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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.

Tiger Woods

Interview by John Davidson

Darren Carroll has been a professional photographer for 20 years, primarily shooting sports, lifestyle and documentary images for clients as diverse as Sports Illustrated, ESPN Sports, and Hyatt. Darren grew-up in New York City, and studied at Georgetown University and The University of Texas. He lives in Austin with his wife, Jessica Foster (who manages the Department of Photography for Major League Baseball), and his 11-year-old son.

Q: Do you recall the first time you held a camera, or began experimenting with one?
A: My junior year in high school and I was home, sick. It was one of those days when you feel better in the afternoon. I was alone in the house and I don’t know why I did it, but I walked into my dad’s study and grabbed his camera. I put a roll of film in it, and started walking around taking pictures, like it might be a fun thing to do.

Q: Did it seem in any way momentous at the time?
A: It didn’t really register. What really got me hooked on it was the darkroom. I went to a Jesuit private high school in New York City. You used to be able to smoke in the cafeteria. I started smoking when I was fifteen. By my junior year they had cut out smoking in the cafeteria, and so the smoking lounge was the darkroom of the yearbook office. I didn’t have a photographic connection with the guy who ran it, but I knew him, and so on our lunch break I would pop-in. One day somebody was making a print, and I’m watching this thing happen, and I’m thinking Wow, that’s really cool. And the guy says, ‘I can teach you that. Do you have a camera? Take a roll of black & white film and bring it in.’
From then on, it was more about the process for me than an artistic thing. I just loved the idea of being able to create this thing, the negative. I kept shooting pictures, – I had no idea- and I kept reading books. Eventually I bought my own camera – a Canon AE-1, same as my dad’s – and that was it. So the pivotal moment wasn’t picking up the camera. It was learning how to develop images.
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Q: At what point did you think you might want to pursue it as a career?
A: In college. When I quote, unquote ‘joined the newspaper’ at Georgetown, by the third week of my freshman year I was in the darkroom until two-thirty or three o’clock in the morning five nights a week, developing other people’s film, developing my film, printing, whatever. I never considered it as something I could do other than as a hobby until I shot my first Georgetown basketball game.. Then I saw all these other photographers sitting on the baseline, with these big 400mm lenses, and I thought, “This is cool”. This might be something I want to think about doing. And so I completely immersed myself in it, in the craft of the thing.

Q: How did you go about pursuing it as a career?
A: I was shooting the games, and so I met the guy who was the photographer for the Georgetown team. Georgetown played in a professional arena, so he was also the photographer for the Bullets (who are now the Wizards) in the NBA, and for the Capitals, the hockey team. And I just started to get to know him, offering to help and eventually I started assisting him. As part of my compensation he would let me shoot. I’d come to a hockey game and I would go upstairs and turn the strobes on ahead of time, they’d be up in the rafters, and we’d have to climb up in the catwalks and turn everything on, drop the synclines, and all that took time. So I started practicing, building a portfolio, and that was it.
But ever since that time, I’ve been adamant with everybody I’ve talked to that the way to start out is by assisting. It’s absolutely the best way to learn things, to meet people – and you get paid to do it. What could be better?

Q: You moved to Texas to study journalism?
A: I applied to UT for the Masters journalism program, and I got in. It was a journalism program with a photo concentration. And once I moved down here, that’s where a lot of the assisting work came in. Sports Illustrated started hiring me to assist photographers in San Antonio, and Dallas, and Houston, because they knew from what I’d done in Washington that I knew how to work the arena lighting systems and all of that.
My last year in Washington there was a NCAA first or second round tournament at The Capital Center, and Sports Illustrated sent a staff photographer to shoot it. I was recommended to rig the lighting, and then once I moved to Texas, I sent the SI staff guy a note saying ‘Hey, I’m down here,’ and it got around the office. Because at that time, they were flying someone to San Antonio every time there was a basketball game.

Q: And it was through that that you started shooting other sports as well?
A: It was a foot in the door. I’d go back to New York because I had family there, and I would go into the (Sports Illustrated) office because the editors there were the ones who were hiring the assistants – somebody who did basketball, somebody who did baseball, etc, and eventually they started giving me some front of the book spots when they didn’t want to fly anybody in to do them.

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Q: Tell me about the role you played in covering Mark McGwire’s pursuit of the Major League Baseball home-run record, back in 1998.
A: Both Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs) and Mark McGwire (St Louis Cardinals) were neck-and-neck in a race to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record. By September it was blatantly obvious that one, if not both of them were going to do it. It was just a question of when.
So SI pulled out all the stops. They had five photographers covering every game they played. I was the assistant (on the McGwire games). The only assistant. My job was to change the film in all the remote cameras set-up around the stadium. You had one photographer in the outfield, four photographers on the infield. I don’t remember the actual count of remote cameras, but we had at least ten around the stadium. And I had to change the film in all of them after Mark McGwire hit. And not only that, but I was responsible for triggering all of them. I had a pocket wizard in my hand, and all the cameras were all set to the same channel. As soon as Mark McGwire looked like he was going to swing, I had to hit that button.

Q: Was this bulk loaded film?
A: No, these were all 36 exposures – with two exceptions. We had these Hulcher cameras set-up. They were custom built cameras with Nikon lenses, that could shoot… well we had a 40 second per frame camera and an 80 second per frame camera. They were on tripods, one with a 600mm lens, the other with a 800mm lens, and they took hundred-foot bulk roll. You could load them in broad daylight – so you lost the first ten feet of film. Imagine how that looks – you’re standing in center field, there are twenty photographers lined up next to you, and here I come with my backpack. I pull out a tin with this one hundred-foot film in it, and I just open it up – on a Sunday afternoon. Some of these guys are freaking out, because they’d never seen it done before.
But this takes a bit of time, so I was running. And then there’s the three or four game series where the Cubs played the Cardinals, and I had to do this for both players. It was a rush – all adrenaline at this point. The best part about it was, they also let me have at it with a camera. We’d tested it out, and the best place to make sure all the cameras received the signals was in the mezzanine at first base, just above the Cardinals dug out. And when McGwire hit his seventieth, his last home run – we were still going because we had to get the last home run, whatever number that was – he did this little fist bump or whatever on the way back to the dugout, where I was stationed…
So the next evening, I’m sitting at home, and I get a phone call from Maureen Grise (now Cavanagh), the sports editor: ‘I just want to tell you, it’s been a great month. Thank you for all your hard work. Oh by the way – you have the cover.’ My first Sports Illustrated cover.

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Q: Has it been in any way helpful that you came to sports photography, not as someone who aspired to be an athlete or with of a passion for sports specifically. Did it allow for fewer preconceived notions, perhaps, for how you might go about portraying the action?
A: I was not a sports fan or an athlete myself. I played golf and tennis, but…yes. I’ve shot a lot of golf over the years, and I’ve had to catch myself occasionally because the more you do it, the more you start to run the risk of believing all the hype that people ascribe to these people.

Q: That said, is there an athlete or sportsman you’ve felt especially privileged to work with?
A: Oh, the ultimate is Byron Nelson. I’ve photographed him two or three times – the man was in his nineties – always so genuine and nice, engaging. I never had the feeling that he was looking at his watch.

Q: Given your long history with Sport’s Illustrated, I’m sure you must have strong feelings about the recent decision to release the last of their six staff photographers – probably people you know?

A: Yes. I know all of them. And this isn’t the first big purge they’ve done. I believe there were seventeen (photographers) on staff at one point. Obviously I don’t agree with it. I don’t think the Director of Photography, who had to break the news, was behind it. The decisions were made at a much, much higher level. And at that level, it all comes down to individual page views online, things like that. The appreciation for the craft of it, and of what these guys were capable of, doesn’t matter.
I did an interview with, I think, The New Republic online, when the news came out. The interview was with a guy who worked on a story with me on rodeo cowboys, and I think he nailed it when he referenced the Wayne Gretzky quote, ‘You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.’ We’re all going to look at SI each week, and we’re going to see very nice sports pictures from Getty or AP or whatever; but what we’re not going to see is the picture that could have been taken. I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with these SI guys and with a bunch of other photographers, and shot the same thing they have, and they’ve gotten something that we’ve all looked at and said, ‘How did they do that?’ We didn’t see it. We were all looking at it, we didn’t frame it that way, use that lens… you’re not going to see that anymore – but you’re not going to know it.

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Q: Since we’re talking a little about the business of photography here, tell me about your marketing strategy. Who you are marketing to?
A: I’m marketing to advertising agencies, and to sports related companies – not necessarily as a sports photographer, but as someone with a sports background. I want to point out my abilities to use portrait lights, do documentary, all sorts of stuff. I have a couple of commercial clients that I work with regularly, and I’m looking to work with more. But I also like shooting those portraits, and documentary work, so I’m promoting that editorially.

Q: Emails, Mailers, or both?
A: I kind of gave up on mass emails, I used to do it religiously, but I don’t think people look at or see them. I can think of maybe one person who called me from an email over six years.
For print campaigns I have a mailing list of about 250 people. I send out 125 mailers every month. Say, if there are two art buyers at ESPN, one of them gets the card this month, the other one gets it next month. That way they’re not getting the same card – they’re floating around the office – but I’m not flooding them with stuff. So I send pieces out bi-monthly.

Q: Do you work with a graphic designer on your promo pieces?
A: I’m thinking about doing that. I can see the benefits. I have a portfolio online with ASMP, and I’ve gotten work from that, and also another portfolio site and I’ve gotten work from those. I’ve also taken out ads in Workbook, but I ‘m not sure about that as an advertising model at this point.
I don’t like to be overbearing, whether it’s writing about myself, or making calls. I need to get better at that.

Q: Do you have a rep?
A: I do. We’ve been working together for about three years. It’s been good to have someone help with negotiations, that side of things. You really need somebody who knows the type of work that you do, and the business that you’re catering to. And I need someone who knows how to work with those people.
Still, I need to be able to find those people myself. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but I think some photographers believe that once they have a rep, they don’t have to do any of that stuff. It’s not true. You have to stay grounded in your own business. And if I do get something, then I’m going to give it to him (the rep), because he is going to take care of the negotiating, the production, that side of things. Quite frankly, when it comes to advertising, and the amount of money that can be involved, you don’t want creative people having that conversation. You want money people having those conversations.

Q: I recently switched my website hosting to Photoshelter, which I know is where you’ve been hosted for sometime. You’re especially partial to the back-end capabilities of the site – such as the e-commerce, for example. Have you sold a lot from your archive that way?
A: Not a whole lot. I should probably market that a little better, though I’ve had some commercial sales. But yes, there are a lot of portfolio sites, and I don’t know anywhere else you can store thousands upon thousands of high-resolution images, sell them through the site, integrate directly with your blog, share with clients. And all I have to do is slide images from one gallery to another.
Q: What’s your take on Instagram now? Initially your line was similar to ASMP’s first public stance, which was, ‘Why are we giving our work away?’
A: Every time I put something on Instagram, I cringe, honestly. But…you have to do it. My epiphany was on assignment for ESPN, and there were four or five editors on site. I walked into the press room – it was after a football game – and every single editor was checking their Instagram feed to see what their favorite photographers were up to. You’ve got to do it. But, I watermark important images, and I still feel that the day is going to come when we’re going to say, ‘Wait – they said they weren’t going to do that!’

Q: Let’s talk about personal work. You wrote a very impassioned piece on your blog about purchasing a Leica M240 and how it had really informed your work, inspired you to see things anew. Was buying the camera directly responsible for the beautiful Charreada project you’ve undertaken?
A: It was. I put off doing it until I got the Leica. I’d had the idea for about a year, put it off and put it off, and when I finally decided to go all in and buy the camera, I said, Now I’m gonna do it.

Q: The Charreada project is clearly a book. It has to be.
A: My problem that I have with it is that I presented it to Sports Illustrated, because they were interested in running it. At the time I’d only done a couple of reports, but they encouraged me to continue with it. Then a month later they gave me a different rodeo assignment that ran nine pages in the magazine and the way they work, one rodeo story a year is all you’re gonna get. So I felt kind of bad that I no longer had a hook anymore, and I don’t know how to market something as a book. I have a couple of ideas, a couple of different strains of the project, but I don’t know how to bring that (a book) about.

Q: Your work seems to be diversifying over the past year or two. Certainly, you’re shooting more portraits outside of sports – extensive work with musician Robert Earl Keen, for example. You have a wedding coming up, and you have a young son – Are you looking to move away from sports photography in part to pursue a less itinerant lifestyle?
A: I’m not leaving sports photography, but I do want to pursue other things. Part of it is at the point of a bayonet because the business is changing. Sports photography is not what it was. The days of getting a call saying ‘Hey, there’s a game in Arlington today. Go see if you can take a pretty picture…’ those opportunities have gone, across the board. Sporting News is out of business; Sports Illustrated isn’t hiring or flying people all over the country anymore; ESPN doesn’t cover games on a week-to-week basis. Getty has staff photographers, they don’t hire freelancers. You can’t make a living shooting sports for newspapers.
So, you have to adapt. You find commercial, advertising outlets for the skill-set you’ve got. I can shoot golf, really well, so let me go out and find corporations or advertisers or whatever who need someone who can shoot golf. And part of that hopefully means getting paid more so that I can work less, be closer to home, be with family more. Right now, I haven’t been on a plane in three weeks. I don’t remember the last time that happened. But also, hopefully it means that I can pursue more editorial work that I enjoy doing, work that allows creative freedom.
I think it can be done. I’ve spent the last month driving to jobs! And there’s such a vibrant photo community here in Austin – and I need to get more involved.

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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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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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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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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. :)

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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.’

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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

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Dallas’ Matt Hawthorne chatted with us recently about his transition from from skateboarding to photography, uses of Instagram hashtags, lighting for action shoots and maintaining an upbeat environment on set.

Did you go to school for photography? How’d you get started?
I was a Radio, TV and Film major in school and also a sponsored skateboarder. My sponsors were always asking me for images of myself skating for promotional purposes. Eventually, I asked my dad to show me how to use his old Olympus manual 35mm camera. I would set up the composition on a tripod and have a buddy snap the shot when I was in the air. Eventually, this led to adding a fill flash to illuminate shadows on my face. The next thing I knew, I had four canon flashes on radio slaves and was changing my major to photography.

In the end, skateboarding is what got me into shooting action sports.

How did you start doing fitness and sports work?
After finishing school, I started photo assisting Dallas-based fashion shooters and really connected with the studio lighting scenarios. Since I was already shooting with multiple lights for my skateboard photography, that type of lighting made sense to me; working with those guys really helped me push myself with mixing in studio techniques with action photography. In the end, skateboarding is what got me into shooting action sports.

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Who were your mentors?
I worked a lot with Jeff Stephens, who has an incredible eye for lighting subjects. With Jeff, I learned a lot about minor or subtle tweaking with lights to make a huge difference. Some professional shooters, whom I have always admired their work and who have been an influence on me from afar, would be photographers: Grant Brittain, Carlos Serrao, Troyt Coburn, Nadav Kander, and of course legends like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Chuck Close.

What techniques do you like using when lighting a moving subject?
Lighting a moving subject has more parts than can be talked about here, especially if shooting outdoors. However, I mainly use the same light shaping techniques with slightly different strobe equipment. Strobes with higher flash duration are key. I have incredible photo assistants, and we brainstorm together to push technique and are constantly trying new things. I also really love shooting natural light just as much as with strobes.

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Describe your dream shoot?
Oh wow, dream job?!! Geez, I feel like I’ve already shot some of my dream jobs! One of those jobs was a week long Gatorade production in Florida at the Gatorade Sports and Science Institute. Another dream job was  getting to photograph my all time favorite artist Barry McGee! When I think about dream jobs, the thoughts are really just getting to work with an awesome team, on cool concepts, at cool locations, with great talent. With that in mind, the specific client doesn’t really matter so much to me, just as long as it’s creative and fun! I just feel blessed to be doing what I’m doing!

A stale and quiet set is much more intimidating and stressful, a fun upbeat environment is better for everyone!

What’s one piece of gear you can’t live without (besides the camera of course)?
Well, obviously if you forget anything it can be a huge disaster, but one tool I hate not having is my music. Thats why I now keep a mini speaker in my camera case at all times. There is a larger boom box that stays with the gear and is the main music source, but music is huge on set. It helps calm people down and relax, even if its upbeat and loud. A stale and quiet set is much more intimidating and stressful, a fun upbeat environment is better for everyone!

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What do you like best about using Instagram as a professional photographer?
I’m sure there are some photographers who have landed a job from Instagram, but I have not and dont think I will. I just love having a mobile portfolio of my journey of home and work that is so easy to manage. I also don’t really care about followers, I mainly do it for myself so I can look back at everything I’ve done the past couple years. I started posting on Instagram right around when my son Oliver was born, every post of Oliver has an #OliverWilks (Wilks being his middle name) hashtag, and its so awesome to click on that hashtag and see him grow up from birth to his recent 2nd birthday. Those are aspects of Instagram I love! I also know a lot of creatives like seeing professional photographers personal work, so my Instagram portfolio can fill that need. I have a nice tumblr site that grids all my Instagram images linked from my site and blog.

I started posting on Instagram right around when my son Oliver was born, every post of Oliver has an #OliverWilks hashtag, and its so awesome to click on that hashtag and see him grow up from birth to his recent 2nd birthday.

What’s been a favorite campaign to work on? Why?
LifeTime Fitness has been an incredible client for me, and a huge part of my growth as a fitness / sports shooter. They have an in house agency with some extremely talented creatives who are constantly pushing their brand and me with visuals. We’ve done everything from hanging off rock-walls, to underwater swimmers, to triathletes, to creative fitness. Shooting for LifeTime Fitness for a few years now we’ve done 7 or 8 large production shoots including several Dallas shoots, and shoots in Scottsdale, Miami, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Chicago. They are an amazing client in that they trust my opinions and really listen and mold their ideas to how I can achieve them best. They are the type of art directors every photographer hopes to get to work with and it has been an amazing experience! They also make my work look good by creating award winning print pieces and designing great ads with the images.

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Why have you chosen Dallas as a your home-base?
Family kept me here initially. Then, after considering a move to LA, I realized the market in Dallas was less saturated and would make it easier to be noticed. There are some really great agencies and brands here in Dallas that I’ve gotten to work with on some really cool campaigns including MockingBird Station, Dallas Opera, and several of last years’ JCPenney catalog covers. I do market myself nationally too and have also landed several large clients out of Dallas that either I travel with, or they come to Dallas. I really don’t think where you live is as important as some people think. If you have a style that a client wants, they will figure out how to make it work.

Summer get away spot?
Anywhere I can spend time with my family!

Matt Hawthorne ©

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O. Rufus Lovett, Part 1: Early Days, Texas Monthly and Beauty in Long Term Projects

This is part 1 of a 2-part interview by guest contributor Matt Valentine. 

When I reach O. Rufus Lovett by phone, I warn that I’ve just had oral surgery and might have difficulty speaking clearly. “I might talk a little funny,” I say, “because I’ve got this mouth full of stitches.”

“Well I talk funny because I’ve lived in East Texas a long time,” he says.

His voice is just one component of Lovett’s disarming southern charm—he speaks slowly but with a quick wit, like the narrator in a Mark Twain story. No doubt that charisma has ingratiated him to the many communities he’s documented throughout Texas and the southern United States, on magazine and newspaper assignments, and for personal projects that have so far produced three books.

Lovett’s photography has been widely published and exhibited, and is in the permanent collections at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Birmingham Museum of Art. His documentary work for Texas Monthly has been recognized by the Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards, administered by Columbia University. For more than three decades, Lovett has taught photography at Kilgore College, a two-year school in East Texas. In 2005, the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation of San Antonio honored his work as a photo educator, naming him a Piper Professor.

What’s the “O” for in O. Rufus Lovett?

My first name is an initial. It’s just O, period. My mother was named Opal. My Dad was also named Opal. They named my older sister Opal when she was born. And then they gave me just the O initial instead of the name Opal.

When did you first start taking photos? Or were you too young to remember?

My high school was actually on a university campus, so we had student teachers and so forth. My dad just worked up the hill, in his office at the university. My mom taught there in the English Department. And so everybody kind of knew everybody—you know, small town, Jacksonville, Alabama. I was approached by the English teacher — who was the sponsor of the newspaper — and another lady who sponsored the yearbook. I was asked if I would like to do photographs for those publications. And I thought — yeah, that’d be cool, you know. They thought they had a perfect “in,” because my dad had a ways and a means of getting the work done, since his photography studio was just up the hill at the university. And so that’s kind of where I began getting serious about photography, because I was doing production work from the get-go, and printing with my dad at the university was a major start and major influence on what I was doing.

Left: Opal Lovett. Right: O. Rufus Lovett, age 16.

You included one of your father’s photographs as a frontispiece in your first book, Weeping Mary, and your own photographs seem to share some of the same mood. Do you think your father’s photography influenced your work in other ways, in other projects?

Yeah, quite a bit. He was a portrait photographer as well, and photographed events, and I would go along with him and assist. I used to carry the old blue flashbulbs along, back when he was shooting a Crown Graphic, and I would collect the spent flashbulbs. Or I would stand on a chair or table somewhere with an auxiliary flash to fill in light. So he taught me at the beginning how to master lighting techniques, as guidelines. I learned a great deal from him in terms of good basic fundamental things.

Also, you know, his work was very applied photographic work. It was meant to sell and send out for Associated Press news releases for the university. But occasionally, he would go out and photograph on his own, and those are the photographs I admire most of his work. But he didn’t do that as often—he was consumed with his work at the university and he loved every bit of it. So that work that he did as an applied photographer was his personal work as well. And so it meant a lot to him, and I did learn so much from those early experiences as a child. And watching him print in the darkroom. I can remember sitting on a stool, just barely able to look over the sink, watching the prints come up in the developer, which was always fascinating as a child.

 Your photographs in Weeping Mary are a very intimate portrayal of an insular community, a tiny town that is almost entirely African American. As a pretty conspicuous outsider, how did you approach that project?

I don’t really start out with a game plan when I’m documenting a group of folks or, in this case, I guess you’d call them subcultures within our culture. In the case of Weeping Mary, it was critical that I visited many times without a camera to get to know the folks before I even got a camera out.

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It was an interesting situation there, because people want to know “why are you taking our picture?” and often times people in a community of that nature don’t understand the beauty an outsider might see within that community. It’s difficult for anyone who lives there to comprehend that. Not due to ignorance — anyone would feel the same way, like “why would you be photographing me?” There was just a certain beauty there that I wanted to document on many levels.

To introduce myself, I just tried to get to know the folks, being from a small town certainly helped my ability to communicate, get along with the people there. I made great friends there. That was the beginning of that—just getting to know the people. Now, in that situation also, it was kind of unique, because a friend of mine over in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is not far from Weeping Mary, was the editor and publisher of a newspaper, and as a matter of fact, he’s the one who introduced me to Weeping Mary. He mentioned the name of the community, which piqued my interest, and he wanted to do a couple little picture page spreads about the community. So we did one called “Children of Weeping Mary”, and another one, “Christmas at Weeping Mary,” and published that in the newspaper, and then that of course gave me some credibility, because if we’re doing a picture story about the children, or about Christmas at Weeping Mary, you can introduce that as a project, and make a purpose for my being there.

And then I continued for years after that. Continued photographing and visiting, and enjoying that community, and then it developed into the Weeping Mary book.

The photos seem really naturalistic. But some of these were made with a little more sophisticated artificial lighting equipment, right?

It’s always the situation that dictates what you’re going to do about lighting in a photograph. Often times, I would use the existing light of course, and many times a tripod. And other times, depending on the situation, I would use an auxiliary flash, often modified by a small softbox, to soften the quality of the light, but still nice and directional, and marry that light with the ambient light in the environment.

I seem to remember a story about one person you photographed there as a child who wasn’t very happy with that photo as he got older.

There were a couple of cases like that. It might have been the swimmers photograph. Two little boys in their underpants, swimming in a little backyard pool. Later, they were kinda teased at school about that photograph. I mean, it was published in Texas Monthly. The teacher brought it in — not to embarrass them, but to show them that Weeping Mary was published. It kind of embarrassed them a little bit, so as those guys grew a little older, they expressed, uh, a disinterest in that photograph. But nothing ever came of that, other than that they didn’t appreciate it right away, because it kinda embarrassed them when they were in school. I have a feeling they’re fine with it now. They grew up to be rather large football players, and so luckily they didn’t hold it against me too badly.

Your second book, Kilgore Rangerettes, grew out of long photo essay you did for Texas Monthly—an unusually long essay, by contemporary standards. Do you think there are some stories that are really best told with many photographs?

This has a lot to do with the economics often times, you know. Magazines have to support themselves, and they have to make room for advertising, and they have only so much space. It is unusual that so many photographs were used in that particular photo essay. Scott Dadich was the creative designer at that time at Texas Monthly, and I think he did a great job of placing as many photographs as he placed in a relatively small space. I was surprised that they used that many, but using that grid format that they used on some of the pages, he was able to introduce numerous images, which was a good idea I think in this case–to define the project well. There was quite a volume of work over a period of time, a decade or so, I suppose.

© O. Rufus Lovett

But you know, space constraints have a lot to do with that long photo essay occurring in publications these days, which is why it’s so important for a photographer, when he’s out photographing a project, especially for a magazine, to make every picture kind of a stand-alone type of photograph. I teach about this in my photojournalism classes. In a photo essay, each photograph is like a paragraph, and then several paragraphs make up the essay. And so, if each photograph can stand alone as a complete thought, and then when put together with other photographs, makes sense, that allows magazines to complete a photo essay with a brief amount of space. So that’s an important issue and always will be, and yeah, I can remember the old days when Life magazine and Look magazine had these really expensive photo essays. It was beautiful to see them. We don’t see that happen much anymore these days, unfortunately. But I’m sure it’s mostly economics.

You’ve published in many magazines and newspapers, but it seems to me that Texas Monthly has really been the best home for your work. Would you characterize it that way?

Yeah I would say so. And there’s some really interesting human condition kind of work — which is my main emphasis I suppose — with People magazine, of all publications. They’ll do these little features on communities and different folks from time to time and they’re quite nice. They’re usually found in the back of the magazine behind all of the celebrity stuff. I did this really neat story with People one time — it was a 70-year-old man who went back to 1st grade to learn how to read, up in Missouri.

It was a wonderful little photo essay as it turns out. And then I’ve done stuff for Gourmet up in New York. I did this whole thing on Dominican culture and Dominican food. As a matter of fact that’s how we got this barbecue project going — a story I was doing for Gourmet with Robb Walsh (acclaimed food writer). That’s when we first met. Then later we did something for Saveur Magazine on barbecue, and we decided to carry it on and do that BBQ Crossroads book. Magazine editorial work sometimes influences you in a variety of directions—you never know how that’s gonna snowball and what it’s going to bring next. It’s kind of an interesting aspect of my career. The magazine work I’ve been able to do, I’ve been privileged to do it. Starting with Texas Monthly and going from there. People usually just call Texas Monthly to get to me. I don’t even have a website.

One of the things I love about the Kilgore Rangerettes book is that there are several photos of the Rangerettes using cameras. For me, the cameras locate the photographs in time, because the uniforms don’t change that much, and the setting doesn’t change much, and these black and white photos could really be from forty or fifty years ago—except we’re reminded that this is actually contemporary, because we see one of the Rangerettes using a  little point-and-shoot camera or a digital camera. Was that your intention? Including that little detail as sort of a time stamp?

I’ve always been a little fascinated, for some reason, with tourists taking pictures of scenes. When I travelled to Asia I enjoyed photographing the tourists that were photographing the monuments, or their friends in front of the monument. I just found something delightful about photographing photographers photographing what they’re interested in. And so that kind of carried through, because the Rangerettes constantly take pictures of one another, whenever they go to an event or even a rehearsal or whatever the occasion, they’re constantly taking photographs of themselves. I just find an interesting irony in those kind of photographs. But you’re right, that is a key that kind of illustrates a timeline for those photographs. Otherwise they’re pretty much timeless, unless you look real closely at the type of bleachers that are in the stands, or the kind of pavement that’s more contemporary than a 1940s or 50s type pavement, you may not know what decade some of those photographs were made in.

Your new book, Barbecue Crossroads, is a significant departure from the first two. The most immediately obvious technical difference is that these are color photographs, whereas your previous work is predominantly black and white. Can you talk about the decision to use color?

Originally, Rob Walsh the writer — he and I travelled from Texas to the Carolinas and back, including Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, a little bit of Georgia and the Carolinas, and a couple places in Texas as well — and we originally were gonna do the book in black and white. It was gonna be, you know, kind of an edgy black and white kind of thing. But as I started photographing this, the color played such an important role in these little joints, and with the food subjects themselves, so I made the decision to request the change on that and just do the whole thing in color, which I think fit that project well. That was a decision based on the environment and the circumstances, which I felt were best interpreted in color.

However, one other difference between that book and the other two is that I was working with someone else, a wonderful, very knowledgeable food writer, and a lot of those photographs dealt with illustrating his points of view about the places that we went to. My point of view was also teased in there as well, in some of the other maybe more pictorial type images, and some of the documentary work. A lot of auxiliary lighting was used, however not always–I used a lot of window light when it was possible. There’s a lot of variety of techniques that were used in making that photographic documentary on the Barbecue Crossroads book.

I learned this from Mary Ellen Mark years ago, that circumstances dictate everything in terms of how your gonna light it, what medium you’re gonna use. It was all done digitally, instead of film. That played an important role, and the fact that I wanted to use color, so that made some of those difficult circumstances a little more convenient to photograph in, just in terms of the equipment alone. There were a lot of technical influences that dealt with the reasons why we decided to go with color on that.

(Editor’s note: Join us tomorrow when we publish Part 2 of this interview. Lovett talks with Valentine about how teaching photography is changing, and what he sees as the future for his students.)


While completing his MFA in Creative Writing at NYU, Matt Valentine worked full time for the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, designing and maintaining their “digital darkroom” facilities. He continues to pursue simultaneous careers in writing and photography. Matt’s short stories have won national awards, including (most recently) the 2012 Montana Prize for Fiction. His portraits of writers have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Boston Review, Outside Magazine, O (the Oprah Magazine), and on dozens of book jackets. A Lecturer for the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin, he teaches two undergraduate courses: “Writing Narratives” and “Photographic Narratives.”

 

Justin Clemons ©

Justin Clemons, a University of North Texas alumni, is an editorial and commercial photographer based out of Dallas. Some of Justin’s clients include Texas Monthly, NY Times, and American Airlines. While Justin travels some for work, he says he is most inspired by Texans!

How did you get started in photography? 
I started taking some photo classes in college, and enjoyed the classes so much that I just kept taking more and more until I decided to make it my major. Strangely, I never really considered myself very creative growing up. I was actually an embarrassment in high school art class, but I absolutely loved the process of creating. In college, I learned to loosen up and not to be so controlling, and I  also learned about design, composition, textures, concepts, etc.

The biggest component that pushed me into pursuing photography on a professional level was my professor Dornith Doherty.  She saw something in my work and told me that I could make it in the real world doing photography. I interned for a summer putting together kitchen appliances and cabinets to be photographed by a JCPenney’s photographer and loved every minute of it! During this time, I learned about lighting techniques, business strategies and dealing with clients, and I finally started to make the leap toward having my own business. From then on, I worked on building up my portfolio and started pursuing editorial work.

I think it’s really important to have your business and brand spread out like fingers in lots of different areas instead of just one single promotion tactic.

How do you manage the business side of photography? How do you promote yourself to potential clients?
Oh my gosh! So much time and energy is put into getting estimates together, producing jobs, managing assistants and crew, dealing with clients, billing, TAXES, post-production, promoting, updating websites, updating blogs, updating work on other websites and being active on social media. I am forced to do the business side. Business isn’t my strong suit, but I make it happen.

I think it’s really important to have your business and brand spread out like fingers in lots of different areas instead of just one single promotion tactic. I have both an editorial and an advertising list.  I try to do a printed piece about twice a year.  I am working on a magazine size promo piece at the moment. I am on some websites that show photographers and their work in order for creatives to go and find good shooters.  Some of these have a monthly fee and some are free like: PhotoServe , Wonderful Machine , and FoundFolios. Hopefully, I Love Texas Photo soon too, haha. Carissa (my rep) sets up lots of book showing at ad agencies and I try to stay pretty consistent with updating my blog.  Social media is playing a decent size role in promoting these days as well.  It’s just a good way of showing that you are busy shooting cool stuff and helps keep your name and work on people’s minds. I mostly use Instagram (@justinclemons).

What would your ideal/dream assignment be?
I recently shot a job for a publication called Whiskey Advocate. The piece was focused on a small whiskey distillery in Waco, TX called Balcones.

It was one of those jobs where at the end of the day, I got in bed thinking, “Today was a really amazing day!”  And then I thought, “I actually get paid to do this!”

It was just so much fun walking around this whiskey plant having Chip (head distiller and owner) explain the whole process while showing you the storage of old wood barrels and letting you taste all of their amazing whiskeys  (After I got my shot of course)! I love learning new things and experiencing new things. I love people that are specialists in what they do and love doing it – people that had a dream and followed it. So, maybe my dream job would be traveling around shooting people that are creating something they love and learning about their process while I’m there.

Justin Clemons ©

Why have you chosen Dallas as the place to work and be?
It’s pretty simple really… family. Dallas is where both my wife and I are from, so we have a huge web of friends and family around here.  It would be difficult to leave that behind.  And since graduating college in 2003, I have had 10 years of making connections and relationships in the Dallas photo world, connections that continue to lead to jobs. It would be really hard to start that whole process all over again somewhere else. I really like the people in Dallas. I just wish we had better weather and terrain.

Who have been or are your influences and mentors?
Like I said earlier, my professor Dornith Doherty was a huge mentor for me. I share studio space with Andy Klein, Scott Slusher and Matt Hawthorne, which is an amazing privilege. All three guys are extremely talented in different areas, and we all get along really well.  It is so helpful putting together a series or promo piece and being able to get them to come look at it and get their opinion. Specifically those who Influence my work and style, I would have to say people like…  Eric Ogden, Peter Yang, Dan Winters, Chris Buck, Chris Crisman and Julia Fullerton-Batten to name a few.

Where do you find inspiration in Texas?
I find inspiration in the people of Texas rather than a location.  There are some extremely talented and interesting people that are doing really creative things that I am challenged by.  If I were forced to name a place, I would have to say my backyard.  Just sitting back there on a nice day smoking a cigar and sipping on scotch relaxes me to the point that my mind can wonder.      

Justin Clemons ©

Do you feel that social media (twitter, facebook, and instagram) has impacted or changed the way you do business? Has it helped more than hurt?
For better or worse, it has changed things somewhat. Negatively, it adds another thing for me to do.  I always feel like I’m not Instagraming, tweeting or on Facebook enough.  I always feel behind in those areas, and when I do make time for it, it seems it’s when I’m at home or at dinner with my wife and daughter and should be paying attention to them. On the positive side, it is a way for people to see that I’m busy and I’m shooting interesting work.  Social media is a good way to keep on the front of job giving people’s minds.  I do have some art directors and creative directors I know that follow me on Instagram. It just raises their perception of you. When you are posting images from shoots or BTS shots from locations or you are just able to make everyday life look cool in photos, they put a higher value on you and your work.  They feel they can trust important shoots to you.

Who are some of your most recent or notable clients?
Some recent clients include: Texas Monthly, D Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc Magazine, DFW Airport, and Walmart.

When you are posting images from shoots or BTS shots from locations or you are just able to make everyday life look cool in photos, they put a higher value on you and your work.

What is the must have item in your camera bag aside from the camera? Most interesting thing in there?
Wrigley’s Doublemint gum is a must.  No matter how cool or good you are, if you got skanky breathe nobody wants to talk to you.

Justin Clemons ©

What goes into setting up a portrait shoot for you?

 I just like to be as prepared as possible, because I don’t like surprises.

I’ll answer this as if I was shooting an editorial portrait….

I want to shoot in a place that describes what they do visually, but isn’t cluttered or boring.  If people will give me the time, I try to show up at least an hour and a half before I am supposed to shoot the portrait.

When I get there, I meet the contact person and get them to give me a tour of the facility in order to scout where I want to shoot.  While I am doing this, my assistant is unloading all of the equipment from the vehicle.  I’ll pick out two locations (minimum) where we can shoot.  I explain to my assistant what lighting I want to use and where we will be shooting first, and we get to work putting it all up.

Once the lights are up and placed in the area I feel is good, my assistant stands in as the subject, and I photograph him. We make tweaks and changes until I’m excited about the image.  We will do this at the two or three locations I have picked before the subject arrives.

The subject is sometimes in a hurry and doesn’t have a whole lot of time to shoot, so we are as prepared as we can be.  If the subject is in a hurry or doesn’t like pictures, we still get good shots, because we have everything set. They can just walk up, shoot and they are done.  If the subject is cool and doesn’t mind pictures, its even better.

We can take our time, try different things, add in some relevant props, have him move around some, and get amazing shots. So much of it depends on the subject. But even if you have a boring, crabby subject, if you have cool composition, great lighting and interesting background, you can still get a good photo for your client.  I just like to be as prepared as possible, because I don’t like surprises.