Magazine‘s May Issue.

Allison V. Smith ©

Allison V. Smith ©

 

Publication: Garden & Gun Magazine
Photographer: Dallas – Ft. Worth-based Allison V. Smith
Subject: Chef Dean Fearing

Check out those boots!

Tyler Sharp ©

Tyler Sharp ©

Tyler Sharp ©

Dallas based photographer, Tyler Sharp’s photographs of Nocona, Texas appear in this month’s issue of Texas Highways magazine.

Striphouse_2

Where are you based?
I’m based here in Houston, Texas. I don’t have a studio per se because most of my work is on location. I live in Katy, which is sort of outside of everything. But it’s good for family, it’s just a lot of driving.

So why Katy?
It’s really just where I landed when I moved here from New York. My wife’s family all live out there and we have a daughter who is seven now and the family recommended we move there for her. It’s worked out but I think I’d prefer to live closer in.

So you used to live in New York?

It’s been a long road to get to the point where I’m at, but it was fun. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it

I lived in New York for ten years. I went up there to study photography at the International Center of Photography there and then assisted a bunch of people. I never got a degree in photography but as I was working, I would take courses at night here and there as I could while my wife was going to college. It was a very long road. It’s not an easy way to go. But over the years, I’ve amassed the experience to finally go out on my own. At this point, I’ve been shooting freelance for myself for nearly eight years. It’s been a long road to get to the point where I’m at, but it was fun. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Who were some of the people you assisted?
There were a lot. The notable people would be Ben Fink. I was his first assistant consistently for two and a half years and he’s probably the most influential person on my own career. He’s a food and travel photographer, very well-respected. He’s shot a lot of cookbooks, and things like that. He’s really the person that changed the direction of my career. I really wanted to do more photojournalism and documentary work, but that’s how I veered off course. But it’s all worked out, I’m happy with that.

I’ve also assisted Bruce Davidson, a Magnum photographer. I loved his work, I still do. In a distant way, he still influences my work. I really go for honest portraiture and a straightforward approach to my work. I tend to try and capture things in the moment as opposed to directing things much. People seem to like that approach.

If you could synthesize everything you’ve learned from them, how would you sum it up?
The main thing that I learned was that it’s really about your eye and not so much about all the production and you don’t need a whole entourage of people and tons of equipment and unlimited funds. It’s all about opening your eyes and discovering what’s there and making something bigger and better and more beautiful out of it. I think both Bruce Davidson and Ben Fink, both had that sort of effect on me, you know? They just have a very amazing eye. They just see right into a situation and zero in on that thing that’s amazing and beautiful and fascinating and powerful. It’s the kind of thing that stays in the back of my mind in my head while I’m shooting.

it’s really about your eye and not so much about all the production

How long did you assist Bruce Davidson?
[My time with Bruce] was fairly short. I took a class from him at the Jewish Community Center. That’s where we were introduced. He was recommended to me by an instructor at ICP. They saw some similarity to my work and approach to street photography and documentary work and thought that we would gel. So I searched him out and that’s how I found that he was giving this class at the Jewish Community Center. So I went there and started out by being his class assistant and then that led into assisting him on a few jobs. He’s a very special guy. No pretense, no attitude, just a kind, helpful guy, straightforward and giving. He shared a lot with me. It didn’t last long before I landed a full-time job with Ben Fink. I assisted a lot of other people, a lot of fashion and still life and architectural photographers and all kinds of people but not one of them I think back to and look at my own work and say that they had some sort of influence. It’s really only those two.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Tougaloo, Mississippi, just outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

How has being from a small town in Mississippi affected your work?
I’m not sure. I think that where I grew up and how I grew up was probably pretty different from most people. It was a college campus and it was a closed environment. I didn’t venture out much to see beyond that. It was a little biosphere environment of it’s own. When I did leave there, I think I had so much to discover and everything was so new that I think that just coming from a small town where your exposure to things is so limited that it’s very easy to find wonder all around you. I think that really helped me as far as going out and exploring finding all these things that to other people are run of the mill or everyday and might pass up. I think I’ve seen quite a bit since then, but I still try and keep that. At my core I think I’m still that person where I’m still amazed by things.

At my core I think I’m still that person where I’m still amazed by things

What was your first big break?
That’s hard to say. I’ve had a lot of little breaks that have led into where I am. One thing I haven’t talked about is how I got into all this to begin with or how I left Mississippi which is probably my biggest break was when I was 16, I was studying ballet. I got a scholarship to leave Mississippi and come to Houston and dance with the Houston Ballet’s academy. Then that eventually took me into being a professional dancer with Houston Ballet. That allowed me to escape that little world I was in and see all this new potential for my life and discover all these new things. That was probably my first big break. Though it had nothing to do with photography, that was the thing that set me on this path to new things.

That didn’t last long – I was  a professional dancer for about two seconds before I injured myself and then that was that. But, it got me out and got me exposure to new things and allowed me to discover photography and put me on this path.

Since then I’ve had lots of small breaks. One of them, when I moved back from New York to Houston, I immediately got picked up by Houston Magazine and they’ve been incredibly generous and loyal. I’ve shot for them now for at least five years. I don’t think I’ve missed an issue. They’ve hired me consistently and allowed me to build my portfolio and get all this access to things. I don’t think I would have had that same break in New York to where I’d have been able to get sort of loyalty and shoot that much for one person.

If I see an opportunity, I’ve learned that you have to grab it

That has led to so many other things. I’ve shot cookbooks as a result of that where I’ve been able to travel to Finland and France. I’ve landed this amazing opportunity with Midway Corporation and City Centre to be their designated photographer which has given me a lot of consistency which, when you’re a freelancer, is hard to come by. It just continues to open up things constantly come my way and fall in my lap to a certain degree.

To a certain degree I’m an opportunist. If I see an opportunity, I’ve learned that you have to grab it. Maybe it’s not necessarily the perfect opportunity but it is an opportunity and you take it and you run with it and you make it something bigger and better. If I’ve had any success, the secret to my success is I take those opportunities and I run with them.

How did you establish your personal vision?
Being in ballet, in theatre, really gave me an appreciation for drama and the theatrics and a love of the dramatic image. I may not always be successful, but I always go for a dramatic, impactful image the same way when I was dancing that was the sort of performance I’d try to put out there – something that had power and resonated. It’s a goal, I don’t know if I ever really accomplished that.

What was your best career decision?
My best career decision was to stop assisting and get out there and work on my own work. I had assisted for nearly four years and it was turning into a situation where I could have been a career assistant. That’s totally great for some people – there are a lot of full-time assistants I really respect – but for myself it just wasn’t satisfying, it wasn’t where I needed to go. So it was just taking that leap and deciding that I was going to be broke for many years and struggle and just get out there and do my own thing. Had I not done that I’d either still be assisting or doing something entirely different.

My best career decision was to stop assisting and get out there and work on my own work

How do you define success in your own career?
It’s cliché, but to me it’s being happy everyday with what you’re doing. I’m not the type to worry too much about finances or getting rich or anything else like that. I didn’t grow up with money.  I don’t feel much need to have it. As long as I’m working and people appreciate what I’m doing, I find what I’m doing fascinating and I’m happy, I feel successful.

How do you stay motivated?
I think a big part of it is my family, my daughter. Her and my wife, they’re both inspiring to me. I want to do well for them. I just want to do something they’d be proud of. That’s a certain motivation there, but I think that I have this innate desire to explore and see things and the idea that I’d ever have to stop and get an office job and at best, I wouldn’t be able to handle that. It’s that desire to be constantly moving and out there and discovering that keeps me motivated, keeps me going.

Do you have a favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
I think I enjoy the access. I think that a lot of places, they’re so many photographers, they’re so jaded towards that it’s a real process into a place with a camera. When I was in New York, there’s all these permits you need to do something on the street. You need permits here, too, but there’s just as intense…you know I could probably call any institution I wanted to and say I want to come in and take pictures and they would be open to that. There’s just a friendlier environment I feel like towards photography and photographers.

Do you have a dream assignment?
I think my dream assignment is more of a travel/documentary assignment. I’ve always been a huge fan of Saveur magazine. I just love their approach. They’re like the National Geographic of food. It’s more about the culture as opposed to…like what I do now is I shoot a lot of restaurant “stuff” – restaurant reviews and things for their website and hotels…it’s all great but it’s missing the culture behind the food as opposed to what a lot of these things are. It’s more surface and selling something. I would really love to get back to what attracted me to photography in the first place which is connecting with people and discovering cultures I wasn’t familiar with before.

What’s the weirdest thing in your camera bag?
Yesterday the weirdest thing in my camera bag, I discovered I had a hammer in there. When I was cleaning up my gallery, I was moving things around and somehow this hammer had fell into my bag. I didn’t even realize because I was in such a hurry, I went off to my shoot and it was so incredibly heavy I was like, “wow, why is my bag so heavy today?” And at the end of the day I’m exhausted and I open up the side back pocket, the one I don’t use that much and I open it up and there’s this big hammer in there and I’m like “oh there you go, that would explain it.”

Do you have a latest gear obsession?
That’s the funny thing about me is that I don’t care much about gear, I’m not that gear-oriented. I’ve had the same three lenses for seven years: a 50mm, a 16-35mm, and a 100mm macro. Those seem to do fine for me, and if I ever need something else, I’ll rent it.

the funny thing about me is that I don’t care much about gear

What are some of your all time favorite photo books?
One that has influenced me quite a bit is Nick Waplington who did “The Wedding.”. That book spoke a lot to me because there’s something very familiar about that whole environment there that is… if you see it, you’ll wonder how I grew up when you look at how strange it’s subjects are there, but there’s something very comfortable and familiar to me about that. It opened my eyes that as unsophisticated I am and my circle is probably that my demographic, my vision has worth and value and I can go out there and shoot the people I love and it’s valuable. It’s weird to say probably if you look at my portfolio because I shoot a lot for Houston Magazine which is very the wealthy and upper class and probably not like anything like where I’m from. That is the thing that impacted me. This is real, this is something familiar to me. I can see the beauty in this even if most people don’t.

What projects are you working on in 2012?
I’m very freelance, so from one day to the next I never know what I’m going to be doing. The big major thing I’m working on that has nothing to do with my own photography, but I’m excited about is this art gallery I’m opening with my partner Luqman Kaka. All these years we’ve wanted to do something together, some project that allowed us to explore some of our ideas that we’ve had. We’re a couple of daydreamers.

We’re constantly coming up with crazy ideas that have no ability or venue to make it actually happen. This opportunity suddenly popped open out of nowhere where I discovered this gallery space was becoming available and I thought this might be an opportunity here. So we’re going to do this gallery that’s focused on photography, but we’ll venture into other mediums occasionally and that’s going to get started July 2. I’m really excited about it. Who knows what will happen or where it’ll go.

What’s the gallery called?
It’s called Be Human Gallery. I’m definitely motivated to get Texas photographers in there.

What’s your favorite barbecue?
I’m a traditionalist. I still really love Goode Company Barbecue. I haven’t found a place I like better than that.

Do you have a favorite breakfast taco?
Cochinita pibil taco at a place called The Bullet in Katy, Texas.

Do you have any hobbies outside of photography?
Yeah, I really like gardening. I’ve always had a secret desire to be a landscape designer. So I mess around with a little bit of that at home. Not that great but I enjoy it. I also enjoy mechanics. I like to work on my car. My wife’s got a Mini Cooper. If you have a Mini Cooper, you know they break down constantly and they’re garbage but I love it because it keeps me busy. I’m always doing something with that car and right now it’s in a million pieces in my garage.

Do you have a favorite Texas getaway?
I really love going to Austin. We have friends out there we visit occasionally.