Posts by Amy V. Cooper

"Wind" by Lesley Nowlin from Being a Twin: Elements

“Wind” by Lesley Nowlin from Being a Twin: Elements

 

Austin fine art photographer Lesley Nowlin was chosen as one of four artists for the upcoming exhibition: Face Value opening September 6th at Davis Gallery. Lesley will be showing images from her series in progress: Being a Twin.

Lesley, a twin herself, has been exploring that relationship through her photographic work using traditional, modern, and alternative photographic processes. Lesley shared this intimate project with my twin and me when she photographed us a few months ago.

How did you get started in photography?

My dad played around with photography when I was young, as well as my grandfather and great grandmother.  When I was about 14 I remember my dad teaching me how to read a light meter on a Leica rangefinder.  After that I started photographing sports and yearbook events during high school.  I learned how to develop and print silver gelatin in a tiny darkroom at Westwood High School.  After going to the Maine Photographic Workshop during my junior year of high school I then chose to attend the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford.  That was when I fell in love with art.

 

02_ILTP_Supporting_LesleyNowlin_BATElements

Tell me about your interest and education in alternative processes.
During my time at HAS we were required as art majors to learn all the mediums.  I really enjoyed printmaking and drawing, although I was never really good at it.  Back in my college years we were on the brink of transitioning into digital, but everything we did was still very much produced in the darkroom.  I loved getting my hands dirty and watching the image appear on the paper.  Creating something from scratch and the printing process itself is the true art quality I love so much.  However, that being said, I’ve turned to digital shooting, yet stuck with printing platinum and silver.  With the format I’m creating in this current work the digital image is much easier to work with.  I still love film for documentary and street photography, but I’m not currently working in that environment.
I loved getting my hands dirty and watching the image appear on the paper.
After opening a photography gallery in 2009-2011 I realized everything I fell in love with from other photographers was created with the alternative process,  whether it was silver gelatin, salt, cyanotype, or platinum.  After closing the gallery I decided to pursue the alternative process for myself and studied at Maine Media Workshop with Brenton Hamilton.  He taught me how to print platinum, as well as other processes, using digital negatives.  I’ve been working on it for the last 2 years on my own trying to master the craft, although I have a long way to go.
03_ILTP_ItSeemsEasyForHer_LesleyNowlin_BAT
How long have you been working on the twin series and how has the meaning evolved since you started working on it?

I started the series actually when attending the Maine Media Workshop back in 2002 (for the second time). I had an instructor, Stella Johnson, who helped me create a project for myself.  We had to plan shooting our subject(s) before we got there.  I wanted to work on something for that week that was closely related to me.  Up until that point I was more of a street photographer, and liked to travel and “shoot what I saw” on my international adventures. At the beginning of the “Being a Twin” project I was trying to connect in my own relationship with my twin by studying the connections of other twins and how they related to each other. I learned a lot with my 10 years of photographing twins.  About two years ago I drew on the fact that I loved art so much, and wanted to start making more narrative and composed pieces. I’m drawn to painters like Gustav Klimt and John Waterhouse, and photographers like Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison and Luis Gonzales de Palma.  Their ability to create a surreal environment with the human subject, very spiritual and ethereal, really drew me in.  I wanted to incorporate that direction in my own work, while still making it mine.  I’m photographing the twins (mostly female) in environments of nature to show their spiritual connection, as well as a tension and ease between the two.  Then, I’m printing platinum on vellum and lining it with composition gold, silver or copper leaf.  Printing the negatives separately and then putting it back together creates a broken and mosaic like quality.  It’s very fun to do, as well as time consuming.  No pieces will be the same, and that’s what I enjoy most about it.  I’ve also been learning a lot as I continue to make different pieces.  My process has been getting more precise as I go along.
I was trying to connect with my own relationship with my twin by studying the connections of other twins and how they related to each other.
How did you come to be a part of the Face Value exhibition at Davis Gallery?

Bill Davis is a very kind person who I’ve known for a while.  I knew the curator of the show, Christina Martell, who left shortly after, and Susannah Morgan took over.  They were putting together a show of different portraiture work, and asked me to participate.  At first I was going to make individual platinum prints of my original “Being a Twin” work.  But then I grabbed the opportunity to show my new vision of where I wanted this work to go, and that’s when “Being a Twin: Elements” was created.  Ultimately, I’m very happy I’m able to have a show with a group.  It gave me the chance to start this new work at a slower pace.
07_ILTP_Water_LesleyNowlin_BATElements
What are your future plans for photography? Do you have any other photo projects that you are working on?

My goal is to create 15-20 pieces for a solo show somewhere.  The most challenging part of owning a photography gallery in Austin, for me, was that I didn’t know how to create clients.  I had a ton of photographers asking to show their work, and I didn’t have enough time or finances to do it.  After about a year I realized owning a gallery was not the career for me.  Creating my own work was more important.   It would be wonderful to have a photography gallery in Austin, but I don’t feel there’s a market here for it, which is unfortunate.  There are many great photographers in Austin and only a few places to exhibit.  Davis Gallery is kind enough to have a show specifically for photography and mixed media, but most art galleries in Austin view the medium of photography as an entirely different art form, and maybe aren’t willing to go out of their comfort zone to learn more about it.  More than likely I’ll have to go outside of my hometown to find an exhibition space for “Being a Twin: Elements”.  Really hoping someone will want to show it!

 

You’ll definitely want to see these pieces in person. Face Value closes October 18th, 2014.
Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

For those of us who started our photo careers in a darkroom 36 frames at a time, it can be daunting trying to navigate digital and social photography as a business model. This is not the case for Kristen Wrzesniewski, a young (but wise beyond her years) photographer based in Austin, Texas. She is simultaneously tackling both social media and medium format film cameras. Kristen owns a beautiful and soulful style that is already recognizable, and she’s only just getting started.

Kristen is not just an excellent photographer, she is also the Marketing Director for Photogroup Austin, an Instagrammer for Lumix, and a blogger for Small Camera Big Picture. She knows where her web traffic comes from and she understands that photography succeeds when it’s about experiences, not just attitude.

8399741580_b3c7f52aa7_o

What makes Kristen stand out is how much of what she does feels sincere and very organic. She has over 3000 Instagram followers on her personal account, but she seems concerned only with the creative outlet. She does her double exposures in-camera (“I like to do things the hard way”), and rarely plans out her shoots (“I want to see the soul of the person I’m photographing, show who they are deep inside”). She’s not likely to be out with a crew of stylists in tow, nor is she going to post every frame or even every shoot online.

I want to see the soul of the person I’m photographing, show who they are deep inside.

Kristen is mostly self-taught. She began shooting her friends to relieve summer break boredom in her teens. After high school she put her point-and-shoot aside to study English at Texas State, but eventually came back to photography. She stuck with it despite a film teacher disliking her work enough to discourage her.

DSC_9667

The majority of images in Kristen‘s portfolio (many of which are still of her girlfriends) look like fashion and beauty shots, but she does not identify as fashion photographer. She is not really sure yet how she wants to make her mark, but is resolute that her work has to have meaning.

You mentioned shooting with the Lumix GH3 and GX7. What other cameras or equipment do you work with?

I have also shot with a Nikon D7000 in the past, but am selling it to focus on shooting with smaller cameras. The camera is typically secondary to me. With that said, I’m becoming addicted the GH3. It’s a great tool once you understand how to use it. About 30-40% of my work is film, but I have been shooting mostly digital this year because film can be expensive.

“Texas has a really good feeling to me, everyone is so kind.”

What are your favorite places to shoot in Texas and why?

Anywhere outside! Bastrop State Park is beautiful (and sadly, even more photogenic now). Enchanted Rock is an amazing place to shoot, but anywhere outside will do. I like exploring small Texas towns and talking to people who run small storefronts. Last time I was at Enchanted Rock with a model we went into a small fur and antler shop and the store owner was kind enough to let us shoot with his furs. It was great.

Texas is such a giant vast place, and there are so many different kinds of people and landscapes here. I’d really love to take a road trip all over Texas and just document what I see and the people I meet.

trish copy

What is your overall impression of the photography industry/community in Texas as a photographer and studio director?

I think Texans are much more laid back than the rest of the country, in general. (Mostly) everyone I’ve met has been so nice and open. There are a few people who carry an elitist kind of attitude but I don’t let those people get to me because a bad attitude gets you nowhere. I’d like to see more people openly talking about HOW they make their photos – people can be so secretive about this and I don’t know why. I believe even if I tell someone how I did something, they still cannot replicate it because it came from my brain. It’s my vision. I’d like to see more sharing of information in the future but I think that is well on its way. Things are changing in the photography world – we now have so much access to information, and I like it like that.

Who are your mentors?

-Chip Willis (who lives in Ohio) has been a sort of internet mentor to me. I was incredibly inspired by his work for a very long time before we even spoke. He has always been supportive of me, even though sometimes my work looks a lot like his!

-Also, Giulio Sciorio has been a great mentor and teacher. He is a long time pro and an awesome photographer. He specializes in hybrid photography and has shown me the ropes over the past few months. It’s been an amazing learning experience. He’s taught me a lot about the business aspects of photography as well.

-Robert Bradshaw, my boss at Photogroup, has also been a great mentor. He is a wealth of knowledge, and he hired me on even though I had never shot in a studio before and knew absolutely nothing about studio photography. Over the past year he has taken a lot of time to teach me everything he knows and I am incredibly grateful. 

P1060990

Are you shooting more studio work now?

I used to shoot only natural light but have taken up studio light in the past year. I like it because I have more control and can manipulate it and make odd shapes and shadows. Honestly, I love them both, just not together.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I will have to quote Ira Glass on this one: 

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

DSC_4735-2

When I ask Kristen what inspires her she mentions hip-hop music, old films and Kubric. When I ask about her thoughts on the future, she only mentions plans through May. I think that might just be the secret to her success.

Kristen is represented by Wonderful Machine.

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Texas Photo RoundUp Social Media Panel. Photo courtesy of David Weaver.

2014 Texas Photo RoundUp Social Media Panel. Photo courtesy of David Weaver.

I attended the Texas Photo Roundup Panel: Social Media, Brands and Photographers last week in Austin. Moderated by A Photo Editor’s Rob Haggart, the panel included talent from across the country. Whitney Johnson, Director of Photography at The New Yorker, presented work from The New Yorker’s two Instagram accounts. The @newyorkermag account is PR focused and supports the magazine. The @newyorkerphoto account pays a day rate for photographers to take over the account for a week at a time. The latter works as a supplemental publishing platform and highlights the photographers with whom the magazine assigns print work. Johnson said allowing photographers this kind of freedom is a risk for The New Yorker; but it allows them to publish in real-time, even faster than on their own website. She showed some compelling photography by Radcliffe Roye who was shooting for her during Superstorm Sandy. Conflict photographer Benjamin Lowy captured our attention with some serious (and occasionally hilarious) images and insight. Lowy discussed Instagram as a publishing platform and also as a photographer’s legacy.

Without our pictures, the story doesn’t exist. They need us.

Lowy also discussed the state of being a photographer in the digital age.  “Sometimes we get treated as the help… but without our pictures, the story doesn’t exist. They need us.” The conversation often changed to photographer’s rights and compensation, which is always on our minds. Lowy even challenged The New Yorker’s rates at one point during the discussion; to which Johnson replied: “We’re really lagging behind (on updating photographer’s day rates).” The discussion then moved into the audience, where an editor for Bloomberg maintained that it’s up to photo directors to push for higher rates for photographers. “The day rate hasn’t changed since 1984,” Lowy replied.

A modern vibrant brand is passionately visual, speaks fluently agnostic of platform, and is a true patron of the arts.

Maury Postal is an eloquent and inspired Associate Creative Director from Ogilvy, who presented some beautiful work and philosophy from a campaign he produced with The Lincoln Motor Company. Postal has a unique, forward approach towards visual branding. He not only challenges his clients to see differently but also his photographers. Postal asserted that a modern vibrant brand is passionately visual, speaks fluently agnostic of platform, and is a true patron of the arts. Mobile photography superstar Steph Goralnick let us in on her secrets of luck, collaboration, and building a six digit social media following. Postal reminded us that quality is just as important as quantity. The panel also discussed what to post: where and how often; from Instagram to Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook (with its punishing algorithms). Lowy commented that awareness of your following can sometimes get the best of you. Knowing what is going to get you likes versus what will get you unfollowed can start to inform what you choose to post. Matt Heindl from Razorfish presented a unique interactive campaign for Mercedes in which the photographer with the most likes got to keep the car he was loaned for the project. You can view the campaign here, they might even let you borrow the car.

Social media is the new print.

Overall takeaway: Social media is the new print, and creatives are challenging their clients to do new things. Advertising is being reinterpreted as well as how we publish editorial photography. This evolution into social media commands the ongoing conversation about fair compensation for photographers. That conversation has to include informing clients of the value in paying fair rates, especially when photographers can bring in potential clients from their own following. It was definitely an impressive panel of experts this year and it would be an honor to work with any of them.

Catherine Couturier, raised in Crockett, Texas, got into trouble when she was seven years old. When she came across one of Lewis Hine’s photographs, Girls Spooling, in her social studies textbook, she was moved to tear the page out and take it home. So was born her love for photography.

Couturier went on to study art history at Trinity University in San Antonio, and spent her junior year abroad at Parsons in Paris, France, where she met her husband. The Couturiers eventually moved to Houston, Texas and Catherine started working at the John Cleary Gallery.

After John’s untimely death in 2008, Catherine accepted the torch and rebranded the gallery under her name. It is now the only AIPAD member gallery in Houston and one of only four in the state of Texas.

“John used to say what makes a photograph great are two things, drama and mystery.”

Couturier continues the tradition of showing great photography under Cleary’s influence but adds her additional interests in alternative and modern processes and contemporary art. She says that as collectors are getting younger and technology more advanced, digital photography is more widely accepted as collectible fine art.

Catherine Couturier in her Gallery, Photograph by Amy V. Cooper

Catherine Couturier in her Gallery, Photograph by Amy V. Cooper

“John used to say what makes a photograph great are two things, drama and mystery.” Catherine says, adding that for her, “there has to be something that you don’t see, something special coming from the eye of the artist.”

Some of Catherine’s favorite photographs that she owns are Twilight Swim by Maggie Taylor, one of her favorite photographers, and Broken Plate, Paris by André Kertész.

Who are some of your favorite Texas Photographers?

Libbie J. Masterson. Libbie is such an all around talent. She paints, she photographs, she’s a jewelry designer, she creates outdoor installations (like her recent lotus exhibit for the Asia Society in Hermann Park), and does set design both here and in New York. Libbie is also the curator of the Houston Center for Photography. I’ve known her for years and have always loved her work, so it was a no-brainer for me when she was looking for a new gallery.”

When asked about Texas photography, Couturier wishes there was a better visual identity for the state beyond Big Bend, border towns and cowboys. “I think with more photographers moving here we will get a better photographic representation of what it means to live in Texas.”

 

What is your advice for photographers wanting to catch the attention of galleries in Texas (and beyond)?

If you want your art to be your job, treat it like a job.

“I have two main pieces of advice. Number one: if you want your art to be your job, treat it like a job. Be professional. Be polite. Be on time. Treat your interactions with gallery owners, potential collectors, and fellow artists the same way you would a job interview. Number two: most galleries list their submission guidelines on their websites (we do here.) Follow them, and, just as importantly, peruse their websites to see if your work is a good fit before contacting them. I get so many submissions from painters who haven’t bothered to look at my website at all, which is very obviously all photography. Don’t just spam all the galleries as it wastes everyone’s time and your resources.”

What are your favorite places to see photography in Texas?

“In Houston, there are the three big ones, of course: The Museum of Fine Arts, HCP (Houston Center for Photography), and Fotofest. In Austin, the Harry Ransom Center has a phenomenal collection, including the archives of our artist, Elliott Erwitt, and the first permanent photograph, created in 1826 or 1827 by Niépce.”

Any thoughts on the future of the fine art photography in Texas?

“The fine art photography market is only on the way up in Texas. When I first began selling photographs in 1999, I had to answer a lot of very basic questions that I don’t have to answer as often anymore. The overall level of knowledge and appreciation of photography has grown exponentially.”

Describe the perfect night out in Houston.

“Ooh, the perfect night out in Houston! I made a joke recently that, were I single, my idea of a great first date would be for a guy to pick me up and take me to buy a book before going to dinner. That way, I’d have something to read in case the date was a dud. But really, the perfect night out in Houston for me would be to go walk through the Menil and Rothko Chapel, maybe have a beer at The Hay Merchant, then go to dinner at Kata Robata or Oxheart. Oh! Or go see a play at the Alley Theatre. Or go down a pontoon boat in the bayou and see the Waugh Bridge bats. Or go to a Dynamos game with my husband and son. Or go to a midnight show at River Oaks Theatre. There are just too many great things to do in Houston these days!”

Couturier attends two to six photography fairs every year and finds most of her artists through word of mouth and the occasional submission. She is also an advisor to the Houston Center for Photography. If you get the chance to meet Catherine, don’t miss it, she can tell you a lot about photography and her passion is contagious.

Catherine's son Andre's height marked on the wall at the Catherine Couturier Gallery, Photograph by Amy V. Cooper

Catherine’s son Andre’s height marked on the wall at the Catherine Couturier Gallery, Photograph by Amy V. Cooper

Andre, her son, 7, grew up in the gallery and really enjoys visiting museums and art exhibitions with his mom. No word yet on if he has torn anything out of her many photography books.

Visit the Catherine Couturier Gallery website here: http://www.catherinecouturier.com/.

Tammy Theis, Founder and Creative Director of Dallas-based Wallflower Management, a talent agency, talks to ILTP about Texas fashion photography, Erin Wasson, and great shoes.

How did Wallflower sprout?
I was a fashion writer and stylist for The Dallas Morning News/Fashion for 21 years. I always had in the back of my mind this wish to do something that had my stamp on it, that was completely my creation—and I always wanted to use the word Wallflower. I left the paper to freelance in 2006 and then met Brenda Gomez who had been a stylist and booked models for Neiman Marcus advertising—we worked together at another agency and had great working chemistry. I kind of hit the wall with what I could do at the other agency so I left. Brenda followed shortly after and we decided to open Wallflower, a boutique agency, similar to small, selective agencies in New York. We opened Wallflower Management July 6, 2009.

I believe in including the staff in lots of creative decisions—I think that’s how you get the best results.

What is the role of a Creative Director at a talent agency?
Well, basically I oversee all the creative aspects of the agency—scouting, model development, photo editing, design decisions, etc., but I am not an autocrat. I believe in including the rest of the staff in lots of creative decisions—I think that’s how you get the best results.

When I was in Los Angeles a couple years ago I saw Erin Wasson walking down the street, pretty much owning the sidewalk on her way out of Fred Segal, how did you discover her and how does Wallflower go about finding new talent?

Erin was this curly headed, gawky 15 year old, skinny as a rail, all legs and arms—but her face was undeniable. The shape of her eyes, lips, nose—perfect.

I was at the newspaper when I first saw Erin. Fashion!Dallas was doing a model search with Kim Dawson Agency, and I asked our receptionist to see the entries that had been mailed in so far. She handed me a box and I dug through and came across these snapshots of Erin in her Irving home—taken by her dad, I found out later. Erin was this curly headed, gawky 15 year old, skinny as a rail, all legs and arms—but her face was undeniable. The shape of her eyes, lips, nose—perfect. Her smile was gorgeous. I remember calling Lisa Dawson and saying, I found our winner—because we were a bit worried with our first search that we wouldn’t find anyone. I remember doing her first shoots—she was so cute and like a sponge.

How much of your time is still spent styling? Do you still get to go to the big fashion shows in NYC, Paris, Milan, etc.?
My styling keeps getting less and less, though I hate that because I feel it’s important to my creativity. I stopped going to the shows when I left the newspaper—the budget for that was pretty much done anyways. I do miss the shows, but not the grind of covering them! Brenda and I are most likely going up this fashion week to see our models on the runways and visit agencies.

Does Wallflower plan to keep growing and representing more of other talent such as make up artists and stylists? Any plans to expand beyond Dallas? (Austin could use the help!)
We have been slowly growing—we want to stay boutique so we can continue to give that one-on-one management and attention. We rep one makeup artist/hair stylist, Shane Monden who is extremely talented and we rep two stylists, Uel White and Graham Cumberbatch (Graham is in Austin and featured in a previous ILTP interview). We chose them because they are very Wallflower. Not sure if/when we might expand to other markets. We do have ideas about our expanding our brand in other ways.

Texas is full of amazing photographers! Dallas has a community of talented photographers, and young shooters pop up every day.

What is your opinion of Texas photography and photographers?
Texas is full of amazing photographers! The Amon Carter Museum commissioned Richard Avedon’s In The American West. Noted Dallas photographer Laura Wilson, who assisted Avedon, is a great photographer in her own right. Keith Carter lives and works in Texas. Dallas has a community of talented photographers, and young shooters pop up every day. I’ve been amazed at the work of Lauren Withrow, who started shooting for Wallflower around the age of 16—but she was no novice—she was directing and seeing things in a very advanced way. Kids amaze me these days. I do wish there were more photo/art galleries or shows that focus on photography.

What are the benefits of working in Texas/Dallas?
Well, the cost and ease of living here makes it viable. Studios are affordable. There are great models, great scenery, though sometimes you have to travel a ways and/or battle the heat. Most importantly, there are clients.

I prefer artistic photographers—I don’t necessarily look for someone who is just technical but whose photos have no soul.

What traits do you think talent agencies and models appreciate most in photographers?
I like photographers who have a style, a point of view. I don’t want to see a group of work that is all over the place. I prefer artistic photographers—I don’t necessarily look for someone who is just technical but whose photos have no soul. I love black & white photography and I still love film. I think as an agency creative director, I give photographers a lot of latitude—I don’t like to dictate what photos I want them to shoot of a model—I want them to shoot their concepts and what inspires them—it invariably results in better photos.

How has the demise of print and the surge in digital publications changed the way you do business? 
Well, I am not sure about the demise of print. It seems like there are more magazines every day—mostly out of Europe but beautifully printed publications—I love visiting Book People in Austin to find lots of my favorite magazines—I’m an addict for sure. There are plenty of on-line pubs too though. It really doesn’t change the way we do business—we of course love being able to send our models’ portfolios by email and handling so much of work efficiently through technology.

What is Wallflower’s take on social media for your business? What platforms do you use?
Well, I’m proud to say Brenda and I were the first agency in Dallas to have a blog (we were with another agency at the time but we started it). We have a blog, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for Wallflower.

What is Wallflower direct?
That is for models who have other “mother” agencies, meaning they are out of town and we rep them for our clients who have budgets to pay for travel.

I love the latest issue of the Wallflower zine, can you tell us more about that?
Thanks! When we opened I thought a zine would be a great idea for several reasons: it would scratch my itch of always wanting my own magazine (watch out what you wish for!), provide a creative forum for all of our talented photographers/stylists/hair and makeup artists/models as well as provide tear sheets for our models’ portfolios. It’s been well received—as soon as we publish one all of the photographers are emailing about the next one. This last one, the beauty issue, was our biggest yet with over 80 pages.

Favorite place to shoot in Texas?
That’s hard. I loved shooting in Palo Duro Canyon. I used to love shooting in Venus but it’s not as small town as it used to be. I’ve shot in Marfa and that was fun. I do love desolate open spaces, which there are plenty of in Texas. Of course in the summer, a nice air-conditioned studio is awesome—and I love simple studio photography.

Favorite Texas food?
Sonny Bryan’s BBQ in the old location on Inwood Blvd. I love Stoneleigh P burgers too.

Favorite pair of shoes?
My new Acne blue suede ankle boots from V.O.D.

Favorite place to shop for fashion?
V.O.D., TenOver6, Urban Outfitters and lots of other Dallas stores, but I buy a few really great things a season and wear them to death. I am a minimalist and pretty much wear a uniform of black skinny jeans or trousers and T-shirts. I love Acne and R13.

For new Austin talent, Graham Cumberbatch, styling is more about exploring cultural identities than finding the perfect pair of shoes.  Influenced by his family, especially his father’s style, he’s long been aware of the importance of how you present yourself to the world.

Graham is an Austin native but fresh from a degree in Semiotics from Brown University and an internship at GQ in New York City where he contributed to the art department and also wrote for the GQ blog. He has so many interests and talents that he hasn’t yet figured out which one will define him, but for the moment, a chance encounter with former Austin Monthly stylist Brandy Joy Smith, has steered him into the Texas fashion scene.

I recently sat down with Graham for tacos on Austin’s east side to reminisce on the pains of hauling shoot props across Manhattan and Dallas vs. Austin style.

Austin’s style is a reaction or opposition to Dallas, it’s anti-fashion.

You studied Modern Culture and Media at Brown University – describe the coursework and how that plays into what you are doing today as a stylist? 
The department used to be called Semiotics. It’s a cross-disciplinary field that covers literary theory, visual art, film theory and production and social philosophy. It’s all about the way knowledge is produced. It’s about signs and visual language and how the way in which they’re coded and decoded impacts how humans relate to each other.

It has a lot to do with how I approach styling. Our sartorial choices have a lot to do with how people define us. What we wear is a visual language we use to either connect with other people or set ourselves apart. I like to tell stories with style, communicate notions of place and people and explore cultural identities. I’m inspired by film references, literary themes and ethnic histories. Fashion isn’t generally considered to be very intellectual, but I think when you view things through the historical relevance of style, there’s a conceptual depth that’s possible when you collaborate with the right people.

My favorite photographers to work with are the ones that treat the stylist and other artists on set as equal creative partners and allow them express themselves.

What are some of the most important elements in a photographer-stylist relationship?
I think ideally, you first need to come to a common understanding of what makes a great image. That means finding a common language because everyone brings their own perspective on what that means. Collaboration is essentially about getting on the same page creatively, then letting the other person do what they do best. My favorite photographers to work with are the ones that treat the stylist and the other artists on set as equal creative partners and allow them express themselves.

 Who are some of your favorite Texas photographers to work with and why?
I’ve done a lot of work with Tania Quintanilla of  TQPhoto. We met through Brandy Smith. She has a great eye and an old-school beauty-oriented approach to fashion photography that’s hard to find these days. Her images always look refined and classically beautiful. Sometimes I think she makes my work look better than it really is. I also really like working with Wynn Myers. Of course, y’all know her here at I Love Texas Photo. We actually went to high school together at St. Stephens in Austin. Her stuff is really pretty. She has her own style–very naturalistic, great use of natural light, lots of emphasis on the elements. It’s fun to match my styling with her approach.

Photo by Tania Quintanilla for San Antonio Magazine

Tell us about your mentor, Brandy, and how you got into styling.
I met Brandy through my sister. They met on the set of an ad shoot Brandy was styling. We became fast friends and I ended up assisting her on a shoot for Austin Monthly by chance. I’d never done any styling but I helped with the guys’ looks and I liked it. I assisted her several more times and when she moved to NYC, she recommended me to Austin Monthly, one of her longtime clients. I made my pitch and started doing their monthly style spreads for the next eight months. It was a great experience–kind of just thrown into the fire, learning everything on the job. But Brandy’s been the mentor–always available to answer questions about the biz and give advice. She’s actually helped launch several people’s careers in styling. She’s a very giving person, never competitive, even willing to assist me when I’m in a jam. The industry can get a little hectic for a freelancer, we all need someone like Brandy in our corner.

Graham has a distinct style in his work–he understands proportion and color and he’s great at combining street with high style. -Tammy Theis/Wallflower management

You recently signed with Wallflower Management, tell us about that and how it has changed your work.
I just signed with Wallflower a few weeks ago, so it’s still pretty new. I really wanted to break into the field in Dallas. It’s a bigger market, Texas’ original fashion capital, with more commercial clients and a wider range of retail options. I think Wallflower will help broaden my opportunities. When we met, they really understood my aesthetic and were willing to invest in marketing me to a wider audience.

What are some of your favorite places to shoot in Texas?
Austin! I think Austin is a great place to shoot. But central Texas in general is beautiful. Growing up here you don’t appreciate it as much until you leave. The landscape here is really like nowhere else. I’m actually headed out to West Texas next week and I’m sure that’ll be equally gorgeous. I’ve been out to the Davis Mountains area before but never to places like Marfa and Alpine. I’m excited. I’m a big fan of the desert.

Photo by Wynn Myers

What are some of the benefits of styling in Texas?
It’s really easy to meet and connect with people professionally. There are very few jaded attitudes around because the fashion arena is so new here. Everyone really just wants to meet new people and collaborate as much as possible. There’s a lot of space to be creative without worrying about too much establishment red tape.

Favorite places to shop and pull clothing in Texas?
I love working with the folks at ByGeorge. They’re my high-fashion go-to. Sometimes you just need some Celine and there is only one place to get it. For menswear, Service is always great. It’s really well curated, relaxed, sophisticated–what an Austin man should look like. Maya Star and Co-Star are both great. MayaStar is a little more classic Austin, Co-star is a little more New York. Other Austin favorites are gallery d, Stella Says Go, Mynte, Feathers (great vintage), Olive Vintage (run by friend Laura Uhlir) and Capra & Cavelli (ask for Ken Miller).

Recently, I’ve been styling for San Antonio Magazine. If you’re ever there, hit up Aquarius Boutique, Penny Lane, Pinky’s, and Sloan/Hal.

You mentioned how Facebook was a really active platform for fashion professionals in Austin, how do you use social media for your business?
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram–they’re all becoming more vital for marketing yourself. It’s really a combination of just establishing an online presence and connecting with other people in the industry. I kind of just try to put my personality out there–things I like, things I draw inspiration from–and see who’s out there.

The way you present yourself to world matters a lot, especially for a young black male. It’s how people gauge your self-respect and to a certain extent, your approach to life and work.

You said your family, especially your father has influenced your personal style, tell us about your dad.
Since I was little, he’s always made a point to teach me the importance of personal appearance.  Clothes and material things aren’t everything, but the way you present yourself to world matters a lot–especially for a young black male. It’s how people gauge your self-respect and to a certain extent, your approach to life and work. We tease him that he’s a little bit OCD, but he was definitely about the details–pants and shirt pressed, shoes and belt matching, tie knotted straight, shoes shined–all the basics. But beyond that he’s always had a very distinct sense of personal style. At the law firm he worked for when I was younger, he was known as a unique dresser. He was always mixing patterns and shades–polka dot ties and striped suspenders, monk strap shoes and tortoise shell glasses. I used to love to borrow his clothes, I still do. I wish I’d had enough foresight to make him keep more stuff from the 90s (when he was as skinny as I am). But I did manage to hold on to a pair of his old frames I might start rocking. I also still wear his old YSL belt, when he sees it he likes to remind me, “Man, that thing is older than you are.”  I think it still blows his mind that I’ll be 30 soon.

What would your dream shoot be?
My dream collaboration would somehow involve Rihanna (forever muse), Jesse Ware (other forever muse), Casely-Hayford, vintage Versace and Junior Gaultier, Paris (never been), with Meline Matsoukas and Bruce Weber behind the camera.

Favorite designers?

Wow that’s really hard. It kind of goes in cycles for me, to name a few- Celine (so tough, minimalist like me), Stella McCartney, Acne, Vena Cava, Hood by Air. Locally, Betty Atwell out of San Antonio and Hey Murphy here in Austin.

What’s up with your mom’s famous mac n’ cheese recipe? Can we have it?

Oooooo, that’s a family secret, yo! I will say it’s delicious and that it all starts with the roux.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t tell her I said it but I’ve had a bit of a girl-crush on Tania Quintanilla since I first saw her impeccably polished beauty shots from one of her collaborations with top Austin make up artist, Maris Malone Calderon. Now, every time I talk to Tania I realize we have more and more in common besides fashion photography; a love of red lipstick (hers Nars Red Lizard, mine, MAC Rocker,) the same favorite taco joint -Taco More, favorite flower – peony, fashionista vs geek personalities, undergrad studies in biochemistry, and a semi-secret love for vampire novels.

Tania is originally from Monterrey, Mexico but her family moved to San Antonio in 1985, “Just in time for me to memorize Top Gun and all the lyrics to Whitney Houston, the album.” She began studying photography in Texas, later moved on to Brooks Institute in California, started her career in Miami, and came back full circle as one of the best fashion photographers in Austin.

How did you get your start in photography?
I had a crush on this guy in high school that carried around a camera. I decided to take a photography class to get to know him. Turns out he was on the yearbook staff, so I fell in love with the darkroom instead. I guess I was a natural because I would get asked to shoot events all thru high school and then when I was in college getting my biochemistry degree I worked for the newspaper as the staff photographer. Once I graduated I decided to learn how to really use a flash, so I went to Brooks Institute of Photography in California where the program consists of 3 years of intensive (boot camp-like) photography education. I moved to Miami to work on my fashion portfolio and the rest is history.

Texas has soul.  Not sure if it’s the spicy food, the big skies, or the music, but it drew me back.  I love it here.  There is still a little WILD WEST feel in Texas.

Who has influenced you?
I was really lucky in school. My high school teacher, Art McNicols, really believed in me and pushed me in the right direction. Then in photography school I met TC Reiner, he is a lighting genius and an impossible teacher to please, so naturally I love him. He would make you cry in one sentence and change your life in the next. He teaches me still.

What was your best career decision?
Moving to Miami instead of NYC straight out of school. TC Reiner told me Miami was filled with talent and photographers don’t live there. He was right. I had access to great models and crew, great assisting jobs, and the competition living in town was small. I built a great client base and a solid portfolio before I moved back home to Austin.

How has the move changed your career?
I loved Miami, and I go back a lot, but I missed the people in Austin.  I think my career suffered a bit when I moved to Austin but I feel more inspired here.  The fashion world is tiny in Austin.  When people in my industry reach a certain level they tend to move to New York or California.  Just last year I lost six of my regular crewmembers.  The good news is Austin is still full of incredible talent.  I have worked with some big shots in the hair and makeup industry here.  Local models that I photographed are making it big around the world.  Most just love living in Austin and travel for work.

People are creative here.  They understand the creative process and they support it.  In Miami you can’t put your tripod on the beach without having to pay a permit.

You say that you feel more inspired in Austin, can you elaborate on that?
I feel more inspired in Texas than any other place I’ve lived because the people here keep me happy and sane.  In Austin you can start a conversation with a barista in some random coffee shop who also has a PhD in rocket science.  People are creative here.  They understand the creative process and they support it.  In Miami you can’t put your tripod on the beach without having to pay a permit.  (NO OFFENSE, Miami.)  Texas has soul.  Not sure if its the spicy food, the big skies, or the music, but it drew me back.  I love it here.  There is still a little WILD WEST feel in Texas. It’s freeing.

Your retouching skills are pretty mind-blowing. How did you learn and how long do you typically spend retouching one beauty shot?
I have to admit I’m a little bit of a weird nerd.  I grew up on video games and Vogue magazine.   I always wanted to be a one of those kids who could draw, but I didn’t have the patience.  When I was introduced to Photoshop 10 years ago, my world opened up.  I took all the classes my school offered and would play with my images for hours.  Then out of college, I attended seminars, bought tutorials, and practiced.  Once you know something is possible you can find a way to make it happen.  These days for a really complicated beauty image it might take me 3 hours to retouch.

Once you know something is possible you can find a way to make it happen.

How do you manage the business side of photography? Do you send email blasts and postcards? 
No, I try a little, sometimes, but most of my work comes from pimping out my portfolio.  I am always updating my website and blog.  I try to keep up with my social media.  I get a lot of work from referrals.  When I get a couple of weeks off, I am going to implement some sort of marketing e-blast thru Agency Access.  Also, I am currently represented by Wonderful Machine, and they seem to be getting the work out.

 

 

 

 

How do you feel that social media has changed photography, good or bad? Do you Instagram? 
I love to Instagram, hate to Twitter, and I feel neutral about Facebook.   I do think social media is the future of advertising.  As for personal marketing, the key is to get the followers with influence.  I’m not sure I have that yet.  I do plan to one day get smarter about my social media.  For now, I’m just participating on the sidelines.  

What would your dream assignment be?
I love any assignment that will take me, and my pick of an excellent crew, to wild locations hidden around the world.  Also, I love to shoot big hair and makeup ad campaigns.

 I do think social media is the future of advertising.  As for personal marketing, the key is to get the followers with influence.

Any horror stories?
I’ve had models faint on set, clients cancel shoots because of one word on a contract, missed flights, and shoots in 110 degrees with swamps of mosquitos.  It’s all part of the job.

What is next for your career?
I hope to keep my home base here and split my time between Austin and NYC.  Austin is growing so much but I would really have to focus on lifestyle to flourish in Austin’s advertising Industry.  I’m more of a fashion and beauty photographer and that kind of work is limited here.  I’m also looking for more aggressive representation.

Do you have a favorite Texas place to shoot, visit, or find inspiration when you are not working in the studio?
I love the old architecture of downtown San Antonio.  I love to shoot in the hill country.  Have you been to Hamilton Pool?  It’s like fairies and unicorns live there.

I’ve had models faint on set, clients cancel shoots because of one word on a contract, missed flights, and shoots in 110 degrees with swamps of mosquitos.  It’s all part of the job.

What would you be doing if you were not a photographer?  
This question scares me.  In an alternate universe sits a girl in a biochem lab studying genetics that looks just like me.  I don’t think she’s happy though.

What are some of your other hobbies? What do you enjoy doing when you are not shooting?  I am obsessed with ceramics.  I love hand building and anything Raku. I’m also still addicted to vampire novels.  I know that boat has sailed for most but when the time comes to be tested on my vampire knowledge I could write a thesis.  My new love is paddle boarding on the lake.  LOVE, LOVE the summer fun!!!

 

 

Last night the Austin Film Society hosted a screening of the documentary, Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters at Alamo Drafthouse. I had my first brief encounter with photographer Gregory Crewdson several years ago when he came to speak at my office. I’ve been hard pressed to forget about him or his work since, and was excited for the opportunity to attend this full-length documentary filmed by UT alumni, cinematographer and director, Ben Shapiro. (Since I had yet to figure out how to quit my job and get in to Yale where Crewdson studied and is now the head of the photography department.)

Since I had yet to figure out how to quit my job and get in to Yale where Crewdson studied and is now the head of the photography department

Filmed over a decade, Brief Encounters follows Crewdson’s journeys to create complex, haunting, Hopper-esque images of suburban American life. Crewdson’s epic movie-scale productions, crews and access are unfathomable to the average photographer. The budget for some of his images could produce an entire independent film.

 

In Brief Encounters we witness the photographer’s “preoccupation with making something perfect,” the perfect photographs to tell his story. Crewdson insists that every photographer is working to create images that are the “defining story of who you are.” In the film he reveals the intimate details of his admittedly micro-managed process from location scouting, lighting, adjusting his subject’s clothing, post-production and everything in between save for releasing the shutter of his large format camera (he leaves that task to his crew.)

After the screening, there was a Skype Q&A with director Ben Shapiro who shared his experience of being on set with Crewdson. He discussed the photographer’s creative and evolving process of producing the images as well as how he himself came to create the documentary. Shapiro shot over 100 hours of film, mostly by himself, witnessing Crewdson’s productions grow in size, scope and budget over several years. When asked if there was ever any drama on the set, Shapiro noted that shooting was usually very quiet but that sometimes the subjects would become visibly emotional due to the intensity of what they were chosen to help Crewdson express in his photographs.

Crewdson insists that every photographer is working to create images that are the “defining story of who you are.”

The documentary originally premiered at SXSW last year and has since been screening and receiving accolades all over the world including official selection at the Independent Film Festival Boston and Savannah Film Festival. The film is now making itself known through Europe.

Gregory Crewdson has published several books of his photography and his work can be found in collections at the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and LA County Museum.

To learn more about Brief Encounters, visit http://www.gregorycrewdsonmovie.com/

To learn more about the Austin Film Society, visit http://www.austinfilm.org

To apply for admission to Yale, visit http://art.yale.edu/