Tarick Foteh is a Houston-based commercial photographer and retoucher.

“When I was seven years old, my dad bought my mom a Canon AE-1 35mm camera for her birthday. Luckily for me, the multiple dials, f/stops and shutter speeds were enough to convince her to stick to her Polaroid and the Canon was relegated to a storage closet in our house until I stumbled across it one day and claimed it as my own. I remember riding my bike to Walgreens to buy my first few rolls of film only to realize that I had no Idea what the dials, f/stops and shutter speeds were for either. Since the best way that I learn is through experience, the Canon and I were a great match.

That camera stayed with me through the 9th grade when I was accepted into a magnet school for advanced visual art students. It was then, for only six weeks out of the entire semester that I would enroll in my first and only photography class. Being in a darkroom, processing my own film and printing my own photos meant I was way cooler than the other kids. I Continued to experiment throughout high school and into college where I studied graphic design and advertising at Texas Tech University. Eventually I graduated and became an Art Director for JWT. Although I had a secure job working for one of the top advertising shops, I was always searching for something better, hopping to other ad agencies in Houston, Chicago, and St. Louis.

One day a client that I was working for decided that they no longer wanted to use stock photography in their advertising. I was very excited because at this point I had moved on from experimenting with photography and this was a chance to rekindle my old passion. They had a massive budget and we hired a photographer who knew how to consume that budget very well. I showed him examples of the ways that I wanted the images lit and shot, and he showed up to the first location with a tons of lighting equipment, medium format cameras with digital backs, and all of the out-of-reach toys that a tech junkie such as myself lives for.

All of the excitement surrounding that shoot couldn’t prepare me for the disappointment that I felt once the photographer sent me the images. They were poorly lit, flat looking and left a lot to be desired. That disappointment then transformed itself into a confidence that I’ve never really felt before. For some reason, with a knowledge of photography limited to my experiences with my mom’s old film camera, I felt that I could do better.

Soon, I got the crazy idea to move back to Houston, and back into my old childhood bedroom. I spent all of the money that I had saved on digital cameras, lenses and strobe lighting that I had no idea how to use. That was totally ok because as I said before, I learn by doing. It took a couple of years for me to say “I’m a photographer” whenever someone would ask me what I do. Slowly, people began to hire me and within 3 years, I was shooting still and motion images for a great group of clients. 13 years later, I still reside in Houston, (no longer in my childhood bedroom) and my work frequently takes me nationwide to shoot portraits, products, interiors, and much more. Photography is the one thing that I have never really tried at. I just do it. So, here I am. I still have the Canon AE-1 camera that pushed my life in this direction. Unfortunately, Walgreens no longer sells film.”

SEO bootcamp for photographers

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting your company to the top of Google and Bing. It’s no secret that both businesses and consumers often go first to search engines when searching for photographers and photography services. But how do you get to the top? Join SEO expert Jason McDonald in this hands-on, practical workshop for photographers. Learn the “rules of the game,” including both how to set up your website and how to create inbound links, and get reviews on sites like Yelp and Google+ Local.

This workshop will be in Houston September 19th and Austin September 20th.

SEO Basics Section 1

~ What IS SEO / getting to the top of Google / BING – why it matters SO much ~ Page Tags / on page optimization: keywords, tags, content ~ Off page / links, freshness, social mentions ~ Metrics – rank checking, Google Analytics

SEO Local Section 2

~ LOCAL seo – localization of SEO ~ LOCAL link building ~ Google+ / YELP and local review issues (how to claim, optimize, leverage) ~ Review marketing: how to get reviews, deal with the hard-to-deal with REVIEW ecosystem

Image Optimization Section 3

~ leveraging images for image search / image optimization ~ shareable images on social media networks ~ leveraging some “free” image giveaways to HELP your SEO

The workshop will teach you the rules of the game, and leave you with a practical to-do list of how to get your company to the top of Google and Bing. Plus it will be a heck of a lot of fun! 


Houston workshop: Friday, September 19, 2014 8:30AM to 4:30PM at TexCam 1323 N 1st St, Bellaire, TX 77401 See Map

Austin workshop: Saturday, September 20, 2014 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM at Precision Camera & Video, 2438 W Anderson Ln, Austin TX See Map

$50 off Labor Day Sale!
200.00 — ASMP Members FULL DAY
250.00 — Non-Members FULL DAY
125.00 — ASMP member- Image Optimization ONLY
150.00 — Non-member Image Optimization ONLY

Houston- Friday September 19, 2014 REGISTER HERE

Austin- Saturday September 20, 2014 REGISTER HERE

SEO workshop

Jason McDonald is a recognized SEO expert, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides teaching classes in Internet marketing at Stanford Continuing Studies, the Bay Area Video Academy, and AcademyX, Jason works as an SEO consultant. He helps companies large and small dominate Google, and his methodology is hands-on, practical and fun – designed to teach clients how to play the game of SEO, and how to win. He has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. Since 1994, he has been active in journalism and Internet marketing, working first in the technology sector and branching out in 2009 to focus on SEO, Social Media Marketing, and AdWords training. He is the author of several popular books on Amazon, including popular toolbooks of free SEO and social media tools. To learn more, simply Google Jason McDonald.

Following an undergraduate degree in Fine Art at the University of Derby, England, a process of elimination led Spike Johnson to Texas. Mentored by Throne Anderson at the University of North Texas, he embarked on an MA in photojournalism, graduating in 2011. Spike photographs in the documentary style, exploring themes around religious friction and self sufficiency in it’s broadest terms, focusing on rural areas of Myanmar, the United States, and England. In 2012 he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Thailand. His work exhibits internationally, and publishes with outlets including Vice Magazine, Foreign Policy, BBC World, The Telegraph, Human Rights Watch, and The Global Post.

Recent awards include:
Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding in Depth Reporting, Society of Environmental Journalists, 2012.
College Photographer of the Year, International Picture Story, 1st place, 2011.
Society of Professional Journalism, Feature Story, 1st place, 2011.
Society of Professional Journalism, Magazine Photography, 3rd place, 2011.
The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Investigative Report, 1st place, 2011.
NPPA Monthly News Clip, Multiple Picture Story, Region 2, 2nd place, April 2012/ October 2011.











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/.

Houston-based photographer Eric Kayne recently shot a cover and double-truck for Golf Business.

What Eric had to say about the shoot…

“Last month I had the opportunity to shoot for a trade magazine, Golf Business magazine. The art director told me they consider the book more of a business magazine than a golf magazine and that I should treat the shoot as such. I photographed the general manager of Moody Gardens Golf Course, Bill Pushak.

We tried a few different locations around the course, but finally settled on a grey and black runway strip of tile in the banquet hall. It had a nice pattern, offered plenty of room to work with and would make an interesting background (not to mention winds were gusting up to 30 mph on the course, making things really tricky for outdoor lighting).

I’m really impressed with how they incorporated the tiles into the headline of the article – Blurred Lines: In Pricing, Nothing’s Simply Black or White.


Eric Kayne is an editorial photographer based in Houston, Texas. Kayne is a regular contributor to the Houston Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and NPR where he sometimes works alongside his wife, radio reporter Carrie Feibel. Kayne spoke to ILTP just after a visit to the Sri Meenakshi temple in Pearland, Texas. If he wasn’t a photographer, Kayne would be a cultural anthropologist.

Best career decision?
Going into Photojournalism after a degree in Studio Art. All I could figure out was to start learning Photoshop. Went to San Antonio Community College to learn that program and started worked for the student newspaper. Later on going to grad school at OU was immense for networking and building momentum.

The OU program puts out a lot of talent each year – how have your fellow alumni influenced you since your time in Ohio?
They help keep me motivated. It’s cool to see how everyone is progressing in their careers. A few of them to note – Michael Rubenstein, Katie Falkenberg, Sonya Hebert (current White House staff photographer), Loren Holmes, and Jerome Nakagawa are a few of my former classmates that are still moving and shaking in the photography world. As a second year grad student, some of the first year grad students (and friends and influences) are Kainaz Amaria, Tim Gruber and Jennifer Ackerman, among others.

Most helpful part of your ‘education’ that isn’t photo-related
Cultural anthropology courses pointed out ethnocentric thinking, opened me up to non-western ideals, conflict resolution and non Judeo-Christian belief systems.

Dream assignment?
As cliche as it sounds, get in a Westfalia van and cruise North America for a year with an 8×10 camera.

Weirdest thing in your camera bag?

Latest Gear Obsession
Hassleblad for personal work makes me slow down and concentrate.

How do you stay motivated?
Following where ever creative bliss leads me. I watch a lot of independent films and documentaries, sometimes at the gym, and I read a ton.

Shooting Arcade Fire was a completely random call off a recommendation from the Houston Chronicle

First big break?
Shooting Arcade Fire was a completely random call off a recommendation from the Houston Chronicle. To make a long story short, I did some documentary coverage of the band for Spike Jonze’s short film “Scenes From The Suburbs,” co-written with the band, which they liked so much they had me shoot the  publicity portraits for their album. One of those images went on to be a finalist for PDN’s Ultimate Music Moment Artist Portrait in 2010.

Was there an Ah-Ha moment that led to your personal vision?
I had come into OU as ‘Johnny AP Shooter’ and grad school freed me up to be interpretive, letting a sense of mood creep into the story, layering an image, seeing light and embracing my strengths. My project on an orphanage in Mexico and another in an old folks home in Ohio improved my ‘seeing’ and access. High point was capstone class where you find, pitch, organize, research, shoot, edit, write, layout, and publish a story.

Who Inspires You?
Lee Friedlander, Richard Misrach, Garry Winogrand, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Christopher Anderson, Michael Rubenstein, Eugene Richards.

Favorite photo books?
Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue – Eugene Richards(saw a thumbnail of an image on a flier at UT and it was like someone shook me awake. So intimate and touching and ballsy).
Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach.
Almost anything by Friedlander.

How do you define success in your career?
I’m happiest when I’m busy. When I have a viable project where every time you go work on it you make one great photo. On the financial end, being able to do this everyday and not have to take on a second job.

I’m happiest when I’m busy

Hobbies outside of photography?
Traveling, Exploring, and Reading.

Exciting projects in 2012?
I still love the moment and unscripted photograph. ‘Shipwrecked in Houston’ – (because I never meant to be based in Houston) photos of obsolete jobs or other anachronistic things.

Talk to me more about the Shipwrecked in Houston project. What kinds of people do you identify as shipwrecked?
I’ve put that project aside since we’ve last spoke (question initially asked several months earlier). I’m now looking into intentional communities as well as trying to line up subjects for a project I want to do on the Castle Doctrine.

What do you do to get out of a visual block or funk?
What don’t I do? Read fiction, jog, talk with my wife, my friends, go out and see movies, exploring ideas even if it means coming back with no pictures.

You’ve worked as both a staff photographer and a freelancer. What do you see as the ‘new normal’ for photojournalists?
It seems like the new normal is discovering your inner editorial portraitist because these days, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a lot of what I do to keep the lights on. I think the new normal is looking beyond traditional outlets for work. Many of my new clients are corporate clients, doing headshots, image libraries and stuff like that. In many ways, it’s a nice change as far as getting the bills paid.

 I think the new normal is looking beyond traditional outlets for work

Tell me about an assignment that went horribly wrong and one that went horribly right? 
The one that went horribly wrong was a feature story I worked on for The Ranger, the student newspaper at San Antonio College. A reporter and I did a story on a student kayaker. He met us at a bridge crossing way up high on the Comal. The reporter I was with was about 6 feet tall, 220 lbs. and had never been in a canoe in his life. The canoe the kayaker student brought us to follow him, by the way, was inflatable. To keep it brief, we were dunked twice, all but ruining my Nikon F100, lens, and strobe I had for about a week. Also, another canoe that was with us (an aluminum one – why were WE in the inflatable one?) got stuck in a hydraulic. All this in almost pitch black because we left maybe 2 hours before total darkness. What fun! To top it off, a deer smashed into the front grill of my cherry 1977 Toyota pickup on my way home. The thing never ran right after that. That assignment, to this day, has never been topped. It was almost like “Deliverance” but without having to scream like a piggy.

A horribly right assignment were the multiple gigs I got from Arcade Fire. That was just one blessing after another.

We’re all here for a short period of time, so why be a jerk?

What distinguishes you from other photographers?
I don’t take myself too seriously. We’re all here for a short period of time, so why be a jerk?

Which famous photograph/body of work do you wish you had taken and why?
Cocaine Blue, Cocaine True. It changed my life. It was so intimate and honest and well-seen. It still blows my mind when ever I think about it.

What will be your visual legacy?
Probably a crashed hard drive.

Favorite BBQ
Pork Ribs, Kreuz Market in Lockhart

Favorite Breakfast Taco
Bacon & Egg, Tacos-A-Go-Go in Houston

Favorite Margarita
Frozen @ Ninfa’s or Hugorita @ Hugo’s in Houston

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

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

So you used to live in New York?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 Critical Mass finalist Scott Dalton talks about his former incarnation as an AP wire photographer and his current life as a project-based documentary photographer.

Who are some of your mentors?
I’d say my first and only mentor was Dennis Darling. He was my professor at the University of Texas.  Other than Dennis it’s just been colleagues, photographer friends, we’d talk to each other and look at work and discuss photography.

Why did you consider Dennis Darling a mentor?
Because he was my professor and a really good one. I think the work that he’s done and the work he was presenting to us at the time kind of piqued my interest in a particular direction. At that time, it was all black and white and a lot of portraits and travelling and photographing in interesting places. There were also certain photographers I looked at that really changed my focus so to speak. For me an early and really strong influence was Alex Webb.

Although he wasn’t a direct mentor, Alex Webb was definitely a…
He was the reason I started taking pictures. I was an engineering major and I saw his book “Under a Grudging Sun” that he did in Haiti and the moment I looked at that book, I said, “This is what I want to do.”  Since then the photography that has influenced me and directions that I have pursued has continually evolved. One photographer leads to another leads and then another and you slowly absorb bits a pieces and eventually or hopefully go in your own direction, so it’s a combination of a lot of different stuff.

You said you were an engineering major before you picked up Alex Webb? So that book was like “screw engineering”…
Well, I was about ready to screw it anyway, but it was that book that influenced me to go towards photography. It had never really occurred to me before the idea of travelling around to these crazy places and making photographs, it seemed like a really good idea and a lot of fun. But now I’m not so sure it’s a good idea (laughs).

it was that book that influenced me to go towards photography

What was your first big break?
Well, I’m still waiting for my first big break (laughs). I guess one early on was I got invited to the Eddie Adams Workshop, I was probably 21 at the time, 22, but I wasn’t smart enough to get anything out of it. I wasn’t in the business yet so to speak. Then I guess the next big break came after I graduated college, I moved to the border, I moved to the El Paso/Juarez area and I ran into…I met a photo editor from the Associated Press who offered me a position in Central America, in Panama so that would actually be my first real break as far as anything tangible.

How long did you work for the Associated Press?
Seven years. I did three years in Panama, a year in Guatemala, and three years in Colombia. Then I stayed on another seven years in Colombia as a freelancer after that, mainly covering the drug war. So 14 years in total living in Latin America.

How did you establish your personal vision? Was there a project that gave you an “ah-ha” moment where you knew where you wanted to take your work?
You know it’s something that still developing. It’s not refined. I think it’ll always be a process. I can look back over the years and see how things have changed from shooting black and white portraits to going into photojournalism and working for a wire agency to making documentary films and now coming full circle, well I don’t know if it’s full circle but now doing medium format long-term photography projects. So I think in each stage there were things I was looking at that were influencing me and some of those things have maybe stayed with me and have melded with other influences so it’s hard to pinpoint an “ah-ha” moment exactly. But hopefully there is a big one on the way. I’ll keep you posted if it happens.

Is the work you’re now doing in Ciudad Juarez even remotely like anything you’ve done before you started that project?
Yes and no. I think I’m approaching stories in a different way. Before I was approaching them as a photojournalist and then I think I was approaching them as a documentarian and now I feel like I’m approaching them from some middle ground. I’m thinking more about photography now as opposed to before I was thinking more about subject matter. I’m trying to tell stories that have a journalistic angle but in non-traditional photojournalistic approach. So now I’m not so concerned about moments or action. I’m looking more for underlying emotion and substance and psychology, trying to get a feel for a true sense or mood of a place and the people who live there. So I think my approach to storytelling has grown but there’s still elements of photojournalism in there as well. And it’s still growing; I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t think I have any of the answers, that’s for sure. I’m always experimenting, trying new things; I’m looking at new work constantly and trying to figure out ways to get better.

I’m looking at new work constantly and trying to figure out ways to get better

What was your best career decision?
Quitting the AP (laughs).

Because I felt at the AP that we weren’t doing stories as well as we could. We could have been getting deeper and more involved and making more compelling projects and I felt frustrated with so much time spent doing the superficial wire coverage. Leaving the AP gave me the freedom to explore other ways of telling stories and got me into making documentary films as well as doing medium format photo projects like I’m doing now. Leaving the agency gave me the freedom to explore new approaches. Yeah, that was the best decision I ever made. Worst decision was working for the AP for seven years (laughs).

But you know what? The best thing about working for the AP though? The good thing about working for the AP over those seven years was the experience, I learned how to make contacts, get access, how to move, shoot and transmit fast, how to get in and out and how to tell a story – all of these important techniques that I still use today, I learned working for the AP. It was a great place to build experience. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now if it wasn’t for the time I was with the AP.

How do you define success in your own career?
That’s a good question. I think it’s…I don’t think I know the answer to that yet. I know I’m not there personally but I think it would be creating projects that can resonate with a large audience in different formats, but mainly books and exhibitions. I think I’m still working towards that

How do you stay motivated?
You know, motivation has never been a problem. I’m always anxious to get back out and work on projects. I spend a lot of time working on personal projects. I make repeated trips and work on them for years. I guess I stay motivated by the passion and desire to complete projects and make them as compelling as possible. I also stay motivated by looking at the work of other photographers.

I stay motivated by the passion and desire to complete projects and make them as compelling as possible

What’s your favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
Tex-Mex (laughs). The people.

Just friendly people, interesting people. I mean, I like shooting anywhere. I always enjoy meeting people and having interesting experiences.

What is your dream assignment?
An assignment in Africa somewhere. Or Asia, or India, or Texas, Houston, you know, maybe something here in the Montrose area (laughs).

(laughs) It sounds like as long as it involves travel to somewhere you’ve never been…
Yeah, but I guess my dream assignment would be a long-term…you know, my dream assignment would be to do the type of work that I do on my own, the type of projects that I do. All my projects are self-financed. It takes a lot of time to get them done and my dream assignment would be to be able to pick my own story anywhere and have it financed and published. So my dream assignment is for someone to say, “go do what you want to do however you want to do it.”

 my dream assignment would be to do the type of work that I do on my own

What’s the weirdest thing in your camera bag?
I’ll tell you what’s the weirdest thing in my camera bag. I have a, um… I’ll show it to you (gets up to retrieve object). An arrowhead.

An arrowhead. Why?
It was a gift. I met this guy down on the border. I was photographing him in front of his house with his family. He was a migrant worker and when I left he gave this to me as a gift and I’ve carried it with me every day since then.

When was this?
This was in 2010.

And this was in Ciudad Juarez?
No, this was in south Texas. It was a small town. I don’t remember the name.

What’s your latest gear obsession?
You know, I’m trying to get rid of a lot of gear, trying to simplify things. I’d say my latest gear obsession is getting rid of gear and to be more streamlined, just use one camera, one lens.

I’m trying to get rid of a lot of gear, trying to simplify things

What are some of your all-time favorite photo books?
Gilles Peress’ Telex Iran: In the Name of Revolution

What projects are you working on in 2012?
I’ve been working on the border now for two years in Ciudad Juarez and I’m actually going back on Monday. My goal for 2012 is to complete the project. I think it’s close to being completed.

Tell me the name of your project.
So Close, So Far

What is the project about?
It’s about life along the border. It’s about how ordinary people deal with extraordinary circumstances. I’m interested in places that have unique dynamics. I’m interested in the border because obviously the story there with the violence that’s going on but also the symbiotic relationship between the communities on both sides of the border.

What’s your favorite barbecue?
I remember when we were in college, we used to go to the Salt Lick in the Hill Country. But my favorite barbecue is any barbecue really (laughs).

What’s your favorite breakfast taco?
I like migas.

Who has the best migas?
I liked Trudy’s (in Austin)

What’s your favorite vodka?
What kind you got? (laughs)

Have you ever shot Marfa?
No, but I’ve driven through it. I had lunch there once.

Do you collect anything?
I guess I’m starting to collect photo books. I don’t really think of it as a collection but I’m starting to get a lot of them.

How many do you have now?
I don’t know. Actually they’re not all here. Some of them are still in Colombia. I haven’t been able to move them all up. Not too many, maybe 30? 40?

Do you have any hobbies outside of photography?
I’d say photography is my hobby. Traveling, working on projects – that’s what keeps me sane. But other than that, just the regular goofy stuff, you know, movies, music.

What’s your favorite weekend Texas getaway vacation?
The Hill Country.

Any area in particular?
Just being in the Austin area is always nice.

What did I not ask you that you’d like people to know?
I have an exhibition going on in Galveston right now that is part of Fotofest at the Galveston Arts Center until April 15. I’ll also be at a panel in Austin April 6 with the Austin Center for Photography.