Archive: November 2013

Friday Night Lights ad, photography by Justin Stephens. Styled by Lauren Smith Ford.

Lauren Smith Ford is the Editor and Creative Director of TRIBEZA, a magazine, covering the arts, fashion, architecture and design, music, community events and cuisine. In her spare time, which is a hot commodity since Lauren is also a mama to a toddler, Lauren keeps busy as a freelance, in-demand stylist (check out her website here).

How did you get started at TRIBEZA? Did you know you wanted to be involved in editorial?
I was a journalism major in college and always knew I wanted to work in magazines. My first post-grad experience in the summer of 2004 was as an intern in the editorial department at Texas Monthly, where I got to work as the research coordinator on the Texas Monthly SHOP guides. Getting to know some of the editors and staff at Texas Monthly was a defining moment in my career. The pulse of the office was invigorating, and it opened up a new world for me. I met so many smart, interesting people and learned something every day, whether it was a great book to add to my reading list or how to be a better a reporter.

Getting to know some of the editors and staff at Texas Monthly was a defining moment in my career

Spending time with some of the greatest journalists in the world made me even more determined to work as hard as I possibly could to build a career in the competitive industry. Texas Monthly Executive Editor Pamela Colloff has been an incredible mentor to me both professionally and personally as a role model of the kind of person I aspire to be (she’s magical); staff writer Katy Vine recommended me that summer for a monthly writing gig for ELLEgirl, giving me my first national magazine byline; senior editor John Spong has been an insightful sounding board for story ideas for TRIBEZA over the years; and I helped photographer Peter Yang with a shoot that summer for the SHOPS guides before he moved to New York. We became friends, staying in touch over the years, and I styled an Esquire cover for him when he was shooting in Texas last year. So many great things came from my time at Texas Monthly.

After that summer, I started freelance writing and got some more bylines for Teen Vogue, Glamour and Modern Bride. I saw my first copy of TRIBEZA when one of my roommates brought it home in December of 2005. I was working full-time as an editorial assistant for Winding Road magazine at that time but contacted TRIBEZA, pitching an article for the February 2006 issue. I wrote a few more pieces for the magazine, and the TRIBEZA founder, Zarghun Dean, asked me to have lunch that April, since we had never met. He hired me at lunch, and I can’t believe it has been almost eight years since that day. George Elliman bought the magazine in 2010, and he is extremely supportive of Austin’s creative community. It has been a real gift to work for him.

Spending time with some of the greatest journalists in the world made me even more determined to work as hard as I possibly could to build a career in the competitive industry

Could you describe what you do at TRIBEZA as creative director? 
We have a tiny staff that works on the editorial and design, with just me, an art director and a part-time editorial assistant, so we all wear many hats. I come up with the concepts for and develop the stories we produce—the idea and how it will be presented visually. I decide which photographer is going to shoot which assignment, how many pages each story will get, the order of which stories appear in the magazine, what will go on the cover. Then, I am involved in making more big picture decisions for the brand in terms of what types of community events we will be involved in, marketing plans, selection of vendors and partners for TRIBEZA-sponsored events, etc.

What is a typical work day like?
One of the best parts of my job is that every day is different. I spend the majority of my time researching potential story ideas and brainstorming ways to keep our content exciting and unexpected for our readers. Other days I spend time producing the bigger photo shoots we do or working with both writers and photographers on details of articles and photo shoots. Some weeks, I go out on interviews to write the stories I am particularly interested in. I also spend time styling and art directing the fashion editorials we do.

What do you look for in photographers? 
Enthusiasm—when someone loves photography and is particularly passionate about the subjects we cover, like art, style, food and music, or is just excited about shooting great portraits, that really makes someone stand out. This, coupled with someone who seems easy to work with, is a great fit for TRIBEZA. We are a niche publication and always hope to give our photographers a lot of creative freedom, so it takes someone who just gets our aesthetic. We love collaborating with the many talented shooters in Austin.

We are a niche publication and always hope to give our photographers a lot of creative freedom

How do you find new photographers? Or do they usually find you?
A lot of photographers contact us, but we get in touch with new ones we come across on blogs or those we discover through other avenues. The photography community in Austin is so encouraging—just the other day a great architecture photographer told me about another shooter we should use for food assignments.

Do you get promos, cold calls, and emails? If so, do you have a preference on how you are contacted?
We get all three. Our favorite print promos often make it up on an office bulletin board, and I always like to get occasional email updates with links to new work.

Any tips for photographers coming in and showing their work? Will an iPad cut it for you or do you want to see their book?

Either one is great.

What are some of your sources for inspiration? 
I find inspiration from the 1950s, T Magazine, Grace Coddington, Juergen Teller, Sam Cook, the wide open spaces of Texas, Big Sur, to name a few, and from many of the creative Austinites we write about in the magazine. I have learned a lot from and am continually inspired by some of the talented designers I have worked with, like Joy Gallagher (who now works for Whole Foods), a true artist with such a beautiful way of looking at the world, Avalon McKenzie who left TRIBEZA to work for Free People (and is now at Whole Foods) but will still brainstorm story ideas with me and never ceases to amaze me with her knowledge, creativity and infectious passion for design and style and Stephen Arevalos (now at Neiman Marcus designing The Book) who taught me that less is actually more and white space is a beautiful thing.

Dan Winters

Dan Winters has also been a huge influence and source of inspiration for me. We first met when I wrote a profile on him for TRIBEZA in April of 2008. We became friends and first collaborated on a 15-image black and white fashion series for TRIBEZA (some of those images made it in to AI-AP). Since then, I have styled some of the shoots he does in his Driftwood studio—from recreating 1950s style advertisements for WIRED Italia to dressing Civil War re-enactors for a story about the role of golf in the Civil War for Golf Digest to a more recent assignment for Real Simple on the history of cleaning products, showing the same model dressed as a retro housewife, a contemporary housewife and a futuristic one. Dan has an incredible attention to detail and work ethic. He would never take the easy way out or cut a corner, and being around him makes me want to do better and always strive for more, never stopping until every detail is right for the best possible result. Getting to spend time with him has inspired me in more ways than I could put into words. He is a kind, tender-hearted soul, and it’s a true honor to collaborate with him.

Dan Winters has also been a huge influence and source of inspiration for me

Jay B. Sauceda

You are a talented stylist as well. Were you doing that before TRIBEZA or was it a role you came into with the magazine?
My very first experience as a stylist was in college when I had a weekly fashion column called “Campus Couture.” I made all my friends be the models. It’s funny to look back at the photos now, but it was a great opportunity to gain experience on my own shoots. I began styling the TRIBEZA editorial shoots soon after I started at the magazine in 2006. It is great fun to come up with a concept and find the right locations, models and outfits and see it all from start to finish.

TRIBEZA has produced some shoots (on small budgets) that I am really proud of. I got to collaborate with Randal Ford on styling some of the images for his Norman Rockwell-inspired series, and I love the Mad Men style shoot we did with Michael Thad Carter. Gradually over time, some photographers started hiring me to style shoots outside of TRIBEZA, and it has now become a second career that I greatly love. My first advertising job was for the DirecTV promotional commercials for the Season Three of Friday Night Lights (one of my favorite shows). I styled my first Texas Monthly cover in February of 2010 and have done quite a few covers since then. I love Texas and being a Texan, so jobs from them are always some of the most fun with getting to dress Willie Nelson as Santa Claus and Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey for the Bernie cover story being two of my favorite shoots so far.

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Who: Jonathan Zizzo

What: Fashion Editorial, It Happened One Night

Where: Austin Monthly, November 2013

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The exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.
Photo by Pete Smith.
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

This post is by I Love Texas Photo Contributor, Milli Apelgren

The exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age. Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

The exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.
Photo by Pete Smith.
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

The symposium has now wrapped up. Too quickly really, I for one could have enjoyed this day and night for another week. A monumental feat for Jessica McDonald, Roy Flukinger and the Ransom Center staff to bring such an enriching accompaniment to the exhibit, Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age is on display until January 5th.

It’s still a little staggering that we even have a resource such as the Ransom Center here in Austin. And now that the Magnum collection has come to live here forever, we will have a significant contingent of the Magnum members coming into Austin to support the symposium and discuss the biggest issues facing journalism and photography today. I will note that the Ransom Center recorded the symposium and this audio will be available in the reading room. (The reading room incidentally is a marvelous resource with a helpful and welcoming staff eager to get you acclimated. You just go and they will guide your visit.)

The issues raised and discussed during the symposium directly reflect each of the photographer’s particular fields of work, as well as the particular concerns of those of us who practice and love photography. But it is more than that. Imagery, and our understanding of it, shapes history. From personal histories, documentation of rarely seen cultures, to world events, photography is shaping historical consciousness. How it is made, how much of its language is understood, how it is preserved are issues that have been altered greatly with digitization of photography. The slow transition it has made into our cultural lexicon may seem like natural evolution but the implications are monumental. How Magnum navigated and continues to navigate these waters will now be available for future study.

So besides the rock star status these image makers hold, the issues they grapple with and how they have creatively addressed them, can guide us through a tumultuous process when confronting the issues ourselves down to the smallest scale. Magnum, for generations now, has flourished. While continuing to maintain a high caliber of incoming members, it is the pioneering and creative philosophies that have kept it strong. Gripping images, innovations, and how the work could be placed in the context of life and history are integral components of the Magnum philosophy. After the keynote address and four panels, I am struck with not just that this is their personal philosophy but it is how they function as an entity in total. I am left with the impression that over time they have embraced the changes, and continually morph them into useful tools as any great artist might. When most people are screaming and running to the hills saying photojournalism is dead, they innovate and adapt with force.

Just to get one more picture, nothing else

Friday night Fred Ritchin started off the symposium with a comprehensive, concise and riveting keynote address. Ritchin is the professor of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU and Co- Director of the Photography and Human Rights Program. He gave a thorough survey of the effects digital technologies has had on our news media, from its inception to present day. He started out discussion with a 1982 National Geographic cover image altered slightly to fit the vertical cover better. He ran through examples of digital alteration throughout the 80′s and 90′s, landing on the recent world press award controversy in regards to Paul Hansen’s funeral photo. The lack of strong industry standards when clearly marking alterations of images used in news lead to a loss of confidence in the image, especially as we turn to a more enhanced drama in our news sources.

He also pointed out the repetition and oversimplification of imagery occurring today with our use and understanding of digital effects. We are like someone driving 90 miles an hour looking in the rear view mirror. We do not understand the direction we are going exactly. Ritchin also reviewed the concept of citizen journalism and he stated that the Abu Ghraib photo is arguably one of the most poignant of our times. He ventured into our unknown future with the advent of Google Glass and soon Lifelogging. This is just touching on the surface of the comprehensive survey given by him and I am surprised he was able to fit it all in 45 minutes. What all this means in the times ahead will be revolutionary.

Each panelist spent about twenty minutes discussing their individual work and how it related to the topics presented. After each completed speaking they sat together fielding moderator questions and then questions from the audience.

There were so many valuable lessons from each photographer on their individual working methods and how they are trying to innovate and navigate as authors in these new territories. A couple snapshots pulled out from the first panel:

Chris Steele- Perkins looks to do more than parachute into a place or be a “war photographer”. He spoke of the extended story, digging in for more meaning and finding the cultural context surrounding war as more important to his work.

He has found the book to be the platform that works best for him. Even stating he does not believe in the photo story. As it is, a few images get plucked out of the larger story versus a book publication that can support the full context. He spoke also of exposing misconceptions of other cultures and people. I was impressed with his description of how he develops a portrait of a place. He is utilizing small vignettes, building on details he can’t get out of his mind that become descriptors of a larger story. Making his images to not necessarily push a point of view but to give an idea of what it felt like to be there.

The visible gives it form, the invisible gives it value

Chris Anderson is now New York Magazine’s first and only photographer in residence. He has ventured into various platforms developing a version of his book Capitolio for the iPad. He describes his style as emotionally charged, experiential photography. He feels there has been some experimentation with the new platforms but that it can be pushed much further and has vast possibilities we have not seen yet. He also touched on some interesting ideas about the digital realm not just affecting how photographers produce work, logistically and otherwise, but the way in which we collectively see and process the information.

Jim Goldberg and Alec Soth both talked about their Postcards project and the importance of having a model that is conducive to inspiration and collaboration. As it has grown they have been able to create new avenues and materials afterwards.

Josef Koudelka quotes:

Aspirations, “Just to get one more picture, nothing else.” About images, “The visible gives it form, the invisible gives it value.” “I will get to my knowledge through my eyes.”

Also significant was Susan Meiselas‘ presentation which touched on her own significant body of work some, but she concentrated her time speaking about to the work of the Magnum Foundation. A solution

that Magnum has found for giving back and which is helping fulfill the needs of growing photographers and undeserved stories across the world.

I’d love to relay more comprehensive review from the all of the speakers but the volume would be too large. Part of what is so great about the symposium is having them all here at one time in discussions together. Some of my favorite moments were just seeing them, old friends not having seen each other for who knows how long, meeting up again here in Austin. A rare treasure.


Rundown of the schedule and speakers:

Friday, October 25th

Introduction with Director Stephen Enniss, Introduction with curator Jessica McDonald, Keynote Address with professor and author Fred Ritchin

Saturday, October 26

Panel 1- Magnum In Print: Delivering the Picture Story

with Kristen Lubben moderating, Bruno Barbey, Chris Steele- Perkins, and Christopher Anderson

Panel 2- Expanding Platforms: Magnum Photos in the Art World with Anne Wilkes- Tucker moderating, Josef Kouldelka, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Alec Soth

Panel 3- New Media, New Model: Magnum Photos in the Digital Age with David E. Little moderating, Eli Reed, Michael Christopher Brown, and Jim Goldberg

Sunday, October 27

Panel 4- Magnum Photos into the Future with Jessica McDonald, Susan Meiselas, Mark Power, Moises Saman and CEO Giorgio Psacharopulo


This post is by I Love Texas Photo Contributor, Milli Apelgren

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Photographers Michael O’Brien and Robert Seale will present their award winning photography on November 14, 2013.  This is a not to be missed event for those interested in the best of portrait photography for editorial, advertising and corporate clients.

For the past 40 years, O’Brien has made his living in photography—taking pictures for bands, magazines, newspapers and anyone else who would hire him. He has published two books: The Face of Texas, with his wife Elizabeth O’Brien; and Hard Ground, with Tom Waits. Tom Waits has also refused to invite O’Brien into his band. Elizabeth does allow him to sing, but confines his performances to the shower.”

Robert Seale is one of the most respected editorial and corporate photographers in the world.
Robert Seale is a Houston photographer who specializes in photographing people for magazines, prestigious design firms, corporations, and advertising agencies. He is known for his diverse lighting skills and creative problem solving. His clients include Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, Businessweek, Forbes, Barron’s, Smithsonian, Air & Space, The New York Times Magazine, The Sporting News, ExxonMobil, BP, Major League Baseball, Tellabs, Schlumberger, Adobe, Reebok, and Under Armour.

FREE to ASMP Members
$10 Non-members
$5 Students

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin- 4700 Grover Avenue

7:30-10PM  Doors open at 7

More info and RSVP: http://asmp.org/education/event/info?id=658#.Uge3ZeDGIso

The Business of Architectural Photography with Steve Whittaker

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The business of architectural photography is another aspect that cons tantly requires attention. Estimating, licensing issues, scouting assign ments, creating that shoot list – all are important factors. Once the client signs that contract and pays the 50% retainer, project coordination comes into play. That includes security clearances, site preparation, transportation arrangements, permits, releases and authorization. All of these areas need to be conveyed to the client. This presentation covers all of that and more.

Steve Whittaker’s clients include architects, interior designer= s, advertising agencies, graphic designers, construction, REITs, hospita= lity and corporate direct clients. His assignments cover everything from = aerials, some life style, and interior spaces to illuminating the exteri= or surfaces and interior space of buildings for dramatic dusk images.

He is currently serving his second term as an ASMP director, he is = an advisor with the Oregon Chapter, a Chapter Liaison with multiple ASMP = chapters, and a past President of the ASMP Northern California Chapter.

COST:
FREE — ASMP Member
25.00 — Non-Member
15.00 — PPA, NPPA, or APA Member
10.00 — Student

REGISTER ONLINE!
http://asmp.org/education/event/info?id=688

WHEN:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
7:15 PM to 9:00 PM
Social time starts at 6:30 PM

Where:
The 9th Street Studio 315 9th Street, # 2, San Antonio, TX 78215
Doors open at 6:30 PM. Program begins at 7:15 PM
Light refreshments will be served.

 

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Interview by guest contributor John Davidson.

Jeff Wilson is one of the most respected editorial shooters in Texas. While we could certainly provide further of Jeff’s biographical details here, you’ll be far better served by reading the self-penned bio on Jeff’s website. Not only does visiting Jeff’s website allow you to read a photographer bio that could serve as an exemplar of the form, it also affords you the opportunity to take in the full range of his stunning work.

I spoke with Jeff recently at his elegant, mid-century modern styled home in Central Austin.

Was there an image that you shot, or a particular moment early in your life that made you think: Ah yes, photography – this is what I want to do with my life?
Yes, there’s probably one picture— a picture of my daughter. She was in second grade, and she had a day at school where she could dress up as a character from a book that she liked. She picked a book called Stella Luna and the character is a bat, so we made a bat costume for her. I was in my second year of college, and I had already been into photography, but I think that was the first time where I felt like I did something really beautiful, and thought ‘maybe this is possible.’

That was the first time where I felt like I did something really beautiful, and thought ‘maybe this is possible.’

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What were you studying in college?
Well, actually I have a business major and photography minor, but I was studying photography at the time.

Where were you at college?
At St. Edwards University (in Austin). They have a very good photography program – even better now than it was then. It’s much bigger now, and they made a pretty solid transition from more traditional darkroom work to digital. I don’t think I even had to take a digital class to graduate. It doesn’t feel like that long ago (laughs).

When you graduated from St. Edwards you worked in state government and became a forensics photographer. What kind of forensic work were you doing?
Well there are a couple parts to the job and one of them was photographing the crime scene, and it was statewide. It was for any municipality that didn’t have a crime lab facility, so it was usually not a big city; it was the little cities all over Texas.

That’s a lot of ground to cover…
Whenever I go to little towns to do a photo shoot, I usually remember them.  Typically we would fly up or there were pool cars that we would take. It would be me and a latent prints analyst, someone from trace evidence and a couple DNA people. Other than that, the majority of the day to day was photographing fingerprints on objects  - which were usually bundles of drugs. We would use a 4×5 camera on an enlarger column. All of the items to be photographed would be treated with chemicals, and then you would light it with an argon laser to make the treated fingerprints luminesce, photograph it, process and print it one-to-one. That was a lot of the stuff that I shot – like tire impressions and footwear impressions. I’d make prints for court documents…

When you were leaving college and imagining a career in photography, did you want to do editorial work or advertising?
I was thinking editorial. But when I graduated I needed to make money, and it just wasn’t happening fast enough. I got the job with the legislature directly out of college, and then I was only there as a session photographer. I worked there for about eight months and then I took the other job for six years

Was shooting forensics interesting work?
It was a great job, and I was grateful for it because it paid the bills and I was still photographing. The work was interesting until it wasn’t. If I was going to move ahead with my career, the time was right to move on. A lot of times I’d be working long hours at night, so I’d get time off and I would use that time to shoot jobs. That was when I started shooting editorial.  I started to learn digital imaging there – I taught myself—and it worked pretty well.

And from there you went to work with Dan Winters?
I had known Dan ever since I’d graduated from college. One of my graduation presents to myself was to go to a Santa Fe workshop. There were two names that I recognized on the roster. One was his, and I really identified with his work. We became friends, and he moved to Austin a year or two later. I had known his previous assistants, and around the time I was thinking of leaving the crime lab, his assistant was leaving, so I called him and said ‘Hey, I’m available,’ and he took me on. I learned everything I know about what it means to be a professional photographer from him, and I often think that if it weren’t for that meeting I would be doing something else now. Having a vote of confidence from someone as talented as him was pretty life-changing.

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Was it intimidating when you started working with him?
No. Because I’d known him for a while, I already felt comfortable with him. He’s a very pleasant person from day to day, and he was very patient when I started.  But some of the situations that I got into were intimidating. Within a couple of weeks we were in a studio in New York shooting an album package for a band and it was high pressure. Prior to that I’d only assisted for a couple of local photographers, small editorial shoots. It was a big change in that sense, but luckily he was pretty patient.

Did you feel like you had some pretty decent technical chops going in?
No (laughs). I knew the gear he was working with – he shot 4×5 at the time – and I knew a little bit about lighting, enough to fake it, but I definitely learned on the job. There was a lot of grip equipment that I didn’t have any idea what to do with and had to figure out, and then I tried to ask just the right amount of questions to make sure no-one thought I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.

Your career encompasses the switch from analog to digital technology – did digital involve a marked shift for you, re-learning certain aspects of photography technique, or was it a change that happened organically over a period of time?
No, I wouldn’t call it ‘organic.’  It was definitely tumultuous. I think anyone who doesn’t grow up with it doesn’t understand it intuitively and really has to learn it. When I was in high school, that’s when I picked up photography and learned how to process film and how to print. I worked for the school newspaper and we would print the images and paste them into the layout, and it would go to the local newspaper to be printed. Even in college I learned how to print color and was doing all my own darkroom work, so it was weird to start thinking in terms of doing everything on a computer. Even at first when I was still shooting film, but then scanning the film before doing the work and printing, it was difficult. I still find it odd and I definitely miss shooting film sometimes.

But then in some ways I love shooting digitally, and not just for convenience

But then in some ways I love shooting digitally, and not just for convenience. I’m able to do things I couldn’t otherwise do because I can work much faster – things that wouldn’t have occurred to me before, that I wouldn’t have had time to do. You know, it’s strange, I have a light meter, but I can’t remember the last time I used it! Shooting digitally, it’s so fast to do a test exposure and look at the histogram.

I also love not having to go to a lab. I always hated that experience – though in Holland Photo, we actually still have one really good lab in Austin. I don’t really have a darkroom to work in any more. I just haven’t done it in years.

But I do like that (about digital technology), being able to take the work into my own hands. It’s easier from a workflow perspective that I can come home and edit, and do all the work that I need to do right here, in a timeframe that works for a magazine.

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Has shooting digitally heavily influenced your aesthetic?
Definitely. But I think… well, even before digital technology I always thought that if you shoot 35mm your subjects will respond differently than if you shoot with medium format. It’s all about how the equipment functions with the subject and how they respond to your approach with it.

Do you do all of your own processing?
All of it. I’ve never really been in a situation where I needed to hire a retoucher. I never took an actual class on it, so I just learned to do the things I needed. I’ve never really needed to do something like heavy compositing, and if I needed to I could probably figure it out. Most of what I do is more straightforward. It’s done in camera.

You said that it was a ‘tumultuous transition.’ How did you set about learning what you felt you needed to know?
I got a couple of books, watched a lot of tutorials online. I have a big binder full of notes, probably outdated now, Photoshop 2 or something! When I started working with Dan, that was a big part of the job. He had a retoucher in LA, but that was a hard thing to work with because of deadlines, so I had to really quickly bring that. I knew a bit about it already, but I quickly got to a point where I was doing something I was proud of, bringing something valuable to the table.

Let me ask you about a couple of your larger personal projects. The Texas high-school football stadium book that began as an article in Texas Monthly – did you pitch the publisher, or did they reach out to you?

No, UT Press approached me. They’d seen the piece in Texas Monthly, thought that it might make a good book, but then it faded into the background and it was years later before they called me. I think less than a quarter of the images that were featured in the book were from the original magazine piece so I had a lot more work to do. Luckily I had a pretty big lead-time, something like six months. I put together a game plan and as soon as the time of year that I wanted to shoot in rolled around, I hit the ground running, and I think I produced it in a couple of months.

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How did you go about it logistically? Were you familiar with a lot of these stadiums?
Yes. I had become familiar with them because over the years I’ve been to just about every little town in Texas.  I already knew a lot of them when I pitched the story to Texas Monthly.  When they came to me with the book it didn’t take me long; at least I knew the areas that I was heading. There were eighty-some images in the book, and I think I photographed ninety or so in total.

The cool thing was that the actual shooting was pretty easy. I could look at maps, figure out where the school was, figure out where the stadium sat. I could usually see it in satellite pictures, see which way it was facing, figure out what time of day I’d be shooting and how far each stadium was from the next one. I’d know on any given morning that I could shoot at least two stadiums before losing the light.

I made a lot of back and forth trips, because otherwise the cost would have been prohibitive.

These types of books aren’t exactly money-making exercises, are they?
No, you do it because you want to, and because at the end of the day you have a book and that feels really good. I’m really happy to have had that work published and it was a lot of fun. I don’t get to shoot that way very often. I’d find myself out there really early, at dawn, by myself with just my camera, a tripod, and a cable release. It was a really liberating way to work.

How did your UT Football Game Day essay come about?
Those were shot over the course of all but one of the home games for that season. I’m a big UT fan, and I shot a job, a portrait of Mack Brown for the Alumni magazine. We were at the shoot, and they asked me if I had any ideas for a photo essay and so… honestly, I really just wanted to get on the field! But when I realized I had all this access, I thought it could be really cool. I told them I wanted to shoot with strobe, which you’re not allowed to do down there, and they arranged for me to do that – so I felt that I had unprecedented access, and I ended up going to most of the home games and shooting before the game and all the way through it. The idea behind the essay was that I wasn’t going to shoot any football, but what was going on around it. Any time anything big happened in the game, I was looking in the stands.

Any time anything big happened in the game, I was looking in the stands.

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You had one assistant working with you?
Yeah, especially on something like that where it was a small budget and the project was kind of long. But it was fun to be down there, seeing how the sports photographers work. Meanwhile, I’m walking around with an assistant and all this lighting gear…two guys carrying 70 pounds of gear up and down steps, sweating profusely.

How many assistants do you typically work with?
I don’t have any full-time assistants. I just have a small group of people that I’m comfortable with, and I try to keep it within 2-3 people. I typically only work with one at a time on a job, and sometimes I’ll have a digital tech if there’s a big enough budget. Sometimes, if the money allows, and I know people are going to be carrying heavy Profoto 7B’s and battery packs, then I try to get two. It makes it a lot easier if you’re going to be outdoors and have lots of modifiers blowing in the wind.

Do you consider yourself primarily a portrait photographer?
I would consider myself a portrait photographer just because that’s the overwhelming majority of the work that I do. I think if you’re an editorial photographer you have to be able to do a bit of everything, because if you’re shooting a story you’re more than likely going to shoot more than just a portrait – you’re also going to shoot a landscape, an architectural interior, and a still life. You’re trying to put together the pieces of the story.

I think if you’re an editorial photographer you have to be able to do a bit of everything

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Do you have a guiding philosophy in how you go about photographing people?
I wouldn’t say I have a philosophy. It’s really more a method than a philosophy. I’m hoping the philosophy presents itself in my response to the subject, and not something I’ve determined beforehand. I don’t take a lot of action photos.  I really just try to take pictures of people, and let them do their own thing. I will direct people on where to turn their head, how to stand, give me their eyes in the lens; that kind of thing, without trying to direct it too much. A lot of the time, the people I photograph are normal people who aren’t used to being in front of a camera and a lot of lights and they need a lot of direction to feel comfortable, so I try to spend at least five or ten minutes talking to them before we start shooting. Hopefully I have something, a story about them I’ve researched ahead of time that I can talk to them about. Once they get over their anxiety about being photographed, then you can find the moment you’re looking for. Until then you’re just practicing for it. When I shot film I used to always joke that I might as well throw the fist couple of rolls away because there wasn’t going to be anything worthwhile on them… but you had to shoot those rolls in order to get to that moment that you would know when you saw it.

I really just try to take pictures of people, and let them do their own thing

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We’re always reading statistics about Texas being one of the fastest growing states in the nation, with Austin and Houston just two examples of cities that are perennially listed as having the fastest growing populations. It sometimes seems that of every ten thousand people who move here, two hundred and fifty of them are professional photographers. Have you noticed the effect of that in terms of competition, getting work?
Yes, but I feel it was the same way when I first started. Even then I felt that Austin was a very competitive place to be a photographer, which is what made it a good place to be a photographer because there was work here. For a city this size, there’s a vibrant photography community here. It’s not on the scale of New York or LA, but of anything in between those cities I feel like Austin has a really strong scene both in terms of the volume of work available, and of the talent that’s working here. So yes, it’s competitive, and I get emails from people all the time saying, ‘Hey, I just finished school and I’m moving to Austin…’ and I definitely want to write back to them and say ‘Don’t do it!’(laughs)

What’s the key in such a climate to maintaining – or growing – a sustainable photography business?
Learning how to run the actual business! Most people have a hard time learning how to balance the photography part and the business part. If you’re like me, a one-man band, it can be difficult being on a commercial shoot having a conversation about photographer’s fees and then you have to turn around and talk about the artistic aspect of the shoot.

Even aside from that, it takes a lot of effort for me to be organized. Paperwork piles high really fast, so it’s definitely a learned discipline for me. I can do it now, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. It was tough.

Do you expect to work more on commercial projects in the future?
I think so. I would like to. I think if you want to grow in terms of your business and the money that you make, you have to. The work is really satisfying. Editorial is wonderful because you have a very broad set of parameters, and anything within those parameters is fair game. Commercial work is a little more artisan than artist – you’re working on something that was already decided by other people a long time ago. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just a different experience. I haven’t fully gotten there yet, but it’s definitively something I see myself continuing to do – God willing and the creek don’t rise.


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

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Who: Ben Sklar

What: The New York Times Travel section

Where: Morocco

Read below for what Ben had to say about the shoot.

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“I spent about a month doing three travel stories and then one story for the Styles section for The New York Times that took us on a boat from Casablanca to Barcelona. It was super fun, but very different to rent a car and drive around northern Morocco, but I was well prepared after touring with countless bands, walking across Spain and hitchhiking through parts of the middle east to name just a few previous experiences.

The assignment was open ended giving us the opportunity to explore what we wanted and eventually tell it in the first person. So we avoided snake charmers like you see in Marrakesh and instead we went for own adventures like going home with 80 year old animal horn carvers for a family meal, secretly following strangers to leather auctions or smoking Hash with fruit vendors in the market. The influence of globalization on traditions in an ancient city was fascinating, it is after all a UNESCO world heritage site and the largest urban area without cars.  For example, there was only one remaining camel butcher in the old Medina (a moroccan delicacy).” – Ben Sklar.

To see more of Ben’s work click here.