Photographer

Dallas-based commercial photographer Aaron Doughterty shares some background on his work:

“I was drawn to the photography through my fascination of symmetry. At a young age the 35mm frame became a template to fill. I grew up near Chicago which gave me a surplus of industrial design to aim at, it consumed me.

Photographers Lewis, Baltz Bernd/Hilla Becherand and Harry Callahan’s work influenced me to understand that simple can be stark, beautiful and complex in other ways. Texture and shape are paramount to how I light and frame my compositions.

In my commercial work I love to approach a scene with simplicity in mind and emphasize the subtle to not so subtle details that others passively overlook.”

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From being an activist, an artist, a teacher and worldly traveler, Nine Francois has definitely lived a fascinating life to say the least. I was recently lucky enough to talk, laugh and live her adventures through her stories.

 

Where did you grow up?

My family emigrated from the French West Indies to Thibodaux, Louisiana. Before that we’d lived in Martinique and Puerto Rico but the chunk of my young life was in Louisiana.

Are you close with your family?

My Mom lives in Louisiana and my Dad lives in France so half of my family is on a different continent. The distance puts some stress on the relationship but I take my kids back as often as I can.

What/Who would you say were your biggest influence?

My brother attended Tulane University on an architectural scholarship and he was also a marvelous painter who hung out with that crowd. The people I met through him were very inspirational. I wanted to pursue art at Tulane but my parents told me that there couldn’t be two artists in one family. My second love was traveling so I thought, I’ll be a diplomat or something of that nature, so I got a degree in political science thinking I would travel the world. I got a job at the Louisiana’s World Fair working as a liaison between the city and the fair. I worked with lots of city officials and politicos including Governor Edwin Edwards and his entourage. This really opened my eyes and I learned a lot about myself, like that I really don’t like politics. I was frustrated at the time because here I have a degree in politics and I didn’t want to do anything with it! So, I left and moved to New York for two years with a boyfriend. He was an amazing illustrator. At the time, I was also into drawing, in a very photo-realistic style, but he was so good at it and so much more creative, that I decide to do something completely different, so I chose photography. I think that this boyfriend really influenced me as he introduced me to Jazz and cool avant-garde art.  It fed the part of me that I had to cut off when I was choosing my major in Tulane and it got me back to where I started, which was art.

What inspires your current work?

My aesthetic is clean lines and it’s in everything I do. It might have to do with the years that I studied graphic design and worked in Advertising. There’s just something about clean lines and well-defined space that inspires me.

What other careers were you involved in before committing to photography?

Lots! There was politics and that morphed into civic action. I’m an activist at heart but I put that aside when I moved to New York. I worked in advertising for a couple of years and learned that it was too cut throat for me. When we left New York, we moved to Austin because we heard it was great and I wanted to go back to school to study journalism. During school, I worked at an outdoor store called Wilderness Supply. We’d go rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking — I’ve always liked the outdoors so this felt really right, especially after working in advertising which was absolutely stressful. The nature part was very healing to me.

Were there any professors in school that influenced you?

Absolutely. Mark Goodman at The University of Texas at Austin was a big influence for me. I’ve been told that I’m good at critiquing and understanding photographs and if I’m good at that it’s because if him. He’s amazing. He has a way of getting inside a photograph and finding out exactly what’s it’s about. He not only inspired me with what he did but he also allowed me to teach with him as a TA and it was magic. When we’d critique work from undergraduate students I remembered thinking what a great experience it was and students would say that about his critiques as well.

At what moment did you know you wanted to become a professional photographer?

Before I entered the Masters of Art degree program I took an undergraduate photography course with Mark Goodman. It was towards the end of the semester during finals when

…I found this incredible special in the newspaper that said: Flight to and from Caracas – Seven Nights in a Hotel – $300.

I remember very clearly going to his office. He was sitting at his desk, I spread a newspaper out for him to see which advertised round trip tickets and 7 nights in a hotel in Caracas, Venezuela for only $300. I looked at Mark and asked what he would do.  He looked at it and said, “I would take some really good pictures to make a dynamite final portfolio for this class.” So that’s what I did. My first picture ever published came from that trip and that’s where it started.

What is your thought process when combining travel and photography?

I’ve been traveling a lot since working on the Animalia series so I make sure to research where I’m going and what it can offer in terms of photographs for this series. This usually leads me on the coolest adventures. I went to Costa Rica recently where there was this reclusive woman who used to be a high powered corporate executive in Ohio. She came to Costa Rica some time ago and started an animal sanctuary that you can only get to by boat. Besides a few people that work for her she lives by herself where she has about ninety animals that she takes care of. When you get to her place, you go on a boat and dock at this beach and you can’t even see the entrance to her property because it’s just jungle. You walk through it, get to her compound and you’ll see that she’s living with these monkeys that she’s raised and panthers and other different animals. I went there to photograph a sloth and we spent the whole day with her and it was out-of-control cool. So, whenever I go somewhere I dig around to see what I can find.

 

How long have you been teaching? What classes do you teach?

I’ve been teaching at Austin Community College since nineteen ninety-five but in between that time I’ve also taught at Texas StateUT Austin and Southwestern University in Georgetown. Right now I’m part-time at ACC where I teach Introductory to Photography and another class that I love very much called Expressive Photography. In this class we collectively pick a theme and do all kinds of research on what that theme might means to us. Each student works all semester long on a portfolio trying to develop that idea and at the end they have an exhibit.

 

What was the story or thought process when creating the Composites series?

Sometimes the story is the first step and then you build the work to follow the idea but sometimes the story comes after you build the work. For the Composites series, it was the latter. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to do so I hung a big piece of white cloth right by the entrance of my door and in front of that was a chair and then my 4×5 camera. When anybody came into my house, I’d ask if they’d sit for a portrait. Then, all of a sudden, I had all of these pictures of people that I captured on Polaroid type 55 and each was its own object. At some point, I got into using the photographs as material and I started cutting, then sewing and stapling and pinching. Then, I began to see these objects as material that I could manipulate. From there, I created a different series that recombined faces, sometimes with people that were completely disconnected, sometimes with other family members or with different photos of the same person. I don’t know what it means but they looked really good together. That started another series I did called, Family AlbumMy favorite piece from that is at Nicholls State University in Louisiana where my mother taught for 30 years. It’s a 4×6 foot grid of individual photo tiles and each tile is comprised of glass, a photograph, masonite board and then a rod that sticks it off the wall. Each rod is one inch, two inches or three inches long so the tiles are undulating. I photographed portraits of myself, my mother and my grandmother and found other photographs of us in albums from all the different stages of our lives and I meshed them together. I created these composite portraits on regular photographic paper but they’re backed up against an MDF board which is full of pollutants. So you have this portrait that’s a combination of three generations of women and the images are bleeding and fading. Some come forward while the others recede. It’s a living portrait. I love what happens with time and the chemistry in the photographs that I can’t control.

 

 

Family Album from left: Passage, Heritage-1

Family Album from left: Passage, Heritage-1

What keeps you motivated to continually create a unique body of work?

I think the most beneficial motivator for me would be to take off and do a residency because what I’m lacking in my life is an extended period of time when I can just concentrate on creating. You need time to create. It takes a lot of open time to think and explore.

My consistent advice to my students who are about to graduate is – Sell everything! Leave now!

One of the things I remember as a kid is that you don’t have a sense of perspective because you live so much in the moment and think that it’s going to be like this forever. Sometimes you don’t realize that it takes one thing like marriage or a trauma or children or a job that changes the whole balance of your time. So, I tell my students that if they have the option to defer their student loans for a couple of years, they should just sell everything and get out of here! As someone who is bicultural I think that getting out and exploring the world is something that really needs to be pushed in our society for so many reasons. For people to become tolerant and for people to become more inspired. When you leave your country , your safely zone, and go somewhere else, you see things so differently.

What’s your favorite part of creating a new body of work?

The discovery. When you have an idea that’s turning in your head and you’re trying to make it work, then take that one seminal photograph that goes click. It says yes, this is the path to take; this is how you’re going to talk about this. The idea and the technique to me really have to work together. For the Animalia series, the giraffe picture was the very first one that I took. The story behind that happened when I had finished graduate school. I was so burnt out I didn’t know what to do so one day I took up a toy camera – a little plastic camera with a plastic lens – and went to a friend’s wedding in Louisiana. It was outdoors on a farm and I got side tracked by this rooster that was parading around. I slipped out of the wedding party and started stalking it, so while my friends were getting married I was chasing this one rooster down. I captured a photograph with these streaks of colors of the bird as it ran. When I saw the image I cut it out and put it in my journal. Years later, I went back and saw it and thought, well this could be something. I started going to farms and taking pictures where I photographed light colored animals against a dark background which developed into a series of work called The Farm. I kept that process going until one day I drove past the Exotic Sunrise B&B off of Ranch Road 12. They had zebras, giraffes and ostriches and other types of animals. When I saw the giraffe I realized I had to change everything. I switched it around and started photographing animals against the sun so the animals became dark and the background blew out white. That started the whole aesthetic for that project.

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Animalia: Giraffe, Zebra-1

What has been your best career decision so far?

I think teaching was an excellent decision. I come from a long line of professors and I never thought that it would be my thing but it’s the right mixture for me of supervision and freedom. When you teach at an institution you have a lot of freedom to run your own class. It’s getting more constricted and institutionalized these days but even within that there’s a lot of space to be creative. I teach part-time now and in the end, it’s really great  because I have time to work on creative projects and my fine art.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Austin?

I really love riding my bicycle during the East Austin Studio Tour. I’ve been living on the east side for over 12 years and I love it here. I feel like I live in a zone of creative people who are always exploring, thinking, stretching, and creating. It’s very inspiring.

What are you favorite restaurants?

Justine’s and the Blue Dahlia. I also like the Hillside Farmacy.

Wynn Myers is a lifestyle photographer born and raised in Austin. Known for her eye for authentic moments, Wynn loves to capture the beauty and joy in the everyday. Wynn’s love of photography began when a friend introduced her to the high school darkroom.

After attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, she relocated to New York City, where she worked for fashion designer, Zac Posen, and attended the International Center of Photography. In 2006, Wynn graduated from the Maine Media Workshops’ Professional Certificate Program. Wynn received her BA in Photocommunications, Summa Cum Laude, from St. Edward’s University in Austin.

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Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are your mentors?

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

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

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

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Are you shooting more studio work now?

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

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

I will have to quote Ira Glass on this one: 

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

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

Kristen is represented by Wonderful Machine.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

I had the pleasure of talking to Eric Doggett recently and picked his brain on what made him click as a successful commercial photographer in today’s competitive industry. We spoke about his career decisions and the creative influences that made him the photographer he is today.

What/Who were your biggest inspirations growing up?
I came to photography late in life. When I was younger, I was more inspired by other creative areas like music and art. I spent four years in the Air Force at the Pentagon, and at the end of that tour I started thinking more about creative areas I was interested in. One of the big ones for me (and still to this day) was film music – I have a crazy appetite for film scores. It’s a bit of a weird type of music to get hooked on, but I love them. So when my family and I moved to Austin, I did music for independent films and commercials in town. Now that I’ve moved into a visual medium, all that music inspires me while I’m working. I can match up a certain soundtrack with a mood I’m in, or the mood of an image I’m working on, and be very happy.

Do you have any influences that inspire your current work?
Sure. Like many of us, I have several. Some of my favorites include Dan Winters (who, interestingly, I run into on occasion as he lives about 20 minutes away), Randal Ford, Jeremy Cowart, George Lange, Art Streiber, Brian Smith, Dean Bradshaw, Erik Almas, Frank Ockenfels and lately, Matt Hoyle for his humor work.

What career path were you involved in before deciding that you needed a change?
My background was in information technology/web development. We would create applications for various organizations at the Pentagon. It was an interesting place to be at when I was in my 20s. But (like all development-type work), it takes a certain mindset to put up with those fluorescent lights all day. I just knew it wasn’t for me. For example, I would have more fun creating promotional videos or images for various projects than I ever had writing code. In fact, one of my favorite accomplishments from that time was creating the official logo for the government’s Y2K effort. This was back around Photoshop 3, when layers were new and all the rage.

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What moment made you realize that you wanted to pursue photography?
2005. I was doing web development work for a health company and our first son was born. I somehow convinced my wife that we needed a new camera to capture all of his little life events, and somehow by the end of that year I found myself shooting weddings.

How did you get started?
The first one was one of those ‘friend of a friend’ weddings that was going to be small. There was a good three-month period where I remember getting my hands on any photography book I could find and reading it over and over. The funny thing about weddings for me was that my most favorite time of the whole event was when I had ten minutes alone with the couple to create images. In my mind, I was spending eight to ten hours of shooting to get those ten minutes of fun. And as I did more and more of them, I started sketching ideas for shoots we could do during that time. And they started involving more and more humor. In fact, consultants would look over my portrait and wedding work and see this consistent humor thread. I shot weddings until some time in 2010, when I started becoming more interested in editorial and commercial work. They were a break from the reactionary world of wedding photography. I was able to spend time planning a shoot, focusing on what was needed to create the image I had imagined.

I really enjoy the humor in your photography. What is your thought process when creating those concepts? 
It depends. Sometimes I get a client who is looking for a funny idea, and those shoots are always the best. Other times, I think of an idea on my own that’s funny to me and I set out to create it. Usually, those personal humor shoots are the ones that people remember. They sort of start out with a “wouldn’t it be funny if..” and then go from there.

What is your favorite part of creating and executing those concepts?

I love to sketch out ideas on paper. Drawing it out helps me think of new possibilities. Seeing it drawn out is definitely a fun part. Another is when the person I’m photographing ‘gets it,’ knows what I’m going for, and really gives a great ‘performance.’

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How do you keep yourself motivated?
Since I usually retouch my own work, I love keeping up with the latest techniques and software. Seeing what other people are doing with Photoshop can be a big source of motivation for me. I also keep a running list in Evernote of shoot ideas that I think would be fun to do.

What is your favorite part of being a photographer?
I love to experiment a lot in post production, so I definitely enjoy that process. Also, whenever I feel like I’ve put in a good day working, I’m happy. This is tough sometimes as we all can approach this job in a reactionary way, dealing with whatever fires are going on that day. However, if I’ve done a good job planning tasks for the day/week and then get them checked off, I really enjoy that feeling of accomplishment. The challenge here has been separating a task from busy work.

What advice or motivation would you give for anyone inspired to start their careers in the photography industry after being involved in something different, then competing with other photographers that have been involved in the industry for most of their lives?

I think the best piece of advice is to be sure that what you are offering to the market is your own unique voice.

It’s easy to get caught in a mode where you are constantly copying other people’s styles or techniques as a test for yourself, only to find that your whole portfolio consists of tests you’ve done over a period of time. You end up with no overall direction – just a bunch of well-crafted images that are completely different in look and approach. Find inspiration in others, try to recreate techniques they have done, and then put all of that knowledge in the back of your head and store it as an ingredient for your own style.

What has been your best career decision so far?
Probably accepting that I’m not the perfect match for every client. Artists by their very nature are pleasers – we want people to enjoy the work we create, and we want the opportunity to serve as many people as possible. So it’s a bit of a leap to say ‘I’m not the best person for you on this project‘. I like it when someone can look at an image and know that it’s mine before they read that I shot it. It means that I am developing my own vision and style. That process has taken years for me, but it’s the only way that I would do photography today.

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What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use?
A photographer named Joey Lawrence. once talked about how he used neutral density filters combined with flash to get a really shallow depth of field with the punch of a flash. It’s a great look, and I’ve found myself using that set-up more and more. I’ve also developed an addiction to tethering – I love having a laptop on set whenever I can.

What current projects are you working on?
I’ve done lots of editorial work in town and so every now and then I’ll have a magazine project come up. I’m also working on some projects involving 3D. It’s an area I had a little work in a long time ago, and I’ve been working on some fine art images that blend photography and CG images. I also do fun holiday card images for clients every year at austinchristmascards.com. They take up a lot of time starting around October, and it’s always a challenge as every client is unique! Additionally, I just launched an Introduction to Compositing e-book with Peachpit Press. It’s a great deal at $5, and they have several for sale at fuelbooks.com.

Who is your dream client?
A lot of creative types will say that a dream client is one that will let you create whatever you want. I’ve found, however, that I like a little bit of constraint. I’d rather have a client give me their input about what they think would work, because more often than not, it sparks new ideas and directions that neither of us would have envisioned on our own.

What is your favorite thing about living in Austin?
I love the fact that everything is usually no more than 20-30 minutes away. We’ve been here since 2002 and we love it. We can’t imagine living anywhere else. There’s always a new restaurant to try.

Favorite restaurant?
This is tough. Really tough. I’m just going to rattle off a few of my favorites: The Grove Wine Bar, Hop Doddy for burgers, Perla’s for fancy stuff. Magnolia Cafe for tasty breakfast. I’m also looking forward to trying out the new food trailer area off 360. Oh – and any place that will sell me a real copper mug with a Moscow Mule drink. If they serve it in a glass, it isn’t real. 🙂

Interview by guest contributor John Davidson.

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

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

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

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

jeff_wilson_bat_costume

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Donna DeCesare is a documentary photographer, author, and educator known for her conflict work in Central America, and the spread of gangs between Latin America and the US. Her new book Unsettled / Desasosiego: Children in a World of Gang a memoir of thirty years covering gang members and their families. She is the recipient of the 2013 Maria Moors Cabot Prize for her work in Latin American.

Pavon Prison Guatemala
A gang member in an isolation cage–located in a special unit for prisoners who have been threatened by other inmates.

Tell me about your beginning in photography.
The first pictures I made were with my dad in the darkroom developing photos of my grandfather. I don’t tell that story a lot. I was five and my grandfather had passed away before I was born. I was the first grandchild and I was named for him. He was Donato DeCesare and I was Donna DeCesare. That’s how I met my grandfather in the ether of developer. It was magical. Every photographer talks about that, about seeing the image come up, but to have my namesake come up in the chemistry, that was special. And he was from southern Italy and he had a garden – it was a picture of him with his tomato plants. I remember it very well.

After that it (photography) became a hobby. My dad bought me my first camera. I took pictures when we went on vacations. It was a way of escaping. I read books and took pictures to escape from the chaos that was my childhood.

I loved my grandmother’s stories. I loved to listen. I was curious. My cousins called me “Nosy-Parker” because they thought I parked my nose in other people’s business. That was the beginning of my interest and approach in stories. I was five visiting my relatives. They were my family, but I didn’t know them. I had permission to be there and ask questions even though they were strangers.

And then I went to graduate school. I studied English Literature. I thought I was going to be a college professor. But I went to northern Ireland with a few friends at Christmas, and I started taking pictures there and it was different. These weren’t snapshots anymore. It was really what’s going on in the streets in the world. Why can’t this friend not go to the home of the other friend? Because they were from different sides of the conflict. I had studied Irish literature. Everything to do with Ireland was interesting to me. Not just the conflict. The street kids, all the aspects of life, the fallout from the conflict, but also the things that partly caused it.

I wanted to be in the world doing stuff with real people, people who were not just from the elite class.

I came back to the US and worked in book publishing for a couple of years, because with a literature degree that ‘s what you do. After that experience in Northern Ireland I knew I didn’t want to be in an ivory tower. I wanted to be in the world doing stuff with real people, people who were not just from the elite class. I filed that away, but I also thought I’ll never make a living at this. So I worked in publishing because what else would you do with a literature degree? I saved up my vacation time every year. We got 3 weeks of vacation and 2 weeks of sick leave, and I never got sick, and took 5 weeks and went to Northern Ireland to photograph and write and sell my pictures. After doing that a couple of times I was convinced that was what I really wanted to do.

I tell my students this all the time…no matter how bad the economic situation is – don’t be worried about security when you’re 20, you’ve got your whole life to worry.

I did take one class with Fred Ritchin the first year ICP offered a program. I took a workshop with Gilles Peress. Apart from that I was totally self-taught. Fred told me at some point that if you’re serious about this you just have to go. I quit my job and he was horrified when I told him, but it was the best decision I could ever have made. And I tell my students this all the time, when you’re young, no matter how bad the economic situation is – don’t be worried about security when you’re 20, you’ve got your whole life to worry. Now is when you should take risks and find what you’re passionate about.

The moment when I quit I was designing book covers. I was the associate art director, so when I left I was still freelancing book cover design. I was photographing writers because I knew a lot of them through my job with Penguin. I photographed Irish musicians. I started photographing for the Irish Echo, a newspaper that focused on Irish Americans and Irish immigrants. I was writing and photographing from the beginning.

In the course of doing a story for the Irish newspaper, I met some refugees in a sanctuary church in California that some Irish-American nuns ran and that was how I got interested in Central America. Life is such a journey, and I tell my students this too, you meet people and then you take different turns in the road.

El Salvador / Honduras border, El Poy, El Salvador, 1988
Salvadoran families make their way to the the village of Guarjila in a caravan of buses, after leaving the Mesa Grand refugee camp in Honduras.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1988

What was it that resonated so much with you?
I was engaged in Northern Ireland because there was a lot of injustice in the situation. The British were not behaving very well. And in Central America the United States was involved. These people were telling me horrifying stories. And our government is supporting this? Can they be, really? I wanted to see for myself.

She looked me straight in the eyes and said “Donna, please don’t forget my people.” That got into my heart.

I met a woman who was going by the name Monica at the time. When I was done with the story and leaving she looked me straight in the eyes and said “Donna, please don’t forget my people.” That got into my heart. She gave me a bookmark with Msgr. Romero, the bishop that was killed in El Salvador. And she had written that on it as well. “Donna, please don’t forget my people.”

A year later I went to see the show at ICP that Susan Meiselas and Harry Mattison had put together and then I found that bookmark and I felt like somebody is telling me that I should go there. It was a message. Somehow in my heart that was really what I wanted to do.

I went to Costa Rica first because I didn’t speak Spanish fluently. I didn’t want to go to a country at war without speaking the language. I spent six months in Costa Rica. I traveled to Nicaragua and stayed in villages. That’s how I learned Spanish. I learned it in high school, but I was not fluent. I could read it but couldn’t speak or understand. I was hopeless at other aspects of it. I really learned by immersion.

San JosŽ Las Flores, Chalatenango El Salvador, 1988
Children mingle with insurgents in the rebel-held territory.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1988

At any point did you doubt yourself, that this is what you wanted to do?
I really didn’t. I was on an adventure. I was meeting indigenous people in Costa Rica. I was doing stories, too. I started stringing for the Christian Science Monitor. I spent some time in a village in Nicaragua as well. I would go back for weddings and stuff.

This was a village where some of the population were in the army fighting the contras up north. It was quiet and safe there, but you could see the effects of the war on the village. And I felt, and this is funny because it’s completely different, an indigenous village really, but I felt everything about their life was like the stories my Italian grandmother told me about growing up in southern Italy. They carried water on their heads in italy too from the well. Gathered wood for cook fires. They slaughtered animals.

I felt like I was in my grandmother’s life, going back in time.

My grandmother was the youngest and her father let her hang out with the boys, she was the shepherd and went out with the animals. So, here I am in this village where people were doing these things that were the same rituals described to me. They looked different because of the setting, but were so reminiscent of the stories I heard from my grandmother I felt like I was in my grandmother’s life, going back in time. I was soaking that up and loving photographing it. And I gained confidence in my Spanish too. At first you’re embarrassed, you know, but people are kind and peasants are not judgmental. They were just so happy I was trying. When I said something right they would applaud. So I gained confidence and I had my first dreams in Spanish, so I was starting to think in the language as well.

Ventura, California, 1994
At the end of visiting day at the California Youth Authority facility where she is serving a sentence for drug related robbery, sixteen-year-old Jessica Diaz embraces her mother, Carmen, and her son, Carlos.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 1994

What came next?
I moved to El Salvador. That was challenging at first, too. Before I had gone to Central America, I went to see editors in New York. I had been working for a lot of different of people. I had a pretty good portfolio from northern Ireland. So I went to Robert Stevens at TIME magazine, I went to see Kathy Ryan at the New York Times Magazine and people back then would make an appointment and talk to you. I got to talk to all of them despite being a nobody photographer. There were no promises. All of them said, “Stay in touch. Here’s our number. If you get anything call us and we’ll take a look.” I was just happy I had been able to see them in person.

When I got down to Central America it was a question of learning the country. One of the ways we found work was networking with other reporters. You meet the people at the wire services because they always know what’s happening. You do your own research and reporting. I reached out to NGOs like UNICEF. And then at the hotel you meet the reporters that fly in. They needed a fixer – someone who knew the story, knew the country, had contacts and could take the photographs. It helped that the editors remembered me from my visit to New York. Even though there was a lot of competition, it was the hot spot of the time.

Little by little getting to know people, I began piecing it together.

Little by little getting to know people, I began piecing it together. I worked for a photo agency that was wonderful, committed to issues, but not good at business. Impact Visuals, I was part of that cooperative. They got my film developed and then when things did heat up I was called on when contract photographers weren’t available. I did a lot of work for newspapers, magazines, and der Spiegel used me a lot. They loved my work. The photo editor used to say to me, “I know we mostly want head shots of politicians, that’s what we run in the magazine, but we love being able to support a photographer like you by giving you this assignment that then you can do this other work.”

How did the gang war come into it?
The first gang member I met in my life was in El Salvador. He was a young man who was HIV positive and had been deported from Los Angeles. He was from the 18th street gang. He had tattoos, and I had never seen anyone in El Salvador with tattoos so he stood out. Tattoos are now a Salvadorian phenomenon, but back then it was a Los Angeles thing.

We talked and he told me about how he grew up and his mother had tried to prevent him from getting into the war, so she took him to LA where he had gotten involved in a gang because they beat him up at school. Then he got involved with drugs, selling and using. He claims he got HIV from getting tattoos in prison, but he also was an IV drug user.

I filed that in the back of my mind, because he said you should go to LA. “Everyone there is in a gang.” And I thought, that can’t be true. There are 800,000 Salvadoreans in LA and I’m sure they’re not all gang members.

I care about conflict itself but conflict where I have some knowledge and deep connection to the issues.

But I remembered what he said and after the war ended I was facing a choice. Some editors thought I should go to Yugoslavia because that was the next conflict. My colleagues in Central America were headed there, but I didn’t see myself as primarily a conflict photographer. I care about conflict itself but conflict where I have some knowledge and deep connection to the issues. I felt like there were other people already doing that. Maybe for them the situation in Yugoslavia, because of their ethnicity, their connection to that place, and the language, would be more meaningful for them. I felt it’s Europe so it’s going to get covered. I thought what I really want to do is see what happens to the people after the war, to the diaspora community.

And I did try to pitch stories about Latino’s in New York early on and it really was just too early for that to be on editor’s radar screens. To me it was overwhelming. I lived in China Town and when I came back every Chinese restaurant has mestizo speaking Mexicans from Oaxaca and Puebla working in the kitchens. If Chinese restaurants are employing these people they are the cheapest labor in New York, cheaper even than family members. To me this was a big story, but it was a hidden story, a subtle story. It was too early. I tend to see things before it becomes a big story.

Pico Union, Los Angeles, 1994
Ivonne reads a letter from her gang-involved boyfriend after his deportation to El Salvador.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1994

You sound confident that staying local and not going to the next conflict was the right move for you. Were you that confident at the time?
I was worried about making ends meet. A friend invited me to go to Cairo. I had applied for a Dorothea Lange grant for the gang work, and it takes months for them to decide. I felt like I needed a change. Three or four days after I bought my ticket to Cairo, the first Wold Trade Center bombing happened. So I was going to Egypt. I was walking into a situation again where people were already covering things. I could stay with my friend and could get a lot of work. I stayed for three or four months. It was wonderful to deal with a different culture and I worked with translators for the first time. It was exciting and I loved it. Working with a translator works for some people, but for me it’s important to listen first. When you listen intently, you look intently.

Jocotenango, Guatemala 2001
A Holy Week procession passes village walls marked with the graffiti of the gang that dominates the zone.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 2001

Tell more more about looking intently.
Everyone is so distracted with devices these days. They (students) skim and pull threads together quickly, but they miss a lot of things. People know when you’re not really present. When you give quality attention, people can tell. Everyone has a different way of doing things, but this is my ethos.

When you listen intently, you look intently.

I look first for points of connection to establish the relationship. I’m not someone who goes looking for the exotic to turn my eyes on. The exotic attracts attention, it’s shocking, it grabs us, but it also “other”izes, it distances. I’m looking for ways to make us relate, so people think this story, these people are part of our world, too.

People can’t be reporters without observing what’s going on around them, in the present moment, and give themselves fully. It’s like they all need to practice yoga and being mindful and present. I try to teach this with assignments. I have students do a soundscape of Guadalupe Street, telling the story in sounds. A lot of the reporting these days looks like music videos – it’s voice over with images and canned music.

They’re losing the capacity to approach the intangible. That’s what I try to do in my teaching and it makes them wildly uncomfortable.

Documentary is all about the uncontrollable. You have to pull the story out of life unscripted. You let the story come to you. All of that means you have to be comfortable with the unscripted. It feels like kids are branding from the womb these days. Where is the imagination? If we deny kids the space and time for that, if they are under the microscope of peer group and adults, they don’t have a place to fail spectacularly and learn. They want recipes and formulas. “Show me what an ‘A’ looks like”. Everything for them is rubrics and metrics. They’re losing the capacity to approach the intangible. That’s what I try to do in my teaching and it makes them wildly uncomfortable.

Guatemala / Mexico border, Talisman, Guatemala, 2002
Deported U.S. gang members seeking to return to the United States populate border towns along the migrant route and influence children who live in them.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 2002

Tell me about collecting the work together for the book.
It’s had many iterations. It started in 1999 with the Mother Jones Award. The Soros award was to put the work on a website. The core stories for the website were done in 2005-2006. We did it in HTML and then updated them in Flash, that was a mistake.

In 2010, I published the full site with core stories, timelines, and connections with NGO’s working with these same issues. The website, Destiny’s Children, is 197 pages long. I want to find someone who knows HTML5 and keep it updated. Maybe pair with an NGO who would work with students or interns to continue the storytelling. I want to be a resource for educators because it’s history. I want to keep young people engaged in their history. The website tells four stories. Two where people successfully leave the gangs and two where people didn’t get out. (Spoiler alert) They died in the process.

The book then was telling my own story, my life. Connecting the dots between my concerns covering conflict and childhood trauma in war and what happens afterwards. We know a lot now about what children need. If they don’t get help with trauma, it sticks with them the rest of their lives. I saw the immediate impact of trauma on kids – child soldiers, the maimed and orphaned.

As macho as these gangs were, it was a “brotherhood of suffering,” their mechanism for dealing with trauma.

I came to LA, to the gangs, and these traumas were what the gang members wanted to talk about. These kids came to LA as undocumented refugees. There were no psychologists in the schools to help them. The wound is still there and if it doesn’t heal it comes up elsewhere. As macho as these gangs were, it was a “brotherhood of suffering,” their mechanism for dealing with trauma.

I wanted to write about that process to model for the next generation of photographers how you do this. How to make sure you’re safe and that you ensure the safety of the people you’re covering.

San Salvador, El Salvador, 2009
At a leadership training workshop on gender rights, a group of young women from one of the most impoverished and violent barrios, lists their suggestions for how to reduce violence in Salvadoran society.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 2009

What else do the next generation of photographers need?
People want to go off and do good in other places. I went to places with a deep, almost familial connection. Even if your motivation is human rights, be more invested in the work. The media is more democratized and available. The voiceless now have cameras and tape recorders. They might need a bridge to the mainstream, but we need to include them as active agents in their own stories.

The voiceless now have cameras and tape recorders. They might need a bridge to the mainstream, but we need to include them as active agents in their own stories.

There’s a project I worked on in Colombia, Desearte Paz project of the Colombo Americano in Medellin Colombia. The idea was to bring an artist to work with local students on an issue close to them. We have an academic conference of sorts about it and then create. It was transformative for me. A group of teens who were in a youth photography group, and art students who thought photojournalism was “porno miseria”. They produced an amazing piece. Even the conceptual art students found the experiential component was important.

Portadown, Northern Ireland 1984
When the Orange Order loyalist group attempted to march through the Catholic Nationalist neighborhood known as “the tunnel” they were repelled by the community. Rioting broke out spreading thoughout the city and this woman fled her home.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 1984

Any advice for young photographers wanting to do this kind of work?
Start in your own community. They will hold you accountable for the quality of your reporting. No matter where we go we have to have ethical discussions about the work, how it affects local people, and the issue at large. Students learn to be good journalists by practicing in their own community. They will be challenged by their editors and the people they cover. Students see what wins awards, and are eager to do that work, but they need to learn here first. Injustice exists here, too. Once you have the skills and have learned to be responsible, you take that with you. Main street America is the world in a microcosm. You can report on the world, by reporting on your community.

Also know who you are. One of the assignments I give my students is to do an autobiography in photos. Self-exploration of your experiences and how that affects their photography.

My brother was in a bad accident when I was a child and sustained a head injury. I was the one to tell my parents to stop the car. It forced me to grow up emotionally. In some ways my need to photograph kids who are marginalized comes from that experience, of watching him struggle. If you are conscious of yourself earlier it helps drive you. Get in the habit of thinking about your past experiences early in life and connect it to what you’re doing now.

Main street America is the world in a microcosm. You can report on the world, by reporting on your community.

Students today are missing a sense of history. I don’t know if it’s the education system. They’re so focused on the future. This attitude of: You have to get to the next thing first if you want to win. It’s destructive. At UT we have so many resources – The HRC, the Benson Latin American Collection, the Briscoe Center for American History, the LBJ Library. These places contain information and artifacts that can’t be found on Wikipedia.

Why is the Cabot such an important award for you?
This award is meaningful for me. This is the Pulitzer for covering Latin America. It used to be that every New York Times bureau reporter who stayed there for more than five years got one. It used to be white men, gray-haired, emanances from Harvard and Yale would hand this thing out, but there’s been a switch. Now it’s a network of journalists from American and Latin America judging this. There’s still an emphasis on the word, but Meiselas got it before me. I hope this marks a shift in recognizing photography for the award. It’s humbling. A great honor. It’s the most gratifying award to win. I feel so very proud and happy. I’m being honored, not as the gringa journalist, but I’m of both places and embraced by both places.

El Playon, El Salvador 1988
Salvadoran peasants displaced by the war survive day to day by sifting through the refuse of others in a place that was notorious as a death squad body dump just a few years earlier. One day they hope it will be safe to return to farm their abandoned cornfields.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare, 1988

What does it mean to be a woman in photojournalism?
When you’re at the top of your game you’re kind of an “honorary man”. Sexism is complicated to show and prove.

I tell my students to look at photographers’ whose work you admire. Then look at the photographers’ whose lifestyle you covet. Do these two things line up?

When you look at the spectrum of women in the industry, a lot of female newspaper photographers have families. Those that cover the world are fully present to the work and that inhibits relationships.

I tell my students to look at photographers’ whose work you admire. Then look at the photographers’ whose lifestyle you covet. Do these two things line up? Not always and you have to be proactive to make anything work.

I still think that men have an easier time flying around because the wife is taking care of the home front. It’s not an impossible idea to have both, but it’s a balancing act. To deny that isn’t being realistic. Some female photographers become editors as a way to stay connected to the work and world they love and have the stability to have a family. What’s not to like about that?

What comes next?
I’m speaking about the book and the Cabot. I have a fledgling project with sociology students at UT about Latin America. It will be nice to explore countries I haven’t been to or worked in. A lot of it will be about things that have happened in the past and the relationship between memory and landscape. Maybe I’ll flop but it’s always about trying.

You can read (and hear) more about Donna and her groundbreaking work in this article from the Texas Observer. Some of Donna’s work is on display this month as part of FotoSeptiembre at La Peña in Austin. Donna will also give a lecture and book signing at the Harry Ransom Center on September 26, 2013.

Originally from Houston, TX, architectural photographer and videographer Jonathan H. Jackson has called Austin home for the past 9 years. I talked with him recently about his life, career and inspirations.

Who would you say were your biggest inspirations growing up? 
When I was in 6th grade, at Gregory Lincoln Middle School, I was able to take photography classes that included dark room and camera training. My father was a hobbyist photographer. He taught me the basics and let me use his equipment for the class. This was the beginning of my understanding of photography.

Do you have any influences that inspire your current work? 
Hillman Curtis was a film director and graphic designer. He died in 2012. His book  Making the Invisible Visible had a huge impact on me. It deepened my understanding of the creative process, identifying themes, and the elements of communication through visual arts. Hillman would email with me from time to time and I always considered him a mentor of sorts, even though it was only occasional communication.

Julius Shulman who died in 2009 was the “father” of architectural photography. He certainly did not invent it, but his contribution to mid-century modern architecture is immeasurable. I’ve always studied Julius Shulman’s work through books, online, etc., but a few years ago I had the privilege of seeing a film by Eric Bricker’s called Visual Acoustics.This film was my first exposure to a more real sense of the person Shulman was. He had an amazing personality and was an amazing photographer and artist.

Terry Lickona is a big influence on me today. He is not a photographer or artist, but he has been in charge of Austin City Limits for 36 of the show’s 39 year history. His management of the crew, booking, and all other elements in producing this legendary show has been a hugely educational experience for me. He does not micro manage anyone. He surrounds himself with quality people and trusts that the outcome will reflect that quality.

His ability to recognize talent and encourage the creative process is a main part of why I feel so honored to work with him and the show.

Where did you attend college? 
I spent a few years at Texas Tech, but there was not much of me actually attending classes there, so I went to the University of Houston, which was only a couple of blocks away from my childhood home. I wanted to be a filmmaker and the university did not have a film program. Alternatively I chose photography and graphic design at the school of fine arts.

Did you have any professors that influenced you creatively or otherwise?
Not really. I had a few rivalries in college that motivated me. A few of them were professors.

What breakthroughs (if any) did you experience when deciding on a career in photography/videography? 
My career started in graphic design. My first professional job out of college was at Savage Design in Houston. There I worked as a multimedia artist and developer, but I also did a lot of photography for them, including photographing the firm’s portfolio. Later in running my own design business, I found my clients needed photography to go along with the design projects. I called myself a designer at the time, but I worked as a photographer on a regular basis. Many of my projects were for retail businesses, neighborhood developments, and industry. I became well versed in photographing buildings, homes, and environments. Eventually it became obvious that my strengths were in photography and I decided to focus my work on architectural photography.

Once I did this, I became busier than ever and I’ve never looked back.

Were there any hardships or sacrifices that you had to make to get where you are now? 
The ups and downs of workloads and money flow as a freelancer have been the greatest challenges of the past. Except for one year that I worked as an Art Director for a manufacturer, I have been working as a freelance artist for the last 14 years. Early in my career, there would be times where I had no idea when, or if, money would come in. I remember often noticing my friends who had successful corporate careers involving large salaries, stock options, etc. This would cause doubt in my mind about the career path I had chosen, but the freelancer experience agreed with me overall. I enjoyed taking ownership of the process. In working as a freelancer, I was able to reap the rewards of my work. It did not matter if it was on a smaller scale, it was my own and I could not get enough of that feeling. Eventually the scale of the projects grew, and now I get to work on projects I could only imagine when I began.

Why architecture photography? 
My commercial photography career has always been focused on architecture. Not that it was my favorite thing to photograph, or that I was obsessed with being an architect, but architecture was a subject that I had come to some level of understanding with it. It was just important to me. I never formally studied architecture, but I did have a slightly obsessive interest in the “why?” aspect of design. I have always been interested in the human interaction with design. Whether it would be in graphic and visual elements, environmental, furniture, or architecture, I wanted to know what was the common appeal of design to human nature. My father was an interior designer in Houston and he taught me a bit about drafting plans. From time to time, he would draft plans of a fantasy home he wanted to build. It was never built, but I enjoyed the ever-evolving ideas and plans. I think this idea of influencing one’s environment was what I loved. Now, I think of my work as the opportunity to capture what the architect, interior designer, and their clients have created.

What are your views on the future of videography vs. photography? 
I believe technologys’ advancement will continue to blur the line in the equipment used in photography and videography, but they are two different animals all together. I know photojournalists may have assignments that now involve both videography and photography, but for the commercial photographer or videographer, the approach is totally different. The Chicago Sun laid off their entire photo staff. I think this kind of thing will continue to happen as things change. I don’t think all photographers see the changes as a threat. Once a client asked me if I see the advancement of technology in cameras as a threat to my business. I assume he was implying that if everyone has a great camera, what’s the point of hiring a photographer. I told him the joke of the photographer who goes to a dinner party, he/she meets the host and they say “I love your photographs, you must have an amazing camera.” Later at dinner the host serves dinner and the photographer says, “this food is delicious, you must have an amazing oven.”

What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use? Why? 
I’m not sure that I have a favorite, but I do really enjoy using a ladder with a tall tripod. I think too much architectural photography is done at eye level. I enjoy finding the perspective that helps tell the story.

What has been your most successful career decision so far?
I often think of the moment I decided to send a direct message tweet to one of the Austin City Limits producers asking to shoot a time-lapse of a taping day. They liked the idea and I made a time-lapse of Pearl Jam’s taping (part of Season 35). The resulting video was very popular online, and due to the video’s success in promoting that episode, a role was created for me at ACL. Since then, I have created over 50 videos showing behind-the-scenes at ACL, the opening sequence for seasons 37, 38, and 39, and a “backplate” for every episode. I also help film the interviews and as of right now, I am editing a preview for season 39.

I also volunteered to shoot the AIA homes tour for 2009 and 2010. This was a huge move for me as it introduced myself and my work to many of Austin’s best architects, some of which are still clients.

Who is your dream client? 
I am currently working for my dream client as a videographer. As an architectural photographer, I would love to travel the world and photograph architecture for some type of publication.

What projects are you currently working on? 
At the moment, it’s all video editing. I am working on a video covering the Ride Festival, a music festival in Telluride, CO, a preview of ACL’s season 39, and a sizzle/demo reel for Lickon Vision, which is the company that produces ACL.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers? 

Focus on a niche.

Aspiring photographers write me often and ask this question. They will send a link to their portfolio and tell me about their experience and education. I advise them to narrow their portfolio, from their favorite and best images, to the images that represent only the work they want to do. Too often I see aspiring photographers who show wedding and event photography, along with their nature photography, shots from their last vacation, and a few images from a series they did in school, etc. I know they are trying to establish their experience through such a diverse portfolio, but it actually communicates the opposite idea and makes their work seem scattered. If a potential client is searching for a particular type of photographer, they will be more likely to hire the photographer that communicates their expertise through a dedicated portfolio, rather than a portfolio that communicates all the different types of photography.

What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?
I have two daughters ages 7 and 4. Much of my time is spent with my wife and the girls, which is exactly how I like it. We enjoy taking them camping, hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor activities, but since I am answering this question in August, the answer is Deep Eddy. When I have time to myself, I often spend it hanging out with my friends, dirt biking, or playing soccer. I also see a lot of live music.

For the past year I’ve had the pleasure of knowing one of my favorite photographers working today. Wyatt McSpadden is enormously talented and also down to earth.  We met for eggs, coffee, and biscuits one morning and in his Texas accent, Wyatt told me stories of his career.

How did you get your start in photography?
I started out working for an eccentric millionaire in Amarillo, a guy by the name of Stanley Marsh 3.  It was 1971 and I was just one of the hippies that worked out on his ranch estate mowing lawns and doing odd jobs. He always had a photographer around too. I had a Minolta SRT 71 camera and I didn’t know what I was doing but there was all this crazy stuff going on around Amarillo.

In 1974, when the art collective Ant Farm started burying Cadillacs in the ground out on Interstate 40, I was documenting that. Every time the design of the tail fin changed, they buried a new Cadillac.  Who ever saw people burying cars in the ground?

This is what I was around and I had a camera and Stanley was buying the film so I was just taking pictures.  I had no agenda.  Through the years the Cadillac Ranch became kind of a phenomenon.  I met famous photographers who flew there to do fashion spreads.

It was really my first documentary photography.  I didn’t think of it like that at the time, but it turns out that’s what it was.

Talk about your longtime collaboration with Texas Monthly.
In 1978 Nancy McMillen, the associate art director of Texas Monthly, called Stanley’s office and asked about shooting him and she wanted a recommendation for a photographer. How could any of us have known just what a fateful call this was? That’s how I met her.  She worked there for 23 years.

Nancy contacted me and of course I was thrilled. All my work had been for local clients, printers, feed yards, small ad agencies – certainly nothing so grand as Texas Monthly. I set up my white background and had Stanley model hats from the enormous collection in his cavernous closet.  And there it was, I had my first pictures in Texas Monthly. A full page! I’ve dragged this old yellowed tear sheet around for 35 years. What a great subject.  He was willing to do anything.

Nancy and I married in 1992, the luckiest day of my life and I’ve somehow managed to keep that Texas Monthly connection alive and well.  That was the first thing I ever did for them, so it has great significance to me. I wouldn’t have had a career if it weren’t for Texas Monthly. At least not the career I’ve had. I’ve been very lucky.

 I wouldn’t have had a career if it weren’t for Texas Monthly.  At least not the career I’ve had.  I’ve been very lucky.

I did marry into the art department, but in a real way it made me step up my game. Nancy is a very discerning art director and photo editor and if I came walking in there with some junk she’d have tossed me out!  I’m sure people talked about it but it really was a situation where you don’t bring your B game!

You probably had more to prove.
And it’s still that way.  It’s amazing to have a relationship with a magazine for 35 years and still be just as eager.

How did it come full circle recently?
Stanley Marsh had been implicated in inappropriate conduct with young boys.  This story came out and Texas Monthly elected to do a major piece about it.  I had photographed Marsh dozens of times, and I had lots and lots of pictures of him in my files.  Some I hadn’t paid much attention to, but I found one that was shockingly appropriate of him for the story, that I’d taken 25 years ago in 1989.

I was looking through my files trying to find pictures of Stanley that Texas Monthly might want to use and there was one that had been published before but it wasn’t the right feel for the story. On the bottom of that strip of four two and a quarter negatives was a negative that looked sort of interesting so I went to Holland to get it scanned. When it came back I thought THIS is the picture that they should run.  But I didn’t show it to them then; I sent the other image thinking that would be piling it on. I didn’t want Stanley to come off looking too bad. As if I had anything to do with that…the article told the tale.

Texas Monthly sent me to Houston to photograph the lawyer who had sued him on behalf of 10 boys.  This guy’s name is Anthony “The Shark” Buzbee and his office is on the 73rd floor of a 75 floor building.  The tallest building in Texas located in downtown Houston, and he’s got half the floor.

My assistant Will Phillips and I left Austin at 6:30 in the morning and drove to Houston, went to his huge office arriving to find the conference rooms full, so we set up a 9’ seamless in his office.  The space was so big we never disturbed him.

Buzbee is super slick and extremely aware of his image. We were in his office for 2 ½ hours but all I was getting out of him was this “I’m Tony Buzbee, I’m fighting for the little guy” expression.  While we were getting set up in his office he was out front talking to his secretary when I overheard a woman say to him, “You look just like Gerard Butler!”

I had spotted a possible setting out front and thought, when we finish in Buzbee’s office I’ll get one more shot, but by the time we were done, I was just beat.  My assistant Will said, “Don’t you want to do this other shot?’ so I set up and was on the ground in his secretary’s office with him standing between the doors.  I’m getting nothing out of him until it suddenly came to me and I said, “Oh Tony, you look just like Gerard Butler!” And this is what I got, which is perfect!

We shot something like 300 pictures and the 297thone was the only one I liked. When I saw that image I thought, I’ll let Texas Monthly use the other picture of Stanley because this pair of images makes them both look notorious. I was very lucky to have Will along with me because even though I was done, he pushed me to do more. That’s part of the photographer-assistant relationship I’m certainly glad to have.

I had these feelings of regret about what had become of Mr. Marsh as well as curiosity about the guy who helped bring him down.  It’s kind of an amazing story for me and it pivots around being in the photography business for a long time. Texas Monthly used an image I took 25 years ago and one I took just 3 weeks ago to support it.  It’s a very rare thing to have a relationship like that with a magazine.

What’s another memorable Texas Monthly story you’ve done?
This was the Bandidos, a motor cycle gang and an important member had passed away so they kept him on ice for longer than they normally would so they could have the funeral for him on Memorial Day weekend and all these Bandidos came in from all over the country.  We set up white seamless at the funeral home in one of the viewing rooms that wasn’t being used. Skip Hollingsworth the writer and I would go out and ask people if we could do a portrait of them.  This was 2-3:00 in the afternoon with all these bad ass bikers and their scary girlfriends or wives. Everything was going fine but as the day went on they started drinking in the funeral home parking lot.  Then the whole vibe changed. By about sun down it was like, let’s get out of here while we still can in one piece!

The next day they had the procession.  I was desperate to find a place to photograph.  It was a Saturday morning on the 410 loop around San Antonio.  Will was with me and across the road there was what looked like a junkyard with a cherry picker with a sign on it that said “Rent Me.”  We woke this guy up and said “I have to have this thing in 20 minutes!”  We paid him $200, and got me up on the cherry picker.  I was shooting medium format film and three minutes later, here they come. What an amazing situation to get into.

Film.  Loading backs.  12 frames.  That’s how you did it.  That’s how I did it.

Besides bikers and eccentric millionaires, you’re also quite known for your love of and documentation of the Texas barbecue culture. When you started out photographing BBQ, did you plan to put the images into a book or did that just happen organically?
When Kreuz moved in 1999 out of what is now the Smitty’s building, my buddies and I were so crushed and sad. I went every day for a week and just shot black and whites.  So that was probably the foundation for the barbecue book.  There were assignments throughout the years where I had probably 1/3 of the pictures for the book before we had a book deal.  It was great fun and it wasn’t like being on assignment where you have to get something.  Nancy did the design so it was a real collaboration for us.

Last week I stumbled upon an old negative of Louie Muellers BBQ (legendary Texas barbecue joint) that I shot when I was still living in Amarillo. It was 1980 and a seed company salesman took us to there for lunch.  I didn’t know anything about Louie Muellers, I didn’t know anything about real barbecue but walked in there and wow, look at this place! This negative has great meaning to me because barbecue has become such a part of my work life.  It makes me glad I haven’t thrown anything away.

Do you still shoot film for your commercial and editorial work?
I don’t unless it’s a personal project. There’s just no demand for it anymore.  Everything needs to happen so fast, plus it’s more expensive.  The BBQ book I did a few years ago was all film shot with RZ67, but I was paying for that out of my own pocket.  It made me very selective about what I shot, unlike shooting digital, where you just shoot too much.  Cause why not?  The problem with that approach is you pay for it in front of the computer.  Another thing about digital is you would shoot a Polaroid and stop but with digital you’re working all your shit out in the camera.  You got 10 frames but it took 70 to get where you wanted to be and you still have to look at it all one way or another.

I’ve got thousands of negatives, many of them pictures of my kids, pictures of my now wife, my ex wife.  And I wonder… but I don’t know, I’ll be dead and gone but those negatives somehow seem more permanent to me than pictures that are stored on a computer or on a cloud.  Somebody will probably look through my negatives- my kids, my wife, but I don’t know who’s going to look through my digital files just as a matter of history and family history.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about Facebook as silly as it is, is that I can put up things you wouldn’t normally see.  Whether it’s old stuff or outtakes or quirky stuff or something from a story.  I’ve got all kinds of pictures, just throw them out there and people can like them or not.  Facebook has sort of changed the meaning of the word “friend” and the meaning of the word “like”.  But still, I love it when people like my photos.  It’s just how needy we are.

You read there have been more pictures taken last year than in the whole history of photography…but where are they?

I still get the same tingle when I see a picture in print that I did when I first saw a picture- something of mine

For almost a year of my life the future was very uncertain.  Of course it still is…but for other reasons.  I’m back in a place where I’m going to pretend I’m gonna live forever like we all do.  It’s also like okay…I’m 60…how did I get here?  What am I going to do?  And I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.  Try to stay healthy.  Photography’s a physical business, but I still love doing it and I think that’s the bottom line for me that I still get the same tingle when I see a picture in print that I did when I first saw a picture, something of mine.

When you were diagnosed with life threatening cancer the Austin photo community and Dan Winters rallied around you with a print auction to raise money to help with your medical bills.  Can you talk about that?  Did you know Dan before the event?
That was probably the most magical night of my life. Nancy and I had been down for the first week of radiation treatments, then drove back to Austin on a Friday, went home and changed clothes and went down to Charla Woods’ studio.  We were absolutely blown away.  It was astonishing.  I had met Dan before, I wouldn’t say that I knew him but I knew his work.  He’s one of those I-wish-I-had-shot-that guys. The work he had donated, the people who participated, it was an astonishing collection of great, great photography.  Perfectly hung like everything that Dan does.  He’s someone who achieves a certain level of perfection in everything that he does, whether it’s minor or major.  But this…it was totally unexpected and an unbelievable night.  They sold everything on the wall.  It was a very meaningful experience and we still have this deep feeling of gratitude for what he did and for all the people who came and participated.

A friend of ours, Kathy Marcus, had started letting people know about my cancer.  If  you’re self employed, health insurance is a real challenge.  We were insured but with a $10,000 deductable and expenses unknown.  So Kathy got the ball rolling and Dan got wind of it and he started putting it together.  He didn’t ask us if we wanted him to, he just started putting it together and Nancy and I talked about it, gosh, is this right?  And then we thought, don’t be crazy!  If Dan Winters wants to do this, by God who’s going to stop him!  It was truly one of the most magical experiences of my life and in the midst of the crummiest of times it really was an amazing thing.

I’m going to stick around so I can use this damn camera, whatever it takes!

Do you have a favorite item in your camera bag or anything unusual?
I do love the D800.  I’m a real late adopter in the digital stuff and I waited until Nikon came out with a full sized chip.  Last year I shot that Willie Nelson cover for Texas Monthly so I rented the D800 and the files were so amazing that I thought well …what the hell.  Plus at the time I was six months out of treatment and I thought I’m going to get this camera because I’m going to stick around.  I’m going to stick around so I can use this damn camera, whatever it takes!  I do love that camera and a lot of time it’s overkill file size, so I don’t use it for everything, but when something really great happens it’s so fun to have it on that camera.

In a way it means I’m sort of pre-judging a job.  Is this worthy of the D800 for the full treatment? And there’s a practical side to that too.  If it’s not going to go that big then why shoot a 36MP 104MP TIFF file so you get extra churn time on the computer.  But if it’s something really great…I did this story for Texas Monthly back in September and I took my son Stuart with me to assist and to shoot too (cowboy stuff) so I had my D800 and I rented a D800.  We stumbled upon this (sky and riders) and this image will go up the size of a billboard.  You can shoot these in the dark.

What have you learned from being in this business for so long?
You’re scrambling around trying to find work and it’s not any different for me.  Part of the learning curve whether your 60 or 30, we’re all scrapping for the same gigs in one way or another.  When I was 30 I thought, “When I’m 60 it will be different.  I’ll have this reputation and this stable of clients.” But that’s not how it is.  The scramble never stops.

Really?
I don’t think so.  It certainly does for some people. I don’t have a rep, I’ve never had a rep. I never thought my work was the kind that a rep would handle. I don’t know why that is.  My work is kind of quirky and doesn’t fit into a hard category. But that’s just how it is. You can think of a couple photographers in town that don’t have to scramble and then you can think of a thousand that do. So that’s where most of us are.