Behind the Scenes

MatthewSlimmer-01

Matthew Slimmer is an Austin-based producer whose clients include Target, Toyota, American Express and Bank of America. He shared a bit about his production business with ILTP:

“13 years experience as Producer & Production Coordinator for Still + Motion Photography. Working as a local in Austin, Dallas, Houston TX and Minneapolis MN. I manage workflow and schedules for several sequential and simultaneous contract jobs. I truly enjoy coordinating and planning.

Advertising is where I’ve made my path and I love being a part of this industry. I organize all the details of your shoot, for both small or large scale productions. I problem solve and streamline responsibilities of my crew. My favorite part of the job is making sure the photographer / director is open to make creative choices while I see that every shoot runs smoothly and efficiently.”

thumbnail

Questions for Amy Holmes George, President of the Texas Photographic Society:

When was Texas Photographic Society (TPS) founded and can you tell us how it came to be?
The Austin Photo Co-op was formed in the early 1980s by a small group of photographers who banded together for cooperative film purchasing purposes. They reorganized in 1984 and incorporated under the name of the Texas Photographic Society. Within two years, TPS had acquired over one hundred members, and the Society attained “not-for-profit” status from the IRS. Later, in 1989, the bylaws were amended to provide for a voting Board of Directors and President who would work collectively to formulate and execute TPS programs, services, policies and procedures.

Pool of Tears

Kat Moser

How is TPS run?
For over twenty years, D. Clarke Evans has served as President of TPS. During this time, he steered the organization, its Board and the membership, while also implementing many significant initiatives. Under his leadership, TPS became a model non-profit organization, garnering the society “State Wide Provider Status” from the Texas Commission on the Arts. After two decades of exceptional contributions, Clarke has decided to retire from this position effective January 2014, when he will assume the meritorious title of “President Emeritus.” I will then transition into the role of President, and Clarke has graciously agreed to assist the Board as it forges ahead.

Naturally, as you can imagine, TPS is now undergoing a critical evolution as we prepare for our future under new leadership. Our Board of Directors will operate as a “working board” with the mission of “shared leadership”. As we embark on this exciting journey, I am thrilled to be in the company of long-standing Board members Jean Caslin (Caslin Gregory & Associates in Houston) and Amanda Smith (A Smith Gallery in Johnson City), who will act as Vice President and Treasurer respectively. We, working in concert with the rest of the Board, aspire to revitalize and reinvent TPS.

What’s your role in TPS?
I currently represent TPS as Vice President of the Board and have held this position since 2010, serving previously as a member of the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council (since 2005). With a BFA in Photography and Graphic Design, I also have recently taken on the task of designing our exhibition catalogs and other printed materials.

My experiences as a member of the National Board of Directors of the Society for Photographic Education have afforded me a broad perspective on the field. With an MFA in photography, and as an exhibiting photographer and educator, I am keenly interested in helping shape the future direction of TPS.

Chere Pafford_TPS Members Only Show

Chere Pafford

What’s the ultimate goal of TPS?
TPS offers photographers with meaningful resources, exposure, publicity, exhibition opportunities and a community of like-minded artists.

TPS seems to be geared toward the Fine Art Photography community.  Would you say that’s accurate?  And what are your thoughts on appealing to Fine Art Photographers rather than, say, commercial based photographers?
Yes, I would agree that TPS appeals to fine art photographers. TPS does not want to be exclusive, but our programming tends to attract more folks in the fine arts realm. However, many commercial photographers who also produce personal work often seek out TPS to support those activities as well. Ultimately, TPS provides a venue for photographers to share their work with others via our website, newsletter, e-zine, exhibitions and accompanying catalogs. The capacity to network, promote, publish and exhibit is especially valuable for artists, and this kind of exposure is what we offer our members.

There are quite a few “big name” photographers who are TPS members, what do you think it is about Texas Photographic Society that appeals to them?
I think that these photographers believe in our mission, find promise in our future and acknowledge their relationship with TPS as both sustaining and mutually beneficial. Over the years, several of these well established photographers have participated in the Members’ Print Program, led workshops, donated works to our print auction and juried exhibitions for TPS.

TPS offers some great competitions with cash prizes and prestigious judges,  as well as workshops.  Can you elaborate more on that?
The Members’ Only Show and The International Competition are TPS’ signature exhibitions, and we have invited internationally acclaimed experts in the field of photography to jury these annual shows. We have also sponsored themed exhibitions, some of which include: Our Town, Cell Phone Photography, Alternative Processes, Big Bend, Captivar La Luz, Best Shot and Childhood. Most of these shows are installed in a gallery or alternative space; however, we do host virtual exhibitions on our website as well. It has always been important to TPS that we provide professional exhibition venues for our members’ work and award them for their artistic accomplishments.

Marilyn Maxwell_TPS 22 The International Competition

Marilyn Maxwell

How does TPS pick jurors for its exhibitions and instructors for its workshops?
Generally, jurors and instructors are recommended by members of the Board. Although, we also welcome suggestions from our membership.

Would you say the economy has affected some of the things TPS used to be able to offer?
Certainly. And as a result, TPS is currently re-visioning itself. Over time, we aim to re-imagine our present brand and identity, expand our programming in relevant and exciting ways, refresh the vision and functionality of our website, and boost and reactivate our membership. Simply put, new technologies in photography coupled with an overwhelming social media presence have challenged us to thoughtfully reconsider our audience and their ever-changing needs.

During this time of re-visioning, TPS is reaching out to photographers, as we want to hear from them! We would like to better understand what programs and services they want and need from us.

[Writer’s note:  Amy Holmes George can be contacted at: amy@texasphoto.org]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either one is great.

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

Dan Winters

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

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

Jay B. Sauceda

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

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

fish plate

Tina Bell Stamos recently moved from California and now she calls Austin home. I spoke with Tina about her roots, influential icons and successful catering business that led her to becoming the talented visual artist that she is today.

Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from a small town in Western Kansas called Stockton.  Population 1,300. Alice’s bakery was a regular Saturday morning stop and had the BEST donuts I’ve ever eaten. My kindergarten class toured her bakery and I swear, she was frying donuts in a Folger’s coffee tin on a camping burner; I think there’s something to that technique. We moved to Lawrence, Kansas when I was high school and I consider that home.

What college did you attend?
The University of Kansas – home to the great KU Jayhawks. That’s the only sport I watch and only if they are doing well. I’m a fair weather fan and don’t have cable.

The catering business took off so I decided to ditch the museum plan and go with food

Were there any other career options that you considered before going into food styling?
My degree is in Art History and was planning on grad school in museum studies. I love art but sadly, cannot draw my way out of a paper bag. So, I guess studying art/artist is the next best thing.  In the early stages of grad school, I decided to start a catering business to fund my education.  The catering business took off so I decided to ditch the museum plan and go with food.  I found my creative niche! I catered for 5 years and then segued into styling.  I’ve always wanted to work with food. It’s my best fit. I also develop recipes so I feel like it’s a balanced career. Visual + taste.

What made you decide on it?
While catering, I was contacted by Hallmark to assist on their newly launched magazine.  The first day I cooked bacon with tweezers and fell in love with styling.

I was really drawn into all aspects especially the visual approach to food.

Catering was taking it’s toll on my body and I knew I could not do it forever, so the timing to make a career shift was right.  I assisted my mentor who lives in San Francisco for about three years. Some of my first gigs were in Napa and San Francisco so it was pretty charming start. It’s a job that is challenging, you have to think on your toes and no two days are alike. I like that kind of work day.  I also have a pretty insatiable case of wanderlust and there’s a lot of traveling with this job.  Plus, I get to cook everyday and hang out with photographers…it’s pretty sweet!

Who are your biggest influences?
Iconic food inspirations would be James Beard, Alice Waters, Julia Child, and Martha Stewart (this is not always met with enthusiasm from others, but I love Martha). Every year, I attend a food retreat called Eat Retreat and always come back inspired and changed. It’s like summer camp for adults in the food world.  I think Chad Robertson from Tartine is a genius.  I can’t stop looking at Edible Shelby by Todd Shelby.  I want to eat at every single restaurant mentioned in that book.  I love Afield by Jesse Griffiths and photographed by Jody Horton - so beautiful!

Have you thought about becoming a food photographer?
No. I love styling.  I love photography and can take a halfway decent photo but I’ll keep it as a hobby.

Are you an all natural food stylist or do have tricks to make some of the food look real?
I don’t use a lot of chemicals on a food shot, but it’s kinda understood, you don’t eat the food on set. It’s been handled, might have a tee pin lodged in it. If it’s meat, it’s probably raw.  You have to be efficient on shoots and since you only see one side of things, you only cook one side.  So vegetables that look roasted have actually just been quickly browned in oil and only cooked on one side.

All food is prepared in components and then reassembled to work for the shot.  Meat looks best seared on the outside and finished with a torch so it’s totally raw on the inside.  You want it to stay plump and maintain it’s shape.  And then there’s ice cream or anything frozen.  Since you have about a 30 second window before it loses it’s barking you either have to go to set with dry ice and shoot fast or fake it. I always have a batch of fake ice cream in my kit just in case, so yes, I have tricks.

Do you have a favorite type of food to prepare?

At home, we try to keep eating out to a minimum and eat pretty healthy. It gets pretty wacky because I try to not throw away any food and I never follow recipes. I cook very instinctively and try to piece together what I have available.  Occasionally, I’ll obsess about perfecting a particular dish and will make it over and over again for months at a time.  After I got back from Spain, my obsession was the Spanish tortilla. Lately,I’ve been into making shrubs which are drinking vinegars.

Who is your dream client?
When I first started styling, it was Gourmet.  I still miss that magazine.  Right now, I’m in love with the direction digital magazines are headed.  For a bit, the quality of photos in magazines was really suffering but it seems like that’s on an upswing.  I’ve worked on several magazines that have sadly folded and that’s always been my favorite work.  It’s where you get to be the most creative, but as far as a dream client, I don’t
have one.

What projects are you currently working on?
Currently, I’m developing recipes for 2 chapters for a Better Homes & Garden’s Pantry Staples cookbook that will be coming out in 2014.  My chapter topics are quick casseroles and great grains.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to go into this profession?
Have buckets of patience!  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Not even close.  Assist as much as possible.  Practice, practice, practice. Have numerous skill sets that you can do.  Like styling + recipe development, or food and prop styling.

Be flexible, agreeable and check your ego at the door.

Food shoots are about collaboration of ideas and esthetics, but your ultimate job is to make the client happy. If they want you to loose the parsley sprig, do it.

What has been your most successful career decision so far?
To commit to the hustle.  We’ve been in Austin less than a year.  Before that, we were in California and before that, Dallas.  All within a three year period!  When we got to Austin, I didn’t want to go through the steps to reestablish myself in another place.  I was being very mopey about the whole thing.  I finally got over it, redid my web site and started building local connections.  I’m so glad I did because I’ve meet great people and gotten a good amount of work from my efforts.  I’ve accepted the fact that I will always have to tend to the not so fun parts of working freelance.  There’s not one thing or another that I did that was successful except for committing to this career and taking care of the details that go along with that decision.

Where is you favorite place to eat in Austin?

Oh lordy – so many!  I’m still exploring so it will probably change next week.  I love the son-in-law at Sway, everything at Elizabeth Street Cafe, the lobster roll at Perla’s and the ceviche at La Condesa.

model_becca

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.

Boxing Ring for Tecate, ©Tom Hussey

Interview by guest contributor John Davidson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cattle for Spirit Magazine, ©Matt Rainwaters

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

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

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

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

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

I presume you work on a tablet?
I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Favorite Beverage:
Margarita, no salt

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


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

 

Photo by Tania Quintanilla for San Antonio Magazine

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

StyleMeFoods10

How do you make food look so appetizing on a shoot?
There are a lot of little tricks for every type of food but I try and make things look “real.” For me, real means slightly messy, full of ooziness, crumbs, and gooey cheese.

Event planning like food styling, makes you think on your feet and troubleshoot, something that happens on every job

How did you get your start as a food stylist?
I previously had a career in event planning that helped train me to become very detail oriented.  Event planning — like food styling — makes you think on your feet and troubleshoot, something that happens on every job.  After a few years in the event planning world, I switched gears and embraced my passion for food. I worked for a well-known chef who led me to the recipe development mecca: America’s Test Kitchen.  At the Test Kitchen I developed original recipes, wrote articles and was head of the Cooks Country Magazine photo shoots where I developed my expertise in food styling and prop selection.

Did you have a big break?  
I’ve built my business with several large, national clients in a short amount of time, which is great, but of course, I always want to do more!

What’s the most photogenic food (needing the least help to look delicious)?
I think cakes.  You take so much time and care in making them that they pretty much style themselves.

What is the hardest food to style?
Ice cream, hands down.

Will you take us through a typical food shoot?  (like prep time, etc. so they see how much work you do before anybody even gets there)
Prep is ALWAYS needed but not always given; sometimes it feels like a luxury.  Simply having time to set-up your tools, what you’re using in the kitchen and on-set and setting out a plan for the day goes a long way in making the rest of the shoot run smoothly. Typically you’re “cooking” each component of a plate separately so organization is crucial.

Is the food usually edible?  If so, who eats the leftovers after the shoot?
Most food I style is technically edible but I wouldn’t suggest eating it.  Anyone who’s worked on a food set knows not to eat (or touch) the food!

Most food I style is technically edible but I wouldn’t suggest eating it

What is the strangest item you have in your styling tool kit?
Oh it’s filled with many strange items, I’m always worried what security sees when I have to travel… I’d have to say the strangest is my baby “snot sucker” aka baby aspirator. I use it to remove very small amounts of liquid. I recently used it on raw oyster.

What is the most challenging thing about being a food stylist?
Schlepping around all your gear!  You never really know exactly what you’ll need so if you’re like me, you bring EVERYTHING!  (Don’t look in my hall closet…)

What is your favorite thing about working in Texas?
I’m a fairly new “Texan”, I’ve only been here just about 3 years but it’s becoming home.  Moving from Boston, Texas feels very welcoming.  As a Midwestern girl, I appreciate a “good morning” or smile from a stranger. I’ve been lucky to connect with great food photographers, designers and restaurants and am excited to build more relationships in the industry.

What projects have you done lately?
For the past two years I’ve worked on the new Whataburger campaign with local food photographer, Jody Horton.  The campaign has been well received and we’re really proud of our work (it’s also pretty great seeing it in billboard form).

I’ve also been working in Houston with Ralph Smith (and recently, NYC at Michael Schrom’s studio), for Joe’s Crab Shack, which has been a fun and challenging project.

I also styled the recipes in the new Salt Lick Cookbook. Austin photographer Kenny Braun shot the book in its entirety and the local Pentagram office led the design.  I enjoyed working with these talented people and the pictures will make you want to drive straight to Driftwood for a BBQ fix.

What’s next? Exciting projects coming up for 2013?
I’m excited to continue working with Joe’s Crab Shack.  I’m also looking forward to adding a new burger client.

The start to the New Year also means I get to work with a regular client, the National Mango Board.  I develop mango recipes for their promotional materials and website and have recently begun styling those recipes since they moved their photo shoots to Texas.

How do you define success in your own career?
I think success is when you get called again for another job; you know you’ve made that client happy.

I think success is when you get called again for another job

What advice do you have for aspiring food stylists or photographers interested in shooting food?
Practice and assist. It’s a difficult career to wrap your head around and can’t really be learned except by doing.

Favorite breakfast taco?
Shocking, I know, but I really don’t do breakfast tacos, I prefer going straight to lunch… The Democrat from Torchys is the best.

Photos by: Kimberly Davis, Jody Horton, and Ralph Smith

texas photo

How did your career as a stylist begin?
I first started in San Francisco just after college working on fashion shows at the Macy’s in Union Square.  The  second one I did was for Donna Karan and I got to work with her daughter on styling it.  After a short stint there it became obvious to me that I needed to start a career in New York to really learn the industry and be in the center of it, so there I just hit the pavement, assisting several stylists and working on everything from editorial at Vanity Fair to test shoots with Terry Richardson to advertising for Celine.

How was working with Vanity Fair? What about Terry Richardson & Celine?
Everything was a new and exciting experience for me at the time and being able to work with some of the best in the world was humbling, but also made me realize a big part of being talented just comes from the confidence to just do it.  Vanity Fair has an amazing staff of smart people and was a great experience every time.  Terry Richardson pretty much lives up to his image.  The Celine shoot was shot by Patrick Demarchelier and I spent most of the time holding the purse to the side from off camera and trying to figure out what Demarchelier was saying in his muttering thick accent.

Do you have a most memorable styling job?
Well, I have to say the job is never run-of-the-mill, so there are many to remember.  Though most of the more scandalous and funny ones are from my assisting days working with celebrities, traveling around the world, and meeting many off-the-wall “fashion” characters.  But, probably my most memorable job as a stylist has been a trip to Thailand that I took last year for a European store called C&A that is run by a Chinese company and had a Taiwanese ad agency.  Every part of it was a learning experience, since we were working with many local Thailand-based talent.  The people were lovely and the experience was wonderful, but not without its many hilarious moments lacking correct translation when talking about fashion and creativity.

Do you have any gripes about photographers on set? Not specific people but just things that photographers may do that make stylists crazy? And on the other hand, are there things that some photographers do that you find really helpful? 
Well, it is always a joy (a hint of sarcasm) when the photographer wants to change or more often “add to” the whole direction of a look once we get to a location or start shooting…i.e. it would look really great to have a huge floppy hat here, did you happen to bring one?

Mostly, what works with photographers is a chemistry and symbiotic relationship

Mostly, what works with photographers is a chemistry and symbiotic relationship that is hard to describe when it works, because yes most of it is good communication, but also it is an ability to work off of each other’s ideas.  It’s nice when a photographer trusts you enough to show you inspiration images, then choose great locations and set ups, then just lets me do my thing with the clothing to fit the situation.

What is your personal style?
I am a simple girl.  I like clean lines and strong (sometimes even masculine) details.  But, overall I like a little edginess that makes an everyday comfortable outfit seem effortlessly chic.

You lived in New York and LA for some time, do you think this was important to establishing your career?
Absolutely.  It helped me to develop a heightened aesthetic and an uncompromising eye.  Not to mention, those places are where the work is.  Other US cities will never have the quantity of work that New York (and even LA) provide.  There is an entire industry and pools of quality talent in all the fields needed to participate.  A good shoot depends on high quality talent from not only the photography, but also from the hair, makeup, styling, production, models, and all of the assistants.  Even more importantly, all of these talented people that I have gotten to know along the way are some of my greatest friends.  We have spent many hours together away from our families and shared a lot of laughs and also….a lot of drinks.

When we first met, we talked a bit about agents. You have decided not to have an agent for the time being, could you discuss that?
For me, at least for the time being, it just is the right thing.  That could always change again.  I used to have an agent and depending on what you want from your career at each point in time, you have to weigh all the odds, as well as the pros and cons of what an agent brings to the picture.  I am also working now as an interior designer in Austin, so now I like to pick and choose my projects as a stylist and have enough colleagues that hire me regularly, so I really don’t have the need for one.

A GOOD SHOOT DEPENDS ON HIGH QUALITY TALENT FROM NOT ONLY THE PHOTOGRAPHY, BUT ALSO FROM THE HAIR, MAKEUP, STYLING, PRODUCTION, MODELS, AND ALL OF THE ASSISTANTS.

I know that you travel a lot for work; how many assignments end up being out of state? Where do they usually take place?
Most of my styling projects are in Los Angeles.  I’ll go to New York very rarely nowadays.  I used to travel to Dallas quite a bit, but have not been doing that for about a year and half.  I’ve just got a crew and network of people in LA that I work with and for, as well as a place to stay when I’m there, so that makes a job where you are juggling a lot just a little easier.

Where do you draw inspiration from, when you’re styling, and shopping, and working?
Everywhere!  I mean sometimes it’s magazines, blogs, or the runway, but often times I get ideas just from looking around me either at the cute girl who just passed me on the sidewalk or the pillows that I see on someone’s couch.

Any specific blogs you are loving?
I look at StyleLikeU, Emmas Designblogg, and The Brick House a lot, but often I really just find things through random searches – I am kind of wierdo when it comes to the online research.

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?
I’ve had a few great clients that book me every season, so those are always fun, because having that comfort to really push the envelope and be myself is great.  I’m looking forward to working with Dakine in a couple of weeks and Lee Jeans toward the end of the year.

Who are your repeat clients? Can you talk about your project with Lee Jeans? Did the photographer hire your or did Lee put together the team? 
Lee Jeans, Dakine, Galleria Malls, and I work with the photographer Colette De Barros all the time, so in that way she is very much a repeat client.  With Lee, I was initially brought on 3 years ago by Colette to shoot for them and have been working with them ever since, though now they ask for me directly even when they use other photographers.

What has been your best career decision?
Wow, who knows….probably the decision to stop caring when I got turned down or didn’t get a job.

How do you stay motivated?
Well, the end product or the idea of what the end product could be is what motivates me and the idea of making something visually stimulating propels me.

What is your favorite thing about styling in Texas?
I like living MY life and not trying to live to keep up with anyone else’s.

Do you have a mentor in the field?
I worked for Jennifer Hitzges for over a year full time in New York and from her I learned how to run “me” as a business.  I was also very encouraged by Sciascia Gambaccini, for whom I also worked.

Do you have a dream assignment?
A regular, seasonal, huge advertising campaign for a brand like J.Crew or Levi’s that wants to shoot in Austin every time!  Maybe if I say it, it will happen?

Favorite bbq?
Franklin BBQ

Favorite breakfast taco?
Taco Deli

Favorite libation?
Lately its been anything with strong ginger OR I love a martini!

Do you collect anything?
I am an avid purger!  But, I very much like glass and crystal glasses.

Any hobbies outside styling?
Hiking, walks with my dog, and flea markets/estate sales.

The Texas Observer covers: Left: Matt Wright Steel; Right: Lance Rosenfield

The ladies of Em Dash Custom Publishers, Creative Directors Erin Mayes and Kate Iltis, do everything from magazine design, art buying, and art direction.  ILTP chatted with this award-winning duo in their East Austin office over sandwiches from Gourmands.

How did Em Dash get started? 

Erin: The honest story – I worked at Pentagram with DJ Stout for 5 years, and there was a period where he thought about moving to join the San Francisco office.   It was the wake up call of “ok, what are you going to do next.”  When I was in NY, and decided to move to Austin, I knew I would have limited work options here unless I decided to do something really different.

Kate and I met at Pentagram. We knew we had a similar design sensibility, and spoke the same language, but she had moved to NY.

Kate:  I  got to work with Erin for about a split second before I was transferred to another team within the office. We hit it off immediately and so we found an excuse to work together designing posters for poets for free in our spare time. Huge money maker! Anyway my passion was magazine design so I knew I had to move to New York to do it. She acted as a mentor during that time and we stayed in touch. When she told me she was going to go out on her own I definitely had in the back of mind that I would want to join her some day. I remembered how fun it was to create work with her and admired what a great designer she is. About 2 years into it, she was doing really well, and I asked her if she needed help.  So, I quit my responsible job at Outside magazine, and took a chance on the idea that you could still do good magazine design and not have to work for a large magazine. Plus it was a great excuse to come back to Austin. We partnered two years ago and now are just trying to make good work on our own terms.  Somehow in the land where print is dying, we have been able to survive a recession, stay in business and still make work we are really proud of.

[We] believe you hire talented people and let them do the work you’ve hired them to do.

Since you guys kind of do everything from art buying, to photo editing, you’re designers, sometimes stylists – related to photography, how does that whole creative process work?  

Erin:  It all starts with a story. We try to figure out how to tell the visual part of the story in a way that’s a little bit compelling and unusual.  If we think it’s best to be told with photography, then next we decide if it’s conceptual or a portrait or something documentary. The style is developed by the tone of the story. Then we try to match up photographers with the story and pitch it to our clients.  For example, if there’s some serious photojournalism element to it, we try to find a documentary photographer, who would be interested or who would have a unique take on the subject…see the story in some special way.

Kate:  Creative process wise, we either have an idea, or we’re going to a photographer that’s known for a certain thing, and let them do their thing.  Budget sometimes plays a role in that.  We try to be helpful when it’s not in the budget – we take on role of producer, stylist, prop-getter – only because we can’t afford it.  With a small team, you have to divide and conquer. We’re really only on set when there’s a lot of heavy lifting; we art direct when we there’s a specific concept.  We have a mixture of photographers who both like and hate having an art-director on set.  It’s a relationship; so you work to make sure the photographer is excited about their day’s work so they can focus on shooting.

Erin and I both believe that you hire talented people and let them do the work you’ve hired them to do.

Erin:  We are very aware of trying to make sure there’s a well-rounded mix of art throughout the magazine, so it’s not just documentary or conceptual photos or illustration.  We really love working with alumni magazines because they aren’t ultimately selling ads. Often with alumni magazines, they tell stories through one (usually) professor’s or VIP’s news…it ends with how they gave money to some department, and there’s a portrait of a professor holding their research or a donor holding a big check. But when the stories are good and there’s an actual story there, there’s a huge opportunity to do something a bit more challenging.

Their readership – by the time they open their alumni magazine – is already in the collegiate mindset. Academia made these readers conditioned to ask questions and to be challenged by ideas (hopefully). So that’s the mindset that we try to appeal to graphically. They’re already open to being challenged, so we need to take advantage of that.

I know you talked a little bit about working with photographers, but how do you find them?  Do you find them through email promos or print promos? 

Kate:  It’s rare that a promo gets me to hire a photographer.  I don’t know if that means that I’m on the wrong lists and I don’t get the good stuff, but even when I worked in national magazines we received so much mail that it was hard to go thru and see the good stuff.  I do definitely, however, pay attention to what other magazines are doing If I see a shot that I like, I always look at the credit and check out that person’s work. We also pay attention to the community here in Austin.  I think we’ve had local clients that have opened us up to photographers that we wouldn’t have known about on our own.  We’ve gotten access to some up and coming photographers because, although the budgets can be tiny, people are excited about the stories and will do work for their portfolio work.  And that’s led us down a rabbit hole of different people. And definitely for documentary work, we attend things like Slideluck Potshow and it helps us see who’s out there.

A personal email gets my attention a lot quicker…sometimes great people fall off our radar only because we are really busy.

Erin:  I actually do look at the email promos. But there are so many from NY and LA, that I’ll just bookmark the interesting ones from the rest of the country.

Kate:  I glance at them but I haven’t hired from them very often. A personal email gets my attention a lot quicker mainly when its showing something cool you have just done. I ask a lot of photographers to keep me in the loop on new stuff so they stay in my head when I am looking for something specific. Since its just Erin and I, sometimes great people fall off our radar only because we are really busy.

Erin:  We also use PDN a lot, especially if we’re looking for someone outside of Austin.  Or we ask other photo editors or other art directors. If we have the budget, we’ll go through a photo reps, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Kate:  We also call up on people we know in national magazine land to help us when we are hiring outside of Austin. The community is not very large so its easy to pick up the phone and see who other people have been using.

How much of the design is based on the art?  Or is it vice-versa?  Do you guys have a design in mind and hire based on that, or do you do it the other way around?  Is it a little bit of both? 

Kate:  The concept is what drives it.  Design wise, we always react to the art that’s provided. We can’t make a call on design until we have a good idea of the art.

Erin:  Half the design work is in choosing the photographer or illustrator. Most of the time, the art does the heavy lifting in terms of getting people to pay attention to the story.

Kate: It’s easier if we’ve done our homework on the front end in the hiring, then our design just supports the concept – and we’re not putting lipstick on a pig.

If someone takes one of our magazines into the toilet with them to read, then we’ve done our job.

You guys have had some insanely creative ideas, that can push the boundaries, like your cover for the Texas Observer that went viral;   Do you have a favorite or memorable photo shoot?

Erin: I really love the ones where we were a big part of the production and have more pride in the ones where we got our hands dirty. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Barry Cooper/800-lb pig story we did for the Texas Observer, because it’s a good story and it was the first big dumb-ass idea that we pulled off nicely.  I was behind-the-scenes on that one, but still feel incredibly proud of to have been a part of it.

Kate:  The most fun photo shoots in general are the ones where the idea is crazier than the ability to accomplish it.  One of our rules in brainstorming is we don’t get to ask “How are we gonna find this?” or “How are we gonna do this?” That photo idea was inspired by the George Lois’s Esquire Cover “Pigs Vs. Kids.”

It’s a long story, but basically Barry Cooper used to be a corrupt cop who reformed and decided to make it his mission to catch other corrupt cops, and to educate people through a DVD series on how to not get busted. Anyway, we wanted to take the nod to the George Louis cover, and the idea was to have our guy face-to-face fighting a pig.  So first we had to track down this animal, which in Texas, you wouldn’t think would be so hard.

So we found an 800lb-er and with the help of a very patient photographer, Matt Wright Steel, we took the shoot into the pig pen. Mud, shit and all.  It was about to rain and Matt, rightfully so, was worried about his equipment.  We had to orchestrate this giant pig to walk around and stand in front of a backdrop for one second before he moved on.  Then there were 10 other pigs roaming the pen, so the owners were helping us keep the other pigs away.Pigs are like 3 year olds and super curious, so we would turn our backs for a second and they would be getting into something else.

I was holding a light, our designer, Joanna Wojtkowiak was holding the backdrop because the other pigs kept knocking it over, and we were waiting for the owner to coax the pig, with a bottle of milk, into position just long enough for Barry to get into a fighting stance.

It was one of those things that, at the time, was so stressful, but when you look at the photo you go, “Hell yea! We nailed it!”  It’s one of the things I love about photography.  It’s amazing what’d you see if you could un-crop the cover and see everything that’s going on to capture that image.

It’s ultimately why I love this work—magazine design allows for some crazy collaborations. Whereas advertising doesn’t let you so much, where you have a bunch of other people in the room signing off on a photo.

Erin.  The “Politics Gets Personal” cover for The Texas Observer is another favorite one. It is so fabulously creepy and wince-inducing.

Kate: It was so crazy that it went viral.  It made a lot of people uncomfortable which for this story and what it was trying to communicate meant we were successful.

We have a joke in the office that if someone takes one of our magazines into the toilet with them to read, then we’ve done our job. We work in this little pocket of small circulation magazines, so to actually have it hit something close to 20,000 likes and to have that many people see the photo when the circulation of the Observer is only 8,000, was a big deal.

We’re always doing guerrilla type shoots and asking permission where we have to.  It’s all low budget.  Kind of like a school project.

Erin:  I like that though— the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ideas. There was something really great about starting your school projects where there are endless possibilities to do whatever and no real-world consequences…getting your friends dressed up to act for a photo or layout.  And here we are as grown ups, still doing that.  

Advice for photographers out there?

Erin:  Sounds trite, but do what you love.  You always make better images when you do what you love.  You really have to be obsessive about making photos, and you definitely have to have have the personality, drive, and conviction to be in this profession.

Kate:  As cliche as it might sound it would be don’t give up. Yes the economy sucks. Yes the business ain’t what it used to be. Yes you will never be rich. BUT you do get to tell stories and create beauty for a living.

…do what you love.  You really have to be obsessive about making photos…

Favorite taco:

Kate:  The Al Pastor at Curras

Erin:  I lean toward the Trailer Trash (Trashy) at Torchy’s.  But really, anything in a tortilla.  

Favorite BBQ:

Kate:  I just moved to Lockhart, so I’d have to say Smittys.  Also the chopped beef sandwich at the Chisolm Trail.  It’s $2 and so wrong and so good.

Erin:   This isn’t original, but Franklin’s brisket is my favorite.  

Favorite Beverage:

Kate:  I’ve been really liking a Moscow Mules lately.

Erin:   Lefthand Milk Stout.  Secondarily, Russell’s Reserve Rye with Central Market Prickly Pear soda—it smells amazing.  

Fav weekend getaway spot in Texas:

Erin:  I haven’t been away in 10 years!  In theory, this was my favorite spot: We went to Bastrop State Park with the kids— went swimming and hiking, and spent amazing afternoon. We saw these beautiful WPA-era cabins and we said, this is where we’re gonna go for a weekend at least once a month.  Then as we were leaving the park, we saw a giant cloud of smoke rising in the rearview mirror.  So, if I could go back a few years before the fire, I would totally go there.  The reality answer is that we head to Blue Hole in Wimberly a few times each summer to spend the day. We cap it off with beer and pizza at Brewsters (where we are waited on by 3-year-olds) and a stop off at Callahans in Buda to look at all the taxidermy.

Kate:  Right now, the Havannah Hotel in San Antonio.  It’s a Liz Lambert creation, and it’s just an hour away.