Architecture

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Trove Artist Management is a woman-owned, women-empowering talent agency based in Austin, Texas. We are dedicated to promoting, educating and supporting women and culturally diverse artists and social influencers. Trove represents photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists and other artists working locally and nationally. Our roster has served clients such as Elle Magazine, Aveda, Betsey Johnson, Zac Posen, San Antonio Magazine, Austin Monthly, Modern Salon, Jack Ryan, By George and more.

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Dallas-based Jonah Gilmore recently shared a bit about his background and business with us:

Internationally-published photographer Jonah Gilmore grew up in the northwest, and has been shooting professionally since 2002. One of his first endeavors was starting a portrait and wedding studio in rural Eastern Washington State. From Washington he moved to Southern California in 2007, where he expanded his portfolio to include fashion, editorial, lifestyle, and advertising.

In 2011 Jonah moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where he currently resides, shooting lifestyle, advertising and a variety of commercial projects. Over the last 3 years he has been shooting an increasing number of commercial video projects as well under his company Studio Rocket Science.

Jonah’s creativity and flexibility of style in photography generates business in a wide variety of projects. He enjoys shooting everything from fashion & lifestyle to fine art and events. Jonah tailors his work to best suit the style of each of his clients to meet their needs. If he has to label his style he calls it “A.D.D. style” with a chuckle. A style that cannot be boxed into any given type, but rather is molded to every specific project.

He has also recently launched a new lifestyle photography brand in DFW called “Be+You”. Be+You is all about self-expression, having passion, and loving life.

Be+You, Defining Lifestyle Photography in Dallas Texas. Lifestyle & Editorial Photography by www.facebook.com/studiorocketscience Be+You, Defining Lifestyle Photography in Dallas Texas. Lifestyle & Editorial Photography by www.facebook.com/studiorocketscience

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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.

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How did you get into photography? Were you formally trained?
After graduating from college with a degree in Social Work, I moved to Bolivia to help a non profit working with women in prostitution for two years. I came back really burned out and was looking for some kind of new hobby to help take my mind off things. After looking at a Cartier-Bresson book my parents had on their coffee table, I thought I’d try it out.  I ended up building a darkroom in my second bathroom, became infatuated and quit my job 6 months later!

After looking at a Cartier-Bresson book my parents had on their coffee table, I thought I’d try it out

I never took  formal classes, but experimented, made mistakes, asked lots of questions and have tried to always be a learner.

Did you assist or have any mentors along the way? What did you learn from them?
I started working with artist Michael Nye in 2005 on a documentary about Hunger in the United States. We traveled to about 30 different communities across the country over a 4 year period. He shoots black and white film with an 8×10 camera and still prints in the darkroom, so I was learning the whole time–exposure, camera movements, processing film, printing, mounting, framing, exhibition installation, etc. But more than that, Michael and I would talk deeply about all kinds of issues and he constantly encouraged me to explore my curiosities. His support has been invaluable to me and we continue to have breakfast together as much as we can.

In 2007 I started assisting commercially a bit to make some extra money, but I never had the intentions of shooting commercially. I got to work with some incredibly talented people that were always super generous. After I finished the project with Michael in 2009, I started taking on some small assignments and that led to bigger jobs. I now focus on photographing architecture and doing long term book projects with arts organizations. I really enjoy doing what I do.

Did you have a first big break?
I would say a big break came in 2009 when my project, You Are What You Eat, won Director’s Choice in CENTER’s Project Competition. That really helped get me introduced to curators, arts organizations, magazine editors, etc. The project has now traveled to 15 communities and been published in over 20 magazines internationally. I have always found that my personal work helps drive my other assignment-based projects.

I have always found that my personal work helps drive my other assignment-based projects

Any favorite assignments?
A few years ago I got to work with nine artists doing large public art installations along the San Antonio River Walk. We only had access to the river at night, so we would be down there until one or two in the morning (this was before I had kids). Lots of long nights, but so much fun. Getting to document fabrication, installation and final shots of them all really gave me a chance to get to know the artists and their process. I’m still photographing for many of them around the country and the project was published as a book in 2011.

Are you represented by an agency?
I am not, but for a while I was working with Wonderful Machine. I really like them, but as I reevaluated certain aspects of my business, I shifted focus.

How do you go about marketing your work? Do you use social media? Print?
My approach has always been to try and create natural connections with people locally that may be in need of the type of photography I do. I also try really hard to nurture long term relationships with the clients I have. This works really well with my personality and I’m thankful that almost all of my work comes from word of mouth.

I’m not on Facebook and only use Instagram to stay connected with friends.The internet has been good to me though and I’m always grateful to have new work come through my website.

What gets you inspired? Do you have a dream assignment?
I look at a lot of work online, photo books, read the newspaper, listen to NPR, read books, share ideas with friends, play with my sons, listen to what’s going on around me–all of these help inspire.

I really like working on long term, collaborative book projects. These have always been the funnest for me.

Did you spend time in New York or LA getting your career established?
I did not, but I go to New York once a year to try and keep connections going.

What do you love about being a photographer in Texas?
I love working in Texas because it’s home. I can be with my sons and get access to the Fire Department I just photographed or run into a client at dinner in a restaurant they designed. I love passing by places I have photographed–its kind of like that feeling of being a regular somewhere. San Antonio is great! We love it for its diversity, friendliness, affordability, open spaces and tacos. There is a ton of new stuff happening here. We don’t want to be anywhere else!

We love it for its diversity, friendliness, affordability, open spaces and tacos

Whose work inspires you?

Any favorite photo books?
I have been looking at these books a lot the past few weeks:

Any advice for young photographers just getting started?
Try to maintain balance and always work on self-initiated projects.

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Blake Gordon is a landscape and adventure photographer, who trained as a landscape architect at Auburn University and Design at The University of Texas in Austin.  He takes a modern approach to landscape photography, exploring how people fit into the picture.  He splits his time between Austin, TX and central Colorado when not traveling.

So, how’d you get started in photography?
I started shooting as a way to explore place during site visits for our studio classes in landscape architecture. During my education we spent extended time in a wide variety of places: southern Utah, New York City, the borderlands of southern California among others. Our first larger outing was a 3 week canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park north of Toronto after an intense readings class on ecology. I borrowed my mom’s camera for the trip and never gave it back.

Photography can be part of the design process. It facilitates a deeper reading of the site where a design intervention occurs. You’d go back and forth from the studio to the field, but it’s that initial exploration in the field that grabbed me.  That’s when I realized the camera gets you out into the world. And I wanted to explore place, so the camera facilitated that.

The bulk of landscape photography that I initially found is pretty pictures of national parks and while that is appealing, I found it didn’t really fuel me creatively or add much to a cultural dialogue. What is communicated 95% of the time is, “this is beautiful and I wish I was there.” I’ve always been interested in a deeper understanding.

I’m interested in the idea of landscape, how that continues to change, and what that says about culture. Landscape has been described as the meeting point between culture and physical terrain. I find that intersection fascinating.

Do you have any mentors?
I don’t know if I would say that I have any mentors but there are a few photographers I’ve worked with that have been good learning experiences.

Working with James Balog, an amazing National Geographic photographer/artist/conservationist was influential. I helped him design/build some remote time lapse camera systems in 2007 for his Extreme Ice Survey Project. I went to Iceland for the install of the first camera systems. With Jim, it was very much a working relationship but to be with him in the early stages of such an enormous project was very insightful.

I connected with Balog through John Weller, a friend and incredible photographer/conservationist in his own right. He received a Pew Fellowship and has been doing a lot of work for the Pew Foundation as well as continuing to work on a conservation project for the Ross Sea in Antarctica – something that he has been pursuing for 5+ years. We talk a lot about the structure of a journey, learning from the natural world and trying to communicate those profound moments that seem just beyond the boundaries of language.

Brent Humphreys is a friend in Austin who I’ve worked for in Austin and Brent’s work is editorial/commercial oriented. He’s very meticulous and detail oriented as well as constantly pushing to create a better photo. Brent is very design oriented in his thinking and is as interested in project development as much as he is the singular photograph. I find that similar to myself and so enjoy watching how he thinks about photographs.

…the camera gets you out in the world.

What influences and inspires you?
There is a lot of music, art, and ideas out there that inspire me, but experience is the ultimate teacher. I try to keep a creative distance from produced work because I think the best stuff comes out of the process. I do enjoy hearing about how other artists approach their work and work through their process. That is more relevant to me than the work itself.

 You have a wonderful body of work from the Nature Conservancy for the latest issue on The Edward’s Aquifer, in San Antonio.  Tell me more about the project and how you got involved?
The assignment came through Wonderful Machine.  The photo editor, Melissa Ryan, contacted me several months before the shoot.  They liked some previous work I had done, namely the Nightwalks body of work.  We got to talking about doing a little more of a conceptual shoot rather than the typical illustrative editorial images and I spoke about my interest in how people and landscape interact.

The focus of the story is on the Edwards Aquifer and how The Nature Conservancy is protecting land to protect the aquifer. One inherent challenge in photographing that story is that it is an underground body of water, so I started to look for signs of moments in the landscape where culture and the flow of the water intersect – the recharge zones of ranchers, water table signs along the interstate, sinkholes, spring-fed pools, pumps for the city water supply, etc.

It was a great assignment that I shot for about a month.  I stretched it out, but I really enjoy the continued focus and refinement of a longer exploration. I was engaged with the all the way through into the design and layout which is a rare treat. I proposed shooting on medium format square as it would help convey the. We were able to run the images large and on their own page with a consistent pacing which allowed the subtleties and complexities of the situation to come out. The story wasn’t inherently a strong visual one and this really worked well. The layout is beautiful. It looks like a journal.

You shoot  some amazing landscapes. How does TNC’s latest issue relate to your personal work?
I was excited to put a lot of resources into the assignment as a commissioned work. I have to push personal work to the point where I am tired of dealing with the idea I am exploring or else the questions will continue to lure me. Melissa came to me wanting my personal vision to come through in the assignment. That was a very enjoyable thing but also comes with a burden of having to produce under different circumstances. The constraints of an assignment are very different than with a purely personal exploration.

I’m really interested in the perception of place and the relationship between people and their environments.  This was a great example in that we were looking at how a water system and cultural system interact. I try to step back and think as broadly as possible about those relationships as it lets you look deeply into otherwise mundane things. Part of a photographers is to bring forth wonder. That is easy to do in an exotic location or adventurous moment, but takes bending the mind a little when you’re looking at a water pump or road sign.

The larger focus from a conservation standpoint is to try to make people aware of this water system that there lives depend on. The hard work of public officials and modern engineering has made it so that the general populace doesn’t have to think about all the details when they turn on a water faucet. But that convenient lack of awareness there can put a city, or civilization, on a dead-end path.

In my personal work I also like to step into a realm of thinking that is different from how we ordinarily experience the world. And that is what makes it a valuable exercise.

Do you use a majority of natural light in your work?
Being aware of my surroundings is the first step in my process, so I enjoy finding light wether that is natural or artificial. I will also bring in and use strobes at times – more so with portraiture. I think using found light is important is critical if you are trying to give the viewer an experience of the world as is. I enjoy working with lights but also enjoy a very streamlined process regardless of aesthetic.

I primarily shot natural light until I began the Nightwalks work in which I started shooting urban nightscapes. I found I was more interested in the process of shooting at night than the actual product so I continued to refine how I went about shooting. I went out for a night here and a night there, and realized it’d be a stronger experience if I turned it into a multi-day outing. Waking up and going to bed within the same experience exponentially enriches that experience. I developed it to the point where I was dropped off on the other side of Austin without a phone, money, or ID and gave myself 5 nights (sleeping during the day) to wander back to my house.

It was such a departure from my day to day life.  It also raised interesting questions, like where to sleep.  I did pack all the food that I ate for 5 days and allowed myself to ‘forage’ for water. I’m out there trying to make this aesthetic art thing, but basically living as a street person, which puts me at odds with the majority of people in the city and how they view their surroundings. I realized a different set of rules as to how I can and should operate. My goal was to gain the greatest amount of freedom in order to explore the urban environment in abstract terms of light and space. It was incredibly insightful.

I’m really interested in the perception of place and the relationship between people and their environments.

How did you establish and evolve your personal vision?  
Never being satisfied is certainly one method. Exploring various processes and letting the process speak will also push that envelop. I’m continually playing with a new process or challenging the assumptions of what I take for truth. exploring something else. There’s also a process of self understanding that has to occur too. That just comes with making work. It’s not something that can be forced. Engaging in what you enjoy is a starting point.

Best career move so far?
I went to the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2008, and that has been as pivotal as any career juncture as it immediately put me in touch with a strong photo community and some talented colleagues/friends. I didn’t know any photographers when I first started shooting.

Career development is a pretty slow process though.  I thinking being open to opportunity is helpful.  There’s a fine line between developing something on your own and being open to something that comes along.  I’ve been more focused on what kind of work I’m generating than how much. With freelance work, it’s easy to keep yourself busy chasing to keep the wheels going and you have to be comfortable with the ups and downs of freelance life and balancing art and commerce.

Do you have any hobbies outside of photography? 
Too many. Lots of sports: skiing, climbing, hiking, biking, baseball, basketball, whatever comes along. I swim a lot in Austin, primarily at Barton Springs.  I’m on a sandlot baseball team/social club – The Texas Playboys. I grew up playing baseball and pitched in college. Pitching is one of the most enjoyable things I know. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and body. During the past two years I’ve been building out a trailer as a autonomous studio space. That is more of a design project than a photographic one.

I always find it enjoyable working on something physical and bringing that into the photographic process.  I think good photography comes out of that.

Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
I like exploring the Texas mythology and how the idea of Texas and reality of Texas can be quite different. I grew up in Georgia and it took me a couple years to get accustomed to the culture, mythology, and contemporary landscape of Texas, but at this point it’s a part of me. The state has some bravado. It’s a really fascinating and diverse place. I think anything with a really strong culture is rich territory for a photographer.  There’s a rich mythology, and there’s no shortage of interesting people.  There’s also a freedom in Texas where people are continually re-inventing themselves and what Texas can be.  It’s an evolving place.

I think about it now as a lifelong pursuit… Don’t feel like you need to prove your work too quickly…

Advice for anyone just getting started?
It really took me a long time to get my career going, primarily because my background was not in photography. Part of that was my youthful impatience and not understanding what all goes into operating a photo career (as opposed to just taking a photo).  There is a ton of accessible photography out there, but it’s not all professional. I always thought my images were good enough and I should be further along than where I’m at, but I don’t think is a beneficial thought. There was a long gestation period, so I’d say, don’t rush it. One of the speakers at the Eddie Adams Workshop retold a quote (I’d have to dig around quite a bit to find out who first said it): “Do what you can with what you have where you are.”

I think about it now as a lifelong pursuit – photography is something I’ll always practice and it will take different forms. Don’t feel like you need to prove your work too quickly,  The more time you spend with the work and putting your effort into refining your work, will strengthen what the work is. That’s something I still tell myself. If you don’t know what you want to say and why, you’ll get chewed up by the industry.

On the business side, find people you really want to work for. Find clients that you will willingly go beyond what is required to get the job done, because that’s what it takes to make it and to be satisfied creatively. It’s not enough to just get the job done unlike other professions.

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Kimberley Davis is an Austin-based photographer specializing in food and interiors. She shares her tips for starting out in food photography, her inspirations and more.

Kimberly, do you have any tips for aspiring food photographers? I know some food photographers use a lot of trickery. How do you make food look so appetizing on a shoot?
Working with a skilled food stylist makes all the difference in making the food look as appetizing as possible. They usually have a range of tools, from tweezers in various sizes, q-tips, make-up sponges, spray bottles, dowels, etc.  I know sometimes food stylists use artificial ingredients to make food look good, but in my case, the food has always been edible-unless it’s a Thanksgiving turkey.

Lighting is absolutely key to shooting food

Lighting is absolutely key to shooting food.  Lighting can create texture in even the most boring dish.  For those just starting out, I would recommend working with someone in culinary school to do some mutual portfolio building.  Also, don’t touch the food! Let the food stylist do that, they don’t pick up your camera!

What are some of the keys to making an interior look beautiful? Do you get decorating envy when you walk into some of these homes?
Definitely!  A prop stylist is always helpful to work with in making a home look inviting.  Even adding flowers can make a big difference.  When I shoot interiors it is usually a focus on the interior design elements, vs the architecture of the space. For me, the beauty is in the details, and that’s why people hire me.

What’s been one of your best career decisions so far?
Working for a magazine publisher gave me a ton of experience.

Best decision since going freelance?
Hands down is joining ASMP! The contacts alone have been an invaluable resource.

Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
It’s Texas! I am grateful every day to be in Austin, especially after moving out of state for four years.

One of my favorite TX themes to photograph is of course, Texas BBQ. If I only take pictures in BBQ pits for the rest of my life I would be fine with that! I love those sexy smoky walls!  And of course all my gear smells like BBQ for weeks!

One of my favorite TX themes to photograph is of course, Texas BBQ

Do you have a dream assignment?
On one hand I’ve already had my dream assignment. I photographed Paula Deen and her sons for their magazines.  I got to travel with them, photographed other celebrities, more than I ever dreamed of actually.

There are several magazines I would love to photograph stories for, and collaborating with other photographers is on my bucket list too.  I love to work as a team, especially when everyone brings something different to the table.

What was working with Paula Deen like? She is such a character!
Working with Paula Deen was great! She is exactly the same as she is on TV, like the southern aunt who cooks that I never had. I had amazing opportunities shooting her for her magazine, including trips to New York, Key West, South Beach, Cashiers, New Orleans, and several to Savannah of course. Paula even let me try on her amazing and huge diamond ring once! Many great memories there, definitely some of my favorites!

Weirdest thing in my camera bag?
I have a few of those round shiny cardboard take out container tops in my bag because they make great reflectors!  I can fold them and set them on a table, they cost nothing and they’re handy.  Be resourceful!

Latest gear obsession?
I have a little shoe mount bubble level that my friend Andrew Pogue gave me and I love it!

I stay motivated because I really enjoy my work

How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated because I really enjoy my work and there are busy times and times that aren’t busy, so that keeps me motivated too.

Did you have a big break?
My big break came from Mac Jamieson, the Creative Director at Hoffman Media.  He saw the potential in my work and was patient.  He gave me advice and I took it, built a new portfolio and he saw my dedication.   He taught me a lot and had a lot of faith in me too.  I got a ton of experience there in 4 years working for 8-9 magazines.

How did you develop your personal vision?
My personal vision came with practice really.  It is definitely possible to achieve the same look with different lenses and of course I have a favorite, but lighting is everything.  I use strobes and I use natural light, it depends what it is and what it’s for.  The point is that I am conscious about how I am lighting, even with natural light, I will light the same as if I use strobes.  It has to be a thoughtful process.

Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by Jody Horton (ed. note: read Jody’s ILTP interview here).  Even before I moved to Austin I followed the Farmhouse Table blog and I knew his work from that.  I love Debi Treloar’s work and her book Food for Friends.  Sang An,  Katie Quinn Davies (What Kate Ate) her sort of messy/dark food images are gorgeous, Wyatt McSpadden, Maren Caruso has an inspiring portfolio, I especially love her conceptual food work!

All time favorite photo books?
Most are cookbooks…Food for Friends, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home, Wyatt McSpadden’s Texas BBQ

How do you define success in your own career? 
Being brave enough to put yourself out there and then making and keeping happy clients is rewarding.

What’s next? Exciting projects in 2012? 
Texas Photo Roundup was pretty exciting!  The first quarter of 2012 has been a good start and hopefully that momentum will keep going throughout the year.  I have a new website, starting email promos, really marketing myself this year.

Advice for someone starting out?
Join ASMP and most important, show up!  Let people know who you are, make friends, and it will make a huge difference.  Assist and you will learn a lot.  Learn the business side, it’s crucial to making it!  Don’t take no answer as a “no” answer.  Just keep trying –respectfully- and don’t give up.  Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, associate yourself with photographers who work hard and have a positive outlook.

Learn the business side, it’s crucial to making it!

Favorite BBQ?
You asked the right person!  Franklin BBQ chopped beef/Tipsy Texan is so good it doesn’t even need sauce!  The pies are really good there too by the way.  My other favorite is Cele Store in Manor.  It’s truly a special place, historic building, as casual as it gets!  They’re only open Thursday and Friday for lunch and Friday nights I think.  The BBQ is great, and you definitely want to get extra white bread for dipping in the sauce.  Yum, I want some now!  I also love Rudy’s.

Favorite breakfast taco?
Dan’s Hamburgers believe it or not!  They make great breakfast tacos!

What do you collect?
I collect notebooks.  I have one for everything…there are five sitting on my desk right now!  One is a large sketchbook I use for making notes about each job.  I love the little notebooks books from Wiley Valentine the most though.  Beautiful paper is one of my favorite things!

Hobbies?
I love to garden, and also love to photograph flowers. It’s not something I usually do for work but I just added a Flora gallery on my website because I think it’s still worth showing.  My once a year hobby is baking Christmas cookies for friends and clients.  I look forward to it and enjoy sharing them.

How do you stay sane?
Who says any of us stay sane? Just make it work, ask for help when you need it, and keep going.

Striphouse_2

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

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

So you used to live in New York?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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