Behind the Scenes

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.










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

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.


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 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.

Mariah Tyler talks with photo rep Jennifer Dunn of Sister Brother Mgmt about representing artists, living in Dallas and the importance of collaboration.

In a nutshell, what is Sisterbrother Mgmt.?

Sisterbrother Mgmt. is an agency representing photographers and stylists.

How did sisterbrother come about?
When the economy tanked in 2008, our industry and local market were pretty profoundly impacted and though I worked at a fantastic studio repping a handful of really talented shooters, we felt it too. Our staffers were made freelance and, eventually, I was the last one on the payroll. If I had stuck it out, everything would have been fine – that studio is thriving today. But I couldn’t risk being jobless with two kiddos at home. So Sisterbrother Mgmt. was born overnight.

Why Dallas?
I was born and raised in Dallas. My family is here, my kids call Dallas home. Sentiment aside, Dallas also has a great photo industry. Diverse and lucrative…

What is the creative process in coming up with concepts for shoots?
I love that element of what we do but, honestly, I’m not all that involved with it. I offer inspiration by sharing with my artists imagery that calls out their name to me. I’m sure they fold that into the mix of visuals that seem to be stirring in them all the time. For commercial projects, concepts often originate many steps ahead of our involvement, but it’s always nice when an art director asks for collaboration from the photographer and stylist.

What do y’all look at for inspiration?
There is a fair amount of influence from the “usual suspects” – magazines, blogs, art, music. But it’s so personal, it can come from anywhere, right? Our families, the weather, travel…

Do any of the stylists work with non-Sisterbrother photographers and vice versa?
Most definitely. Inclusion is a really important part of my business ethos. I encourage the stylists and the photographers to work with whomever they feel moved to work with. And I feel pretty strongly about giving credit where credit is due, roster talent or non-roster talent. There’s enough to go around. And creativity is a tricky enough beast without unnecessary limitations on partnerships.

Styled by Brittany Winter & Photographed by Chris Plavidal ©

Who are the people represented by Sisterbrother?
Darren Braun, photographer
Richard Krall, photographer
Chris Plavidal, photographer
Steven Visneau, photographer

Samantha Collie, stylists’ rep.
Mari Hidalgo, stylist
Stephanie Quadri, stylist
Brittany Winter, stylist
Jennifer Bigham, assistant stylist
Olivia June Preuss, assistant stylist
Dana Stalewski, assistant stylist
Shannon Webster, intern

How does someone who is interested become a part of Sisterbrother Mgmt.?
Well, I’m reeeeeally selective. Because I invest so much energy and time in the artists. And because, and I know this can off cheesy, we are a family and while I have the final word, there is a lot of input to consider from the team. For photographers, I hold portfolio reviews quarterly and this is where I find the talent I’m most interested in watching. And for stylists, they tend to evolve from interns, to assistants, to stylists.

Where do you see Sisterbrother in 5 years?
I do have a five-year plan, but I’m not gonna share it right now. 🙂 We’ll be making beautiful images.

Steven Visneau ©

Favorite brunch spots in Dallas?
Brunch is my favorite meal! I like my neighborhood spots, Oddfellows, Hattie’s, Jonathan’s, [in Bishop Arts] in Oak Cliff. And I like Vickery Park and Taverna, too, if I can be convinced to cross the bridge on a weekend.

Top 3 go to spots for photo shoots?
I don’t think there are many repeat locations (other than our own studios). Collectively, in the past two weeks, we’ve shot at the Driskill Hotel and the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, a vintage car showroom in Terrell, the Winspear Opera House, underwater in a backyard pool, the beach in Tulum, Mexico and many many studios.

Styled by Stephanie Quadri ©

Recent, notable clients?
We always love working with all of the different Neiman Marcus teams. Great art direction, great merchandise, great models. And we did a project last week for The Atlantic Monthly. Ooo, and Corona. Yeah!

Martha Gooding is a veteran Dallas food and prop stylist. ILTP met with Martha over coffee at Central Market recently to discuss what it takes to be a food stylist.

As a food stylist what does your normal work day look like?
Normally it’s a two-day, or part of two days, because you’ve got to get your information from your client. You have to go the store to buy supplies.  A lot of places will ship in stuff, depends on what you’re doing.  Let’s say you’re doing packaging for a product, they’ll send in that product but what you need is to add things to glisten it, like your paper products and stuff like that.  If it’s a restaurant they will send their proteins usually maybe their sauces and seasonings and then you buy everything fresh.  If it’s more editorial, you’ll buy everything.

Then you go to a studio and we pretty much bring the kitchen. I’d say the average start time is 8 o’clock and we start pretty focused on working.  Getting it out as fast as we can and usually when they take lunch we stand there and keep working.  I usually work with an assistant and they may stay in the kitchen cleaning and prepping the next job while you’re on set tweaking, moving and stuff like that.  It’s usually a ten-hour day, sometimes 12 or 14 hours.

Usually it’s just our tools, sometimes pots and pans, and sometimes burners, bowls. When it’s a job that needs dishes, I bring those also. I am the only one in Dallas who does that. If you get on a job and the food looks great but you’re on a tacky dish, it just ruins it.  When I was just starting, I would go get the dishes and then the next job I’d have to go get the same dishes so I started buying the dishes. Or they’d ask for something that wasn’t available because it was seasonal, you couldn’t find it.  So I started building my own prop room. And so I have probably 2,000 dishes, silver, boxes of silverware, new, antique, probably a thousand napkins, surfaces, glassware, and I can just pick for the job, pack and take.  I charge an hour to pack and a small rental fee, they save a fortune.

I have probably 2,000 dishes, silver, boxes of silverware, new, antique, probably a thousand napkins, surfaces, glassware, and I can just pick for the job, pack and take

How does one venture into food styling?
There are different paths to it.  A lot of them start in culinary school, that’s the new trend. The art of food styling as we know it, is about twenty-five years old. The first ones were home economists and they would do demos of food.  Let’s say Lone Star Gas is showing a new stove at this event or fair and they would set up the food and make it look pretty.  And then people started saying “Can you do that for photography?”  and pulling them into that and then they specialized in that because it paid so much more.  And then designers started doing it, people more in the design field.  Like a prop stylist might see a lot and then eventually she breaks off on her own. Then some people lately have been more culinary.

The thing about food styling is that what you do in the kitchen is not what you do on a food styling job.  It’s very different because we’re not going to eat it. It’s mainly speed because we charge so much per hour. I highly suggest that even if people have been to culinary school that they assist because you don’t learn it on your own. I think culinary schools are starting to teach some food styling and I really think that’s the way to go nowadays but I would still want to assist. It really calls for a MacGyver-type personality which is somebody that goes “I don’t know how to do this.  Let me think of ways to do this.”  You really have to have that kind of intelligence or you’re sunk.

what you do in the kitchen is not what you do on a food styling job

How did you get your start?
I was curious about starting and I called a photographer friend.  “Can I come talk to you?  I’m thinking about prepping, prop styling or food styling.”  And I also met with two reps but was pretty sure I didn’t want to rep.  Anyway we talked, he was a food photographer and I got home the phone was ringing.  “Can you come to work tomorrow? “  And I assisted the main woman in Dallas, the next day.

I came into it from the art and the food end.  I came from a family of caterers so I’d always been around food.  I ran the production art department at Mary Kay for a while and worked there for years.  So I’d been around design and all that. I assisted three years and continued to assist for eight years while I took jobs on my own too. It was twelve years before I felt halfway confident and 17 or 18 years before I felt totally confident. It takes forever because there are so many different variations of foods.

My assistant has worked with me ten years.  There will be foods and she’ll say, “I’ve never done that” or “I’ve never seen that.”  For example, there will be a slice of cherry pie and she’ll ask, “How do you keep the cherries in there?”, or  “I’ve never seen a wrap.” I remember when wraps came out about eight or nine years ago.  We didn’t know how to do wraps.  We didn’t have a clue, so we had to figure stuff out.  I also was an antique dealer, which was my first career.

What was your best career choice?

This one.  By far this one. This one entails all my others; the antique, the design.

What is your favorite tool to use while working?

Probably a knife. I love knives. You don’t need real expensive ones, just a comfortable one. I like having a lot because I’m running back and forth so I have multiples of stuff.

How do you determine success on a shoot?
You know if you’ve done a good job. You just know it.  It’s innate. It’s a non-verbal thing.  You might do a really bad job or a mediocre job and somebody goes “good job.” I remember when I assisted, I had assisted three years before I felt like I’d done a good job.  It was so counter intuitive to normal cooking that I would leave feeling like such an idiot.  I tell new assistants not to expect to do a good job because you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.  So a lot of it’s just you know you’ve done a good job.

What’s the best part of living and working in Texas?

Dallas is a really good place to work for food.

Dallas is a really good place to work for food.  There are different centers for food around the country: Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, LA and a little bit of San Francisco.  Dallas has more casual dining than most.  We have a lot of packaging.  We used to do a lot more TV than we do now.

Who inspires you?
I love Donna Hay. I’ve loved her work for years. I love the casualness of it. I like a lot of the popular chefs. The Food Channel does not inspire me whatsoever.  Not that it’s not good, because there is some good stuff, but as a whole. I like the Travel Channel more. It’s less censored and never boring.

What are some of the biggest challenges within a shoot?
It’s more about your relationships really than the product. When you work for a client that is part of a corporation, you’ve got the person giving you direction, the client, an art director. You have so many people trying to decide what upper management would want. Too many people on the shoot, the more people the more difficult it is to get your job done.

What are some of the tricks?
One is we use mashed potatoes for everything.  Let’s say I want to build a salad and I want it to stay fresh.  I’ll use cold mashed potatoes and stick my lettuce in there like florist clay to build and keep it cool and chilled.  If I’m doing a plate of nachos, I’ll put them in there and build the nachos like that.  If I want a turkey to look plump, I stuff his little insides as tight as I can with mashed potatoes.  It’s primarily a tool.

The other one we do is to use colors to paint things to make them darker. It’s usually a darkening agent and it’s all foods sprayed, like darker sauces and glazes.  Most of us use natural things.  There are some stylists around the country that use a lot of chemicals. I try to use pretty much natural.  Food looks better natural.

There’s a technique we use called stand-ins.  The other day I was doing a job and it had all these different plates, different steaks with different sauces, two different salads, drinks and bread.  They need to figure out their arrangement.  You’ve got to give them something.  I used to prepare it and sort of throw it out there.  Every time I did if it wasn’t ugly as all get out, they’d become attached to it.  Boom, make it just like that.  You can’t.  No two steaks are alike, no two pieces of lettuce, and no two pieces of broccoli.  So I give them the ugliest stand-ins.  Sometimes I’ll just wad up a paper towel or something dark and say, “Here’s your steak, and here’s your broccoli.”

The stories you hear where there are twenty executives crammed into a room and they are all fighting over the positioning of people’s lettuce.  How often does that happen?
It’s not executives.  It does happen though and it’s because the top executives aren’t there and everyone is trying to guess what they would want. These people are so trying to guess and it’s art in its lowest form.  It’s subjective.

When you look at food do you immediately deconstruct it and figure out how you would style it for a photo?
I think when I see food after this many years, you just know.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book Outliers.  He talks about how to become a professional, really an expert at something, you need 10,000 hours at least of experience.  Once that happens, I don’t really think when I style at my best I’m not thinking.  I can be talking to you or whatever – it doesn’t matter.  I believe that my best work is not done by me but through me.  That somehow the creative force of the group can flow through me, or an intelligence greater than me, can flow through me but when I try to do it with my little pea-sized brain fear comes in and it usually is very limited.  So I try to be just open for that flow and that’s when it works best for me.

 I try to be just open for that flow and that’s when it works best for me.

What is your favorite taco spot in Dallas?
My favorite taco spot is Velvet Taco.  They’ve got an Indian taco right now.  Oh my God, it’s so great!

What is your favorite barbecue place in Dallas?
We are barbecue aficionados. We make the most incredible pulled pork. My husband and I compete with our BBQ and we are getting really good.

Rochelle Rae is an Austin-based makeup artist and entrepreneur who recently launched her own line of cosmetics.

How did you get started?
My degree is in fine arts. I was actually painting on canvas long before I was painting on faces. I modeled for a short time (wrong side of the camera for me, I was way more comfortable behind the scenes). I met a makeup artist and it seemed like she had a really awesome, fun and exciting job. (It is!!) So I moved out to LA and went to the Makeup Designory or MUD, stayed out there for a while but was always planning to come back to Austin, which I love.

I was actually painting on canvas long before I was painting on faces

Do you have a mentor in the field?
I am lucky to live in Austin, a town of entrepreneurs and mentors. Everyone has been very open and helpful offering advice, helping me learn from their successes and failures. It seems like everyone wants everyone else to be successful. I haven’t always experienced that in other places.

What has been your best career decision?
Taking the leap and starting Rae Cosmetics!

How did you decide to take the leap and start Rae?
I knew there was a segment of the population that wasn’t being reached by the makeup brands already on the market, namely us sweaty girls. Active and athletic women who still wanted to look pretty and wear makeup. Deciding to go ahead and try to make that brand was scary and expensive. I had a lot of support from my family and friends but I think they were probably even more scared than I was. If this didn’t work I would be broke. They stood behind my every decision and I am so grateful they were and are there for me.

What is your favorite thing about doing makeup in Texas?
Texans are usually very friendly and it makes working fun. There is such a large variation of styles that it is like having a new job every day.

Texans are usually very friendly and it makes working fun

What is your favorite/go to beauty product on set?
The Climate Control Mineral Tint is the best product ever, it is great for every situation. It is a moisturizer, sunscreen and foundation in one but best of all it stays on when you sweat. So if you’re outside in the sun, working out in the gym or under hot studio lights, the makeup always looks awesome.

How do you stay motivated?
I think about this, my favorite quote:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Who are you inspired by?
I am not really impressed by “celebrity.” I have been really fortunate to meet some amazing women though and because it takes time to do their makeup I actually am lucky enough to get to have conversations with them. I was lucky enough to be Liz Carpenter’s makeup artist before she passed away. A fabulous and funny woman, Liz was a writer, feminist, reporter, media adviser, speechwriter, political humorist and stood in the forefront of the Women’s Movement. She joined the staff of Lyndon B. Johnson in his campaign for Vice President in 1960 and traveled on his foreign missions as a press spokeswoman. After Kennedy’s election, she became the first female  executive assistant to the vice-president.

Sarah Weddington is another in the forefront of the women’s movement. At 26 years old she argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court and won. She is an advocate of women and children and has helped to pass many laws to support and protect their rights.

Liz Smith, the Grand Dame of Dish. Another amazing woman. New York Times Best Selling Author, columnist, reporter and producer. In the 1960s she worked as entertainment editor for the American version of Cosmopolitan magazine and simultaneously as Sports Illustrated entertainment editor as well. Another woman who paved the way for all of us.

These are the women who impress me.

I’m not sure I will ever reach “success” but I will strive for it every day!

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
I’m not sure I will ever reach “success” but I will strive for it every day!

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?

  • I’m in discussions to start a Rae skin care line
  • Working on involvement in Miami Swim, Miami Fashion week
  • Talking at the HBA Expo in NYC on the 19th at the Javits Center
  • Doing some events for Austin Fashion Week in Austin – I’m also on the advisory committee
  • Still writing for the national magazine La Nouvelles Spa And Esthetique Magazine as well as many local publications
  • I am a regular Beauty contributor to several television stations
  • I was a speaker at the International Congress of Esthetics & Spa Convention in Dallas in May
  • We do in store events usually every six weeks, and I’m having a big one during Austin Fashion Week
  • My staff of makeup artists and I do makeup for ALL KINDS of TV, magazines, runway, etc…

Favorite BBQ?
I love the Sassy Sauce at Rudy’s BBQ

Favorite breakfast taco?
Ones I make myself. And I love them spicy! I don’t eat cheese or egg yolks so it is too hard to eat breakfast tacos out.

Favorite libation?

Do you collect anything?
Not really, I hate clutter. I love art, so a small collection of art I hope to grow.

Lisa is a makeup artist living in Austin,Texas but working all over the country for clients like McDonalds and Marie Claire.

How did you get started
I always loved make-up, hair, painting and creating things from a very young age. I was a “talent” in high school and college. I attended a modeling school in Cincinnati, Ohio where I was taught make-up application for auditions, runway, print, and broadcast. I fell in LOVE with that part of the process and just had a natural talent for it.   My modeling coaches saw that potential and started to have me help out.  Eventually I became the modeling agency’s  “make-up , hair, and wardrobe” instructor during college. At this time I also started working as a Regional Make-up artist for Lancome at their events. When I graduated college, I began working for Macy’s starting out in their buying program and just did make-up on the side. Finally after a career and two kids, I decided to get back into my first love “MAKE UP”.  I started taking all types of refresher classes and pro classes to update my skills. By this time we were living in Minneapolis (BRRRRRRRRRRRR) and I began testing with photographers and freelancing to build my portfolio.  After a few years, The Wehmann Agency in Minneapolis became my representation. Minneapolis was an incredible market in which to work. I was able to work for such top clients as Target, Best Buy, Marshall Fields, Dayton’s , 3M and many more.  Now I am living in Austin, Texas..couldn’t be happier or warmer.

 I began testing with photographers and freelancing to build my portfolio

Do you have a mentor in the field? 
All the greats;  Keyvn Aucoin, Dick Page, Pat McGrath, etc.

What has been your best career decision? 
To dive full time into becoming a professional hair and make-up artist!

What is your favorite thing about doing hair and makeup in Texas?   
I love meeting new people everyday, making them feel comfortable and relaxed so they can fully give the photographer that “shot”.  I love being a part of the creative process, meaning collaborating with the photographer, art director and client on getting the right feel and look and making their vision come to fruition. Working in Texas is wonderful because people you work with are truly nice and exceptional! Plus, I adore location shooting and Texas has an array of beautiful scenery!

I love meeting new people everyday, making them feel comfortable and relaxed so they can fully give the photographer that “shot”

Do you have a dream assignment? 
Actually, I’ve never thought about that. Hmmmm…I would be overjoyed to be able to have full creative license on an editorial shoot. Meaning I could pick the model, do the hair and make-up however I choose and also to do the wardrobe styling.  Anyone up for testing??

How do you stay motivated?    
Pure and simple, I’d rather work than not. That is how much I enjoy my job. It’s not a necessity, it’s a want for me!!

What was your first big break?  
That is so many years ago, let me think.  I would say when the modeling school hired me as their make-up instructor.

Was there one project that gave you that “ah ha” moment, where you knew this is where you wanted to take your work?
Again, I would say just being exposed to the industry when I became a talent.  I was able to see everything that goes along with the process and knew that I preferred to be behind the camera creating.

Who are you inspired by?
I’m inspired by many things and many people.  Colors, nature, clothing, magazines, landscape, interior design, photographers, models.

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
I’ve been blessed to work with some of the best photographers and clients from all over the USA .  “Success” to me is when the client, art director, photographer, and talent are thrilled with the results I was able to achieve .

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?
All the projects I get are exciting to me. I guess the newest venture for me is that I have just recently opened my services up to weddings.  It is so fun to work with the brides on the most important day of their life.  It’s such a happy occasion!!

Favorite bbq?
Rudy’s but it is because of their incredible potato salad!!

Favorite breakfast taco?
I make a mean breakfast taco myself.

Favorite libation?
Cosmo, yum

Do you collect anything?
Fashion magazines, surprised?

Bonnie Markel is a talented wardrobe and prop stylist living in Austin, Texas. Bonnie’s work extends from advertisements for clients like Wal-Mart and Target to dressing Beyonce for Texas Monthly.

How did you get started?
I was a photo assistant

Do you have a mentor in the field?
Robb Kendrick

What has been your best career decision?
To always keep the door open and try new things.

always keep the door open and try new things

What is your favorite thing about styling in Texas?
The creative, easy vibe of all the people I work with.

How do you stay motivated?
I’m a curious person and life seems very short.

I’m a curious person and life seems very short.

What was your first big break?
I do not feel like it was one thing or job.

Who are you inspired by?
Valentino, Alexander McQween, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, my parents, my children.

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?
It’s always something new, never really repeats

Favorite breakfast tacos?
Toss up. Taco Deli & Maria’s

Favorite libation?
Tito’s and soda

Do you collect anything?
Old cameras and vintage jewelry