Archive: July 2013

Jonathan Zizzo ©

Dallas photographer, Jonathan Zizzo recently shot the style feature for August’s issue of Austin Monthly.

Jonathan Zizzo ©

Jonathan Zizzo ©

Jonathan Zizzo ©

Jonathan Zizzo ©

FallForwardtif

Visual storytelling encompasses various mediums, from homemade keepsakes to professionally composed photographs, to imagined otherworldly scenes. Peggy Weiss‘ work in digital collage layers these kinds of images to create work that is at once familiar and dreamlike. Weiss uses her own photography as well as the snapshots of friends’ photo albums of yesteryear and new digital collage techniques to create her pieces. Weiss has also begun to add layers of painted details to her collages.

Weiss received her education at the University of Texas and Laguna Gloria Art School in Austin and has remained here, exhibiting her works and expanding her mediums. I  met with Weiss at her studio space in the Canopy building where we discussed her work.

When did you begin photographing and why?
In the days before Photoshop, I hand-colored prints and old photos, using those great Marshall’s Oil Paints. That was when I started collecting vintage photos. I had fun with the paints, but I found it very limiting–I wanted to take the process further. With the advent of computers and Photoshop, I had the tools I needed. I then started photographing images to use in my compositions, along with the old photos.

So, when did you create your first digital collage?
My first collage was in 2004, the year my mom died. I had an old picture of her and my dad that I scanned, and I started playing around with it. I’ve reworked that image over the years, and it’s now one of my pieces in the Harry Ransom Center Photography Collection.

I talked to you a little about how your Friends & Strangers series and know that you used old photos are inspiration. Where did the images that inspired your photos come from?
Old photos have always spoken to me. I started with my family’s old photos, then my friend’s family photographs. When I exhausted those, I scoured junk shops and eBay for more.  The Family, Friends and Strangers series is ongoing, although finding old photos to work with is getting more difficult.

Usually, when I start a piece, I have no preconceived notion of what I’m going to do.

What is the process in making them?
I collect photos, scan them, and put them in a library on the computer. When I find a window of time, I’ll select an image to start working on in Photoshop. I shoot constantly with my Sony Nex 7, and archive these images for backgrounds, skies and other elements to use in a collage. Usually, when I start a piece, I have no preconceived notion of what I’m going to do. The process is very experimental and organic, and just comes out of my crazy head.  I add layer after layer, after layer, sometimes ending with as many as 100 layers in one image.  The beauty of Photoshop is “command z,” the undo command. I can delete anything that doesn’t work and then try something new.

You mentioned that you have started to paint on some of the prints. What does this allow you to do?
Painting on top of the photo is just adding another layer, creating an effect you can’t get on the computer. It enlivens the piece and gives it texture.  I’m getting bolder with this process, and I’m collaborating with a young painter; we’re having fun with it.

What do you think digital collage gives you that just photography cannot?
As a photographer and collage artist, new techniques and technology allow me to fulfill my desire to create stories. I can’t help playing with my pictures. When I look at a photo, I think about how I would alter it, and what other photos would be good to combine with it. One photo might have a person’s expression I like, but the body isn’t working for the scene. So, off with their head, and onto another body. (Growing up with three sisters, we played paper dolls endlessly.)

When you photograph to use your work in your digital collages, do you go out with an idea of what you need for a certain collage or do you use a particular one of your photos to inspire a digital collage?
Some of both. I’m always on the lookout for something appealing to use in a collage…a strange sky, a dog, a long fence. I have a friend with a great collection of mid-century modern furniture and I’ve been to his house several times to photograph his vintage stuff–TV, chairs, lamps, fabric.

As a photographer and collage artist, new techniques and technology allow me to fulfill my desire to create stories

At first glance, I thought My Morning Swim series were photographs because they are less surreal than your other series. Did you take the photos for My Morning Swim? Where did the inspiration for these come from?
My Morning Swim was sort of accidental. I was on my way out the door to swim at Barton Springs, and spotted my son’s GoPro camera on his desk, so I took it. I swam laps with it on my head, not really knowing what images I was getting. The stills from the video were too low res to do anything with, but I loved the underwater images of the other swimmers. I started taking single shots with it, and swam with it 6 or 7 times that summer. I then digitally enhanced the frames selected for the series.

Will you describe your collaboration with your son you have coming up?
We’re starting work on an art video that will be part of an upcoming show at Davis Gallery, Austin.  My son, Aaron, is a film maker, and has agreed to help his mum transfer a vision to video. Characters from my collages will come alive (think Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets David Lynch). It will be about a 5 minute loop.

What do you hope your art will look like in a year? Or five?
I like pursuing new techniques and technologies.

I like taking pictures.

I like transforming an image into something new and unique.

I’m pretty sure I’ll just continue down that road and see where it takes me.

Boxing Ring for Tecate, ©Tom Hussey

Interview by guest contributor John Davidson

You’ve probably seen the work of Allison Hughes in advertisements, on magazine covers and in editorial features – though you may not be aware of it. Allison is one of the pre-eminent commercial Photoshop artists in Texas – an area of commercial photography that is growing exponentially, and which figures to continue doing so throughout the foreseeable future.

Allison has worked as a freelance retouch artist since 2007, having previously worked at GSDM, in Austin. She lives in South Austin with her husband, Ryan, stepdaughter, Haylee (6), son, Rusty (3) and daughter, Rosie (7 months).  She’s originally from North Carolina.

You work freelance – do you have an office, or do you work from home?
From home. My husband works for Dell, and he works out of a home office too. It’s both good and bad (Laughs). We have that flexibility, which is good because in my work I’m usually the last step in the process, so we’re usually coming up to a deadline, and I need to step up right away. I’m used to that aspect of the job, it’s fine; it’s a part of my job.

How did you come to be in the imaging business?
I went to East Carolina University, in North Carolina, and my degree…

Wait a second. It’s called East Carolina University, it’s in North Carolina, and yet you maintained faith that you’d earn a degree of some value there?
(Laughs) Have you heard of it?  It’s known as a big party school, but it has a great arts program. My degree was in Image Design, which is a Fine Arts degree. Part of the program was traditional analog photography, so I learned to work in a darkroom, and the other half involved working on the computer, retouching on Photoshop. I loved the developing classes. I liked shooting some, too, but I always loved the darkroom and the concept side of art better. I would live in the darkroom, stay in there trying to do different effects. I mean, that side of things is dead now, everything’s done on computer.

I loved the developing classes. I liked shooting some, too, but I always loved the darkroom and the concept side of art better

Well, it’s a true craft, and because of that I’m not sure it will ever die completely. It reminds me a little of people still feeling a love for vinyl music. It has pocket resurgences that relate to a kind of authenticity…
But commercially, everything’s done digitally now.  But when I graduated I was referred to a small commercial photography studio, working for Jimmy Williams. There were only four or five us working there, so I learned the pre-production side of things too, like building estimates, casting, constructing props, and I got to be in the studio and see the shoots. Actually, my first job at the studio after leaving school was for GSDM, for Land Rover. Jimmy had a relationship with David Crawford one of the creative directors at the agency, and I kept in touch with him. Several years later, when GSDM won the account for BMW they were looking for another retoucher – David asked me if I was interested, and so I came out here.

Cattle for Spirit Magazine, ©Matt Rainwaters

It must have been nice to be talent scouted rather than have to come looking…
It was but then shortly after I got here GSDM lost some big accounts, so you know, last one in, first one out. But I loved it here and wanted to stay so that’s when I went freelance.

So how long have you been freelancing?
Since ‘07. I also did a bit of freelance while I was at GSDM for my past agency. I worked at McKinney Silver in North Carolina after I worked at Jimmy Williams, and I did a lot of work on car accounts there. They had Audi USA. That’s one of the things that helped me get the GSDM job, since they’d just got the BMW account. I’d visited Austin a couple of times and loved it, and I had one friend here. I was ready for a change. I was at GSDM about two years.

Do you still love Austin?
A: (Sighs luxuriantly, leaving little doubt as to her affection for the city) I met my husband here, and now three kids later… I think my parents thought it was temporary, but I don’t see myself leaving. I just love the people, love how casual it is.

Is there such a thing as a typical workweek for you?
It varies. But I feel like I’m always at my computer, whether I’m working or not. Sometimes it’s hard tearing myself away from it. But normally I work in the morning for about 4 hrs, and then I have my kids. They take a nap, so I’ll work some more, and then I’ll work again at night.

Are you at the computer at some ungodly hour to work those first four hours?
The kids are in half-day care, so I’ll work while they’re there. But if I have a big job, I’ll hire a nanny, or my husband will come in and take care of them. It’s still fairly fluid; we’re still working it out. But usually we do work it out. It’s a legitimate concern, because you don’t want to lose a client. I always say ‘I’ll do it’ and then figure it out. Because the minute you say ‘no’ they can find somebody else and maybe they’ll like them just as much.

I presume you work on a tablet?
I do.

What kind of monitor do you use?
I have two screens. My husband works for Dell and I was able to switch from an Apple monitor to a Dell, which I love. I work on a Mac Pro (Quad Core Intel Xeon) tower, and my main monitor is a 30” Dell U3011. My second monitor is a 27” Apple Cinema HD, which I prefer to the newer, glossy Apple monitors. There’s too much reflection in the newer ones. But my new Dell monitor is huge! I love it.

Given how many hours you spend looking at monitors every day, do you feel like it’s adversely affected your eyesight?
I do. Although they say pregnancy can affect your eyesight too. But either way, I’ve had to get reading glasses for my work. I work in a completely darkened room, and sometimes, say after 12 hours of working, you’re definitely aware of the strain.

Paddleboarders for Moreland Properties, ©Michael Thad Carter, Agency Frank + Victor

Do you get up and walk around, as prescribed by opticians?
Oh yeah. But also, I’ve learned that especially working on big jobs, where you’ve been looking at an image for several hours, you have to get away from it to see it, to get a real perspective. A lot of times, even if I finish a job at the end of the day or night, I won’t send it to the client until the next day if I can help it, so that I know I’m happy with it, that I haven’t taken it in the wrong direction.

By ‘wrong direction,’ are you typically looking to see if you’ve gone too far with the processing?
No, I’m looking to make sure it’s what the client wants. You may think it looks good, but you always have to keep in mind whether it’s what the client wants. Because you don’t want to show them several versions. You want to get it one, maybe have a couple of rounds of revisions and be done with it.

You may think it looks good, but you always have to keep in mind whether it’s what the client wants

Do you keep up to date on the latest software updates? And how do you go about learning the newest versions – do you simply explore, or do you take classes/seminars?

I usually wait until I’m not too busy with work. Right now I need to update my Photoshop but I just haven’t had time. I’m still on Photoshop 5 but I don’t want to switch and learn while I’m busy. I usually wait until there’s something I need to learn and then look it up. But I should do more because you always need to learn, find new ways or see if there’s an easier or better way.

What you’re particularly looking for are quicker ways to do things?
Right. That’s the most important thing commercially, knowing the best way to do things in the least amount of time. But you know there’s a lot of new tools that are supposed to save you time and they’re not the best, cleanest way. As far as things like clipping on images, there are tools now that allow you fix things more quickly, but it’s not the best way. Sometimes you’re better taking your time.

How often does work come back to you for correction?
Usually if you work with photographers or creative directors, they’re going to want to give you some kind of feedback. Even if they love it they’ll come back with something. Usually when I estimate jobs I allow for a couple of rounds of revisions. But I do have some clients who give me full freedom, including over the final look.

When you heard from GSD&M, were you already thinking of trying to go freelance?
I’d actually been talking about it with another girl. I was already freelancing work for some companies in North Carolina. It’s hard to go freelance when you have a full-time job because you’re scared to leave. So when that happened with GSD&M…there aren’t a lot of other big agencies in Austin that have retouchers in-house. I’d just met my husband, and I thought, if I’m ever going to try to do it, it’s now. But I had so much support, so many friends and art directors that wanted to help me out. They referred me to so many people in town. It was incredible.

You clearly do amazing work. I wonder if you think that there’s any point at which there should be a re-touching credit? Perhaps more so with editorial work…
(Hesitates) Sometimes I do. Sometimes with heavy compositing, or with work where, before and after the difference is just incredible because of the amount of work that’s gone into it. I do occasionally ask for a credit, but it’s such a hard thing because your job is to be in the background. The photographer, the client especially, they don’t want to let the world know…

I do occasionally ask for a credit, but it’s such a hard thing because your job is to be in the background

…That the image is a fiction, an illusion?
Well, it’s their image. And I’m just the facilitator who makes it happen because maybe they don’t have the time or the skills to do it. But it is their image. And I have some clients who don’t want to display the work on my website even because it’s their image.

There’s a certain generosity from someone like, Randal Ford, for example, who does allow you to use some of his heavily retouched images on your site.
But the thing with Randal is that he’s really skilled at re-touching; he knows his stuff. He used to do a lot of it and I think the busier he gets, he just needs someone to help him with that side of things. There are some photographers who really don’t know that side of things and some, like Randal, who really do and just need some help.

So yeah, it’s a fine line, because you’d like credit for the work you’ve done, and you’d like to be able to show that work, but at the same time, it’s important that the photographer and the client are completely happy. So I don’t really have a problem with it.

Obviously the image belongs to the person who conceived and shot it. But I wonder, given how prevalent re-touching is in publishing – because there’s literally not an image you see in a magazine that hasn’t been worked over, even if not heavily so – will we at some point take it for granted that there was re-touching involved, and so we’ll feel less concerned at shattering the ‘illusion,’ and therefore be able to provide due credit?
I hope so. Because when there is heavy re-touching, there is artistry to it. But my philosophy has always been that if it’s work I’m proud of, let me show it, and other than that, I just want you to refer me to other clients.

You mention artistry, and that’s one key to this particular argument. How much of what you do is artistry, how much of it comes from your fine arts background, and how much is mere computer technique?
I think knowledge of the tools and the software, of the process – how to prepare files, for example – is technical, but knowing when and how to use the tools, and having an aesthetic, is creative.

In the wrong hands, a little Photoshop proficiency can be a dangerous thing…
Right. When you look at an image, you shouldn’t be thinking about the re-touching.

Do you think what you learned at school provided anything more than a basic foundation in technique?
Oh, I think school got me into the profession, but I learned so much more from working with photographers and art directors and other retouchers, from being in the field. Working in pre-production with Jimmy Williams, for example, I got to see how to shoot images that make it easier for compositing later. At McKinney Silvers I worked in the production department and I learned there how to properly deliver and prepare files, another element that’s important not just to re-touching – making sure your channels are all in order, and things you might not see on screen but show up in print. Now, working freelance, I don’t have as much interaction with other people, so it’s really important that I already know those things.

But the most important thing is that you do good work, and do it quickly.

How much of your work comes from Austin, and how much of it comes nationally?
A good portion of it comes from Austin. But I’ve started getting some traffic online. I’ve been getting some work from wedding photographers in Miami, for example. They randomly found me, they like my work, and they’ve been referring me down there. One of my biggest clients is Tom Hussey in Dallas. That came from a blind email when I started freelancing. He liked my work and it’s developed into a really good relationship.

So when someone sends you wedding work, are they giving you a ton of images to work through, or just one or two?
The main one I work with in Florida is pretty successful, so mostly hers are preparing images to appear in magazines, or for exhibit work.

Do you do much marketing?
The past few years have been my best years, and also my busiest with having kids, and I just haven’t had time. It’s all been word of mouth. I’ve been lucky to have really good clients and they’ve stuck with me. I hope it keeps growing. I have a friend who has two kids around the same age as mine, and we’re just waiting for the right time to be able to do more. You know, so that we’re not just freelance, but have a business and bring in more while the kids are in full-time day care and we can really grow a business.

How much of your work is commercial vs editorial?
I’d say about eighty per cent commercial. I do a lot of work for Spirit magazine, and there are a couple of photographers like Tom who I do their commercial work, but then I also help on portfolio or personal work.

Because there’s just no budget for re-touching in editorial work?
Right. But on the other hand, it can be a really cool, creative project, so…

Let’s look at an image on your website. How long did you work on this (Giant) image by Randal Ford?
A couple of long days. Maybe one really long day. Like most photographers, Randal’s really good about shooting in camera to make it easier for you to do the composite. Tom’s another one – he’ll lock down the tripod or whatever. I mean, some photographers will give you one shot and then another from a totally different angle, and that makes things difficult.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the new Adobe business model, wherein you pay monthly for cloud access to their creative suites, since they will no longer be releasing full periodic creative suite updates? I suppose it’s inevitable that you have to climb aboard at some point?
Yes, I see myself going to the subscription if that is the future of the Adobe brand. I am just hesitant to change, and always wait a bit until I make a move. Costs are comparable, but the whole idea of not “owning” the software is a bit worrying, only “renting” access monthly or yearly. I currently own the CS5 suite, so I need to figure this one out somewhat soon. My hesitation is about which package to buy once I make the switch. I work 90% of the time in Photoshop, but I do need access to the latest version of In-design and Illustrator as well. Although I may not use those programs as frequently, I still need them – so do I pay for them monthly as well? That’s the dilemma to work out before making a move.


Favorite Taco:
Whole Foods Breakfast Taco – (egg, black beans, jack cheese, pico, dragon sauce) or Guero’s Shrimp Taco

Favorite BBQ:
My husband’s BBQ chicken and ribs on the smoker at home.

Favorite Beverage:
Margarita, no salt

Favorite Texas Weekend getaway spot:
Downtown Austin, now that we live in suburbia with the kids! Also, the beach anytime!


John Davidson is an editorial and commercial photographer (M40 Photography), based in Austin, Texas. John grew up in Manchester, England, and moved to Los Angeles when he was young and reckless. He spent close to a decade living in Brooklyn, NY, where he worked primarily as a freelance writer. He landed in Austin in 2008. John is married, with 1.4 children, at the time of writing. Website*Instagram*Twitter

 

Come tubing with ILoveTexasPhoto! Spend the afternoon on the clear, cold Comal river with your photo friends. We’ll meet at Corner Tubes to rent tubes at 11am. Bring your float essentials including a non-disposable container to hold your drink of choice (new river rules circa 2012 – no glass or cans allowed).

Meet at Corner Tubes at 11am on Thursday, July 25. The float takes about 2 hours. Then we’ll grab lunch afterwards!

Where: 120 S Liberty Ave, New Braunfels, Texas
When: 11am / Thursday, July 25

Jody Horton food photography workshop

Our very first I Love Texas Photo workshop was Saturday and couldn’t have gone better!  Thanks to Jody’s experience and openness, as well as amazing locations including Whitebox Studio, Sway, and Gourdough’s, our students received a truly engaging and valuable education.

Keep your eyes peeled for more workshops to come, as we have some fun plans for the fall!  We’d love to know what other workshops our community are interested, so drop us a line and let us know!

Jody shows recent client work to students at Whitebox Studio

Our first location for on site shooting, the fabulous Sway

Food stylist’s Meghan Erwin Hack’s tools of the trade

Glossing up the food mid-shoot

Meghan Erwin Hack talks about her favorite styling tricks she uses on a food shoot.

After a long day of shooting, students gathered back at Whitebox for editing. And Shiner Ruby Red.

One on one critiques at Whitebox.

KilgoreCollegeBWLab

This is part 2 of an interview by guest contributor Matt Valentine
Read part 1 of the interview here.

A lot of your previous work was done with a square format, 6×6 camera, and usually not cropped. The photos in this book are rectangular, obviously partly because of the different format of the camera. Were you composing differently, thinking about cropping, since you were used to shooting in a full-frame square?
I usually compose my images in the camera utilizing the full frame and most art directors and photo editors I’ve worked with have great respect for the photographer’s original concept and cropping of the pictures. I teach my students the concept that “content dictates design”.  This means that the art being used in a layout for a publication not be compromised in terms of the photograph’s original content by cropping or altering the images.

However, it is not a perfect world, and when working with publications the photographer must be aware that layout and design has space limitations and compromises are sometimes inevitable.  So, when photographing for certain venues I have become more aware of how some images must fit the space that will be provided and I often pull back a bit to provide post cropping opportunity for the designer while still trying not to lose my original interpretation.  Don’t misunderstand, I do believe in post visualizing an image and making any changes necessary to complete the interpretation of the subject, but personally I feel it should be the job of the photographer to do so.

I was really fortunate when working with DJ Stout at Texas Monthly — he’s the guy that kinda kickstarted my editorial work back in the early 90s — he was very careful, and most of the Texas Monthly art directors are the same, in not cropping the photographs that come in

I was really fortunate when working with DJ Stout at Texas Monthly — he’s the guy that kinda kickstarted my editorial work back in the early 90s — he was very careful, and most of the Texas Monthly art directors are the same, in not cropping the photographs that come in. They take them for face value, and usually produce them as the photographer intended. I’ve even had calls from a couple of people at publications before, “Do you mind if we crop this a little bit?” Which I thought was unusual, you know, because they did buy the image; they can pretty much do what they want with it at that point in time. It was a very nice consideration.

In schools all over the country, photographic education is evolving as technology changes. How has your approach evolved over the past few decades teaching at Kilgore College?
In our program at Kilgore College, we’re still teaching film and have a beautiful wet lab — just an amazing wet lab, with over twenty enlargers, stainless steel sinks and trays, temperature control, film processing area and printing area. It’s a beautiful facility and we’re gonna continue to use that as long as we can get the film and we have cameras to put the film in. I find that to be, still, a really good fundamental approach in teaching the photographic process. Right now, it really is considered an alternative process. Those applied photographers, those who are in the commercial business, probably would suggest just eliminating the wet lab entirely. On the other hand… it teaches the discipline. It teaches control. And it’s very historically significant in the photographic process. And you never know when a student is going to come through and absolutely fall in love with this so-called “alternative” process, using film and silver gelatin paper, and do something wonderful with it.

Those applied photographers, those who are in the commercial business, probably would suggest just eliminating the wet lab entirely. On the other hand… it teaches the discipline. It teaches control.

Digital imaging, however, is a wonderful way for students to see very quickly some of the camera functions and techniques and so forth and what the possibilities are, and the workflow there. By the way, I compare the wet lab workflow with the photo digital imaging workflow, and there’s significant comparisons there that help benefit a young student coming in for the first time, even having never actually processed an image. And so it’s very positive in both directions, and we’re going to try to clarify those qualities and those variables and how they relate and still work together as an educational tool.

The photojournalism departments in some schools are no longer teaching photography as a discreet medium. Students aren’t photojournalism majors, they’re multimedia students, working with video and audio as well as still photography. Do you think it’s reasonable today for somebody to want to just be a stills photographer? Is there a realistic future for that student in the world or journalism?
I think there’s opportunity in both of those areas. In the world of journalism, the media is using more and more video. Writers and of course photographers are going out and shooting video quite often. It’s interesting that you’d mention that, because this is the summer that I’m actually going through tutorials and learning to work a little video with a DSLR so I can incorporate that into my photojournalism classes. It’s an important aspect of applied photography that’s happening out there. But at the same time, in our program at Kilgore College, we teach a variety of students. We teach journalism students, photography students, graphic design students, and fine art students. So it’s important for me in my program to have a variety of mediums for them to choose from and work with and become aware of so that they can choose what medium best fits their needs for their future goals. So we’re going to try to do it all, and enjoy every lovin’ minute of it. It really is a blast. I love the new technology, and I’ve benefitted from it.

At the same time, I feel so privileged to have been able to come up during that time where you’re processing film and making prints in a wet lab and so forth, because again, I can’t emphasize enough how the discipline of doing something like that is so important—especially in today’s digital world—it’s so easy for photographers to go out and shoot tons of images and then edit through tons of images instead of taking their time and being very selective and discriminating and making a few exposures of a subject rather than just a ton of images that they would just edit later and eventually hope to get something that’s worthy of what they want to interpret of that subject. So that by combining the wet lab in our program, along with the digital imaging, we hope to accomplish a sense of discipline in the photographic process whether they’re doing wet lab work of course, or digital imaging or video. I think it’s important to continue to stress all those areas in an educational program, even though I realize—and I’m up against a wall with many of the applied photographers out there who are saying “look, who’s going to bother to do film in the applied world, especially with magazines and publications and that sort of thing?” Well, they’re right, but you have to understand these are new students who are learning the whole photographic process—which you may already know, and understand and have a grip on. So it’s important, I think, that we continue that tradition as long as we can. I’m not saying that we’ll always have wet labs at Kilgore College — probably not, but as long as I’m there I hope to have it there.

What’s the best, most realistic expectation a student should have now, starting out in photography?
Well, we have students from all walks of life. We’re over here in a very rural area in East Texas. They may have when they come in an expectation of wanting to do portraits. Maybe they want to work for a publication. Maybe they want to do, you know, “fashion.” That sounds very glamorous, so they want to do “fashion.” I’ve found more times than not that students aren’t really sure what they want to do yet. They may have an idea because of what they’ve seen in publications, or what they’ve read about from other photographers and that sort of thing, but they don’t really realize the work that’s involved in it, what it takes, and the discipline that’s involved—not only learning the craft but learning to see and visually interpreting the subject, having a sense of visual literacy and that sort of thing. So we start out from the very beginning, and we have such a variety of students that I’m not sure how important it is what the first goal is. Because they’re going to discover a lot of new things about the photographic medium and the business itself perhaps, that may change their minds about what direction they want to go and how they may want to use photography in the future.

At Kilgore College our photography program gives the student the opportunity to explore a variety of photographic themes within the various classes offered. They study the still life, portraiture (editorial, environmental and studio practices), photojournalism, the human condition, landscape and form and figure.  The program is also balanced with considerations in both applied commercial and fine art approaches. Importance is placed on learning to see and be aware of lighting possibilities that will not only illuminate but also light’s use as an interpretive tool in terms of direction and quality.

Photography is quite different than becoming a lawyer or doctor. You don’t necessarily have to be certified to hang that shingle out on the door. The proof is in the work that you get done.

Photographic education should be alive and well. And, you know, I don’t think that photographic education has to always be that “formal” thing, going to school, going to college and so forth. I know a number of students who will come come in and take a few classes and then take off and have done quite well with their own personal education. I’ve known others that want to transfer to a larger university and continue the process and go from there. Photography is quite different than becoming a lawyer or doctor. You don’t necessarily have to be certified to hang that shingle out on the door. The proof is in the work that you get done.

Several of your former students have become professional photographers. In their early work, did you see anything unique that made you think, this person really has the talent or the sensibility to make a career out of photography?
Sure. There’s a fella here in town, in Longview, Texas. His name is Scott Campbell. He was an early student of mine back in the early 80s. I can remember the first photograph he submitted in a photography class at Kilgore College back in 1981, maybe 82, and I knew when I saw that photograph that this guy was thinking. It’s important for photographers to think, and not just take pictures, but to have some kind of thought process in being able to interpret a subject, not just simply observe a subject. I knew that he had that in him when I saw that first photograph of his, and sure enough he’s still producing some wonderful work — still lifes and landscapes as well, he has incorporated fine art photography in his life as well as his applied work. He has been published in Lenswork for some of his fine art and still life interpretations.

It’s important for photographers to think, and not just take pictures, but to have some kind of thought process in being able to interpret a subject, not just simply observe a subject.

Scott’s wife Tammy Cromer-Campbell is doing some wonderful photographs also. They were married shortly after Scott graduated from Kilgore College as a matter of fact. But Tammy came through our program and has authored a book and has been published in Texas Monthly and does quite a bit of commercial work in this area

You [I Love Texas Photo] interviewed Jonathan Zizzo not long ago. And he was one of those guys who was quite different than Scott. Scott went through the whole formal education at Kilgore college, whereas Zizzo came in for a couple of semesters or so maybe, and again when I saw his work I said, “Okay, this guy’s coming around. He’s really going to be seeing some really nice things.” But he didn’t hang in there with the formal education very long and he went straight to Dallas and started working in sales, and he’s doing some wonderful applied commercial photography.

What’s your next project?
I’m gonna be continuing some barbecue work of a different nature, sort of. We photographed a lot of community barbecues. I’m gonna revisit some of those with a little bit different approach. Perhaps even pull out the old square format film camera and do a series on community barbecues. It’s kind of a dying thing, this old BBQ pit stuff. The community BBQ is maybe the last holdout on that sort of thing. I’m thinking about starting a series just on community barbecues only. It’s kind of a long term project because you’ve gotta hit ‘em when they’re having ‘em and you can only be at one at a time. Often times they occur in sort of a similar timeframe, you know—Father’s Day is one, forth of July, Juneteenth. I’m gonna go down to Mama Sugar’s down close to Houston and photograph the Juneteenth celebration at Mama Sugar’s. She’s renowned for her Juneteenth celebration with BBQ. And I’m putting together another series of photographs I’ve been working on since, oh, the early 90s, on yard art Santa Clauses. Every year I photograph a different Santa Clause that interests me and I’m gonna put together a little holiday series on that. I’ve got plenty to do during my time away from school this summer.


While completing his MFA in Creative Writing at NYU, Matt Valentine worked full time for the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, designing and maintaining their “digital darkroom” facilities. He continues to pursue simultaneous careers in writing and photography. Matt’s short stories have won national awards, including (most recently) the 2012 Montana Prize for Fiction. His portraits of writers have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Boston Review, Outside Magazine, O (the Oprah Magazine), and on dozens of book jackets. A Lecturer for the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin, he teaches two undergraduate courses: “Writing Narratives” and “Photographic Narratives.”

 

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O. Rufus Lovett, Part 1: Early Days, Texas Monthly and Beauty in Long Term Projects

This is part 1 of a 2-part interview by guest contributor Matt Valentine. 

When I reach O. Rufus Lovett by phone, I warn that I’ve just had oral surgery and might have difficulty speaking clearly. “I might talk a little funny,” I say, “because I’ve got this mouth full of stitches.”

“Well I talk funny because I’ve lived in East Texas a long time,” he says.

His voice is just one component of Lovett’s disarming southern charm—he speaks slowly but with a quick wit, like the narrator in a Mark Twain story. No doubt that charisma has ingratiated him to the many communities he’s documented throughout Texas and the southern United States, on magazine and newspaper assignments, and for personal projects that have so far produced three books.

Lovett’s photography has been widely published and exhibited, and is in the permanent collections at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Birmingham Museum of Art. His documentary work for Texas Monthly has been recognized by the Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards, administered by Columbia University. For more than three decades, Lovett has taught photography at Kilgore College, a two-year school in East Texas. In 2005, the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation of San Antonio honored his work as a photo educator, naming him a Piper Professor.

What’s the “O” for in O. Rufus Lovett?

My first name is an initial. It’s just O, period. My mother was named Opal. My Dad was also named Opal. They named my older sister Opal when she was born. And then they gave me just the O initial instead of the name Opal.

When did you first start taking photos? Or were you too young to remember?

My high school was actually on a university campus, so we had student teachers and so forth. My dad just worked up the hill, in his office at the university. My mom taught there in the English Department. And so everybody kind of knew everybody—you know, small town, Jacksonville, Alabama. I was approached by the English teacher — who was the sponsor of the newspaper — and another lady who sponsored the yearbook. I was asked if I would like to do photographs for those publications. And I thought — yeah, that’d be cool, you know. They thought they had a perfect “in,” because my dad had a ways and a means of getting the work done, since his photography studio was just up the hill at the university. And so that’s kind of where I began getting serious about photography, because I was doing production work from the get-go, and printing with my dad at the university was a major start and major influence on what I was doing.

Left: Opal Lovett. Right: O. Rufus Lovett, age 16.

You included one of your father’s photographs as a frontispiece in your first book, Weeping Mary, and your own photographs seem to share some of the same mood. Do you think your father’s photography influenced your work in other ways, in other projects?

Yeah, quite a bit. He was a portrait photographer as well, and photographed events, and I would go along with him and assist. I used to carry the old blue flashbulbs along, back when he was shooting a Crown Graphic, and I would collect the spent flashbulbs. Or I would stand on a chair or table somewhere with an auxiliary flash to fill in light. So he taught me at the beginning how to master lighting techniques, as guidelines. I learned a great deal from him in terms of good basic fundamental things.

Also, you know, his work was very applied photographic work. It was meant to sell and send out for Associated Press news releases for the university. But occasionally, he would go out and photograph on his own, and those are the photographs I admire most of his work. But he didn’t do that as often—he was consumed with his work at the university and he loved every bit of it. So that work that he did as an applied photographer was his personal work as well. And so it meant a lot to him, and I did learn so much from those early experiences as a child. And watching him print in the darkroom. I can remember sitting on a stool, just barely able to look over the sink, watching the prints come up in the developer, which was always fascinating as a child.

 Your photographs in Weeping Mary are a very intimate portrayal of an insular community, a tiny town that is almost entirely African American. As a pretty conspicuous outsider, how did you approach that project?

I don’t really start out with a game plan when I’m documenting a group of folks or, in this case, I guess you’d call them subcultures within our culture. In the case of Weeping Mary, it was critical that I visited many times without a camera to get to know the folks before I even got a camera out.

© O Rufus Lovett

It was an interesting situation there, because people want to know “why are you taking our picture?” and often times people in a community of that nature don’t understand the beauty an outsider might see within that community. It’s difficult for anyone who lives there to comprehend that. Not due to ignorance — anyone would feel the same way, like “why would you be photographing me?” There was just a certain beauty there that I wanted to document on many levels.

To introduce myself, I just tried to get to know the folks, being from a small town certainly helped my ability to communicate, get along with the people there. I made great friends there. That was the beginning of that—just getting to know the people. Now, in that situation also, it was kind of unique, because a friend of mine over in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is not far from Weeping Mary, was the editor and publisher of a newspaper, and as a matter of fact, he’s the one who introduced me to Weeping Mary. He mentioned the name of the community, which piqued my interest, and he wanted to do a couple little picture page spreads about the community. So we did one called “Children of Weeping Mary”, and another one, “Christmas at Weeping Mary,” and published that in the newspaper, and then that of course gave me some credibility, because if we’re doing a picture story about the children, or about Christmas at Weeping Mary, you can introduce that as a project, and make a purpose for my being there.

And then I continued for years after that. Continued photographing and visiting, and enjoying that community, and then it developed into the Weeping Mary book.

The photos seem really naturalistic. But some of these were made with a little more sophisticated artificial lighting equipment, right?

It’s always the situation that dictates what you’re going to do about lighting in a photograph. Often times, I would use the existing light of course, and many times a tripod. And other times, depending on the situation, I would use an auxiliary flash, often modified by a small softbox, to soften the quality of the light, but still nice and directional, and marry that light with the ambient light in the environment.

I seem to remember a story about one person you photographed there as a child who wasn’t very happy with that photo as he got older.

There were a couple of cases like that. It might have been the swimmers photograph. Two little boys in their underpants, swimming in a little backyard pool. Later, they were kinda teased at school about that photograph. I mean, it was published in Texas Monthly. The teacher brought it in — not to embarrass them, but to show them that Weeping Mary was published. It kind of embarrassed them a little bit, so as those guys grew a little older, they expressed, uh, a disinterest in that photograph. But nothing ever came of that, other than that they didn’t appreciate it right away, because it kinda embarrassed them when they were in school. I have a feeling they’re fine with it now. They grew up to be rather large football players, and so luckily they didn’t hold it against me too badly.

Your second book, Kilgore Rangerettes, grew out of long photo essay you did for Texas Monthly—an unusually long essay, by contemporary standards. Do you think there are some stories that are really best told with many photographs?

This has a lot to do with the economics often times, you know. Magazines have to support themselves, and they have to make room for advertising, and they have only so much space. It is unusual that so many photographs were used in that particular photo essay. Scott Dadich was the creative designer at that time at Texas Monthly, and I think he did a great job of placing as many photographs as he placed in a relatively small space. I was surprised that they used that many, but using that grid format that they used on some of the pages, he was able to introduce numerous images, which was a good idea I think in this case–to define the project well. There was quite a volume of work over a period of time, a decade or so, I suppose.

© O. Rufus Lovett

But you know, space constraints have a lot to do with that long photo essay occurring in publications these days, which is why it’s so important for a photographer, when he’s out photographing a project, especially for a magazine, to make every picture kind of a stand-alone type of photograph. I teach about this in my photojournalism classes. In a photo essay, each photograph is like a paragraph, and then several paragraphs make up the essay. And so, if each photograph can stand alone as a complete thought, and then when put together with other photographs, makes sense, that allows magazines to complete a photo essay with a brief amount of space. So that’s an important issue and always will be, and yeah, I can remember the old days when Life magazine and Look magazine had these really expensive photo essays. It was beautiful to see them. We don’t see that happen much anymore these days, unfortunately. But I’m sure it’s mostly economics.

You’ve published in many magazines and newspapers, but it seems to me that Texas Monthly has really been the best home for your work. Would you characterize it that way?

Yeah I would say so. And there’s some really interesting human condition kind of work — which is my main emphasis I suppose — with People magazine, of all publications. They’ll do these little features on communities and different folks from time to time and they’re quite nice. They’re usually found in the back of the magazine behind all of the celebrity stuff. I did this really neat story with People one time — it was a 70-year-old man who went back to 1st grade to learn how to read, up in Missouri.

It was a wonderful little photo essay as it turns out. And then I’ve done stuff for Gourmet up in New York. I did this whole thing on Dominican culture and Dominican food. As a matter of fact that’s how we got this barbecue project going — a story I was doing for Gourmet with Robb Walsh (acclaimed food writer). That’s when we first met. Then later we did something for Saveur Magazine on barbecue, and we decided to carry it on and do that BBQ Crossroads book. Magazine editorial work sometimes influences you in a variety of directions—you never know how that’s gonna snowball and what it’s going to bring next. It’s kind of an interesting aspect of my career. The magazine work I’ve been able to do, I’ve been privileged to do it. Starting with Texas Monthly and going from there. People usually just call Texas Monthly to get to me. I don’t even have a website.

One of the things I love about the Kilgore Rangerettes book is that there are several photos of the Rangerettes using cameras. For me, the cameras locate the photographs in time, because the uniforms don’t change that much, and the setting doesn’t change much, and these black and white photos could really be from forty or fifty years ago—except we’re reminded that this is actually contemporary, because we see one of the Rangerettes using a  little point-and-shoot camera or a digital camera. Was that your intention? Including that little detail as sort of a time stamp?

I’ve always been a little fascinated, for some reason, with tourists taking pictures of scenes. When I travelled to Asia I enjoyed photographing the tourists that were photographing the monuments, or their friends in front of the monument. I just found something delightful about photographing photographers photographing what they’re interested in. And so that kind of carried through, because the Rangerettes constantly take pictures of one another, whenever they go to an event or even a rehearsal or whatever the occasion, they’re constantly taking photographs of themselves. I just find an interesting irony in those kind of photographs. But you’re right, that is a key that kind of illustrates a timeline for those photographs. Otherwise they’re pretty much timeless, unless you look real closely at the type of bleachers that are in the stands, or the kind of pavement that’s more contemporary than a 1940s or 50s type pavement, you may not know what decade some of those photographs were made in.

Your new book, Barbecue Crossroads, is a significant departure from the first two. The most immediately obvious technical difference is that these are color photographs, whereas your previous work is predominantly black and white. Can you talk about the decision to use color?

Originally, Rob Walsh the writer — he and I travelled from Texas to the Carolinas and back, including Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, a little bit of Georgia and the Carolinas, and a couple places in Texas as well — and we originally were gonna do the book in black and white. It was gonna be, you know, kind of an edgy black and white kind of thing. But as I started photographing this, the color played such an important role in these little joints, and with the food subjects themselves, so I made the decision to request the change on that and just do the whole thing in color, which I think fit that project well. That was a decision based on the environment and the circumstances, which I felt were best interpreted in color.

However, one other difference between that book and the other two is that I was working with someone else, a wonderful, very knowledgeable food writer, and a lot of those photographs dealt with illustrating his points of view about the places that we went to. My point of view was also teased in there as well, in some of the other maybe more pictorial type images, and some of the documentary work. A lot of auxiliary lighting was used, however not always–I used a lot of window light when it was possible. There’s a lot of variety of techniques that were used in making that photographic documentary on the Barbecue Crossroads book.

I learned this from Mary Ellen Mark years ago, that circumstances dictate everything in terms of how your gonna light it, what medium you’re gonna use. It was all done digitally, instead of film. That played an important role, and the fact that I wanted to use color, so that made some of those difficult circumstances a little more convenient to photograph in, just in terms of the equipment alone. There were a lot of technical influences that dealt with the reasons why we decided to go with color on that.

(Editor’s note: Join us tomorrow when we publish Part 2 of this interview. Lovett talks with Valentine about how teaching photography is changing, and what he sees as the future for his students.)


While completing his MFA in Creative Writing at NYU, Matt Valentine worked full time for the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, designing and maintaining their “digital darkroom” facilities. He continues to pursue simultaneous careers in writing and photography. Matt’s short stories have won national awards, including (most recently) the 2012 Montana Prize for Fiction. His portraits of writers have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Boston Review, Outside Magazine, O (the Oprah Magazine), and on dozens of book jackets. A Lecturer for the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin, he teaches two undergraduate courses: “Writing Narratives” and “Photographic Narratives.”

 

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I Love Texas Photo contributor and music/editorial photographer Lindsay Hutchens is making an Austin debut at her first solo show, opening Friday, July 19, at Flex Space in Austin, Texas!

In her first solo show, Lindsay Hutchens shares work and thoughts on interactions small and large, which have made an impact on the photos she has made in the last seven years. Not so much a life-so-far’s work, an archive of assignments, personal projects, and snapshots… but a relevant, insightful, emotive, and intuitive visual story of what it means to be human. Triumph and failure… with all the every-day-ness that falls in between.

Open bar c/o Independence Brewing Co., Tito’s Vodka, and ID Sodas!  The show opens 3 days before her Kickstarter campaign closes, which are running in tandem to help fund her transition to processing and printing in the wet lab.  Learn more HERE.

WHO: Lindsay Hutchens

WHAT: Bite off more than you can chew, Then chew it.

WHERE: Flex Space, 1109 Shady Lane, Austin, Texas 78702

WHEN:

Opening Reception: Friday, July 19, 2013; 7:00 – 10:00 pm
Exhibition: July 19 – August 10, 2013
Gallery Hours: Saturdays 1-5 pm or by appointment

Mariah Tyler ©

 

Last Thursday, Dallas had a small taste of Paris Fashion at the V.O.D. Boutique in the midst of high heat. Allison V. Smith, Dallas photographer, recently released “Le Zine”; a beautiful 29 page magazine of full color photographs from her work made in Paris at the Fall and Spring Fashion Weeks of 2012. Le Zine is a limited edition of 250, signed and saddled stitched, available here for $20. (There are roughly 90 zines left!) The signing party was full of friends and fans decked, some in berets, while Kirby Brown performed an acoustic set of his folk derived music.  Fellow Dallas photographer, Steve Visneau projected his V.O.D. Boutique Spring 2013 video onto a wall of the Dallas Boutique. It was a definitive Dallas photography event of the summer, bar or not.

Mariah Tyler ©

Mariah Tyler ©

Mariah Tyler ©

Mariah Tyler ©

Mariah Tyler ©

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We’re excited to share this video of the 2013 Texas Photo Roundup with you! The Roundup was three days of workshops, panels, talks and parties, including the fantastic outdoor slideshow and potluck, Slideluck.

Huge thanks to Dennis Burnett and Natalie Cass for making the video.

A look back at the 2013 Texas Photo Roundup from ILoveTexasPhoto on Vimeo.

The TPR team (which is made up of the Austin Center for Photography, ASMP’s Austin/San Antonio chapter and ILTP) are working on the 2014 Roundup.

Please let us know who you would love to see talk or teach a workshop.  And of course, we are always looking for sponsors to support the festival!

Email us at info@texasphotoroundup.com with questions or comments.

thanks and see you in Austin in 2014!