Conceptual

trove_2_tq_photo_fashion_photographer_texas

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.

"Wind" by Lesley Nowlin from Being a Twin: Elements
"Wind" by Lesley Nowlin from Being a Twin: Elements

“Wind” by Lesley Nowlin from Being a Twin: Elements

 

Austin fine art photographer Lesley Nowlin was chosen as one of four artists for the upcoming exhibition: Face Value opening September 6th at Davis Gallery. Lesley will be showing images from her series in progress: Being a Twin.

Lesley, a twin herself, has been exploring that relationship through her photographic work using traditional, modern, and alternative photographic processes. Lesley shared this intimate project with my twin and me when she photographed us a few months ago.

How did you get started in photography?

My dad played around with photography when I was young, as well as my grandfather and great grandmother.  When I was about 14 I remember my dad teaching me how to read a light meter on a Leica rangefinder.  After that I started photographing sports and yearbook events during high school.  I learned how to develop and print silver gelatin in a tiny darkroom at Westwood High School.  After going to the Maine Photographic Workshop during my junior year of high school I then chose to attend the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford.  That was when I fell in love with art.

 

02_ILTP_Supporting_LesleyNowlin_BATElements

Tell me about your interest and education in alternative processes.
During my time at HAS we were required as art majors to learn all the mediums.  I really enjoyed printmaking and drawing, although I was never really good at it.  Back in my college years we were on the brink of transitioning into digital, but everything we did was still very much produced in the darkroom.  I loved getting my hands dirty and watching the image appear on the paper.  Creating something from scratch and the printing process itself is the true art quality I love so much.  However, that being said, I’ve turned to digital shooting, yet stuck with printing platinum and silver.  With the format I’m creating in this current work the digital image is much easier to work with.  I still love film for documentary and street photography, but I’m not currently working in that environment.
I loved getting my hands dirty and watching the image appear on the paper.
After opening a photography gallery in 2009-2011 I realized everything I fell in love with from other photographers was created with the alternative process,  whether it was silver gelatin, salt, cyanotype, or platinum.  After closing the gallery I decided to pursue the alternative process for myself and studied at Maine Media Workshop with Brenton Hamilton.  He taught me how to print platinum, as well as other processes, using digital negatives.  I’ve been working on it for the last 2 years on my own trying to master the craft, although I have a long way to go.
03_ILTP_ItSeemsEasyForHer_LesleyNowlin_BAT
How long have you been working on the twin series and how has the meaning evolved since you started working on it?

I started the series actually when attending the Maine Media Workshop back in 2002 (for the second time). I had an instructor, Stella Johnson, who helped me create a project for myself.  We had to plan shooting our subject(s) before we got there.  I wanted to work on something for that week that was closely related to me.  Up until that point I was more of a street photographer, and liked to travel and “shoot what I saw” on my international adventures. At the beginning of the “Being a Twin” project I was trying to connect in my own relationship with my twin by studying the connections of other twins and how they related to each other. I learned a lot with my 10 years of photographing twins.  About two years ago I drew on the fact that I loved art so much, and wanted to start making more narrative and composed pieces. I’m drawn to painters like Gustav Klimt and John Waterhouse, and photographers like Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison and Luis Gonzales de Palma.  Their ability to create a surreal environment with the human subject, very spiritual and ethereal, really drew me in.  I wanted to incorporate that direction in my own work, while still making it mine.  I’m photographing the twins (mostly female) in environments of nature to show their spiritual connection, as well as a tension and ease between the two.  Then, I’m printing platinum on vellum and lining it with composition gold, silver or copper leaf.  Printing the negatives separately and then putting it back together creates a broken and mosaic like quality.  It’s very fun to do, as well as time consuming.  No pieces will be the same, and that’s what I enjoy most about it.  I’ve also been learning a lot as I continue to make different pieces.  My process has been getting more precise as I go along.
I was trying to connect with my own relationship with my twin by studying the connections of other twins and how they related to each other.
How did you come to be a part of the Face Value exhibition at Davis Gallery?

Bill Davis is a very kind person who I’ve known for a while.  I knew the curator of the show, Christina Martell, who left shortly after, and Susannah Morgan took over.  They were putting together a show of different portraiture work, and asked me to participate.  At first I was going to make individual platinum prints of my original “Being a Twin” work.  But then I grabbed the opportunity to show my new vision of where I wanted this work to go, and that’s when “Being a Twin: Elements” was created.  Ultimately, I’m very happy I’m able to have a show with a group.  It gave me the chance to start this new work at a slower pace.
07_ILTP_Water_LesleyNowlin_BATElements
What are your future plans for photography? Do you have any other photo projects that you are working on?

My goal is to create 15-20 pieces for a solo show somewhere.  The most challenging part of owning a photography gallery in Austin, for me, was that I didn’t know how to create clients.  I had a ton of photographers asking to show their work, and I didn’t have enough time or finances to do it.  After about a year I realized owning a gallery was not the career for me.  Creating my own work was more important.   It would be wonderful to have a photography gallery in Austin, but I don’t feel there’s a market here for it, which is unfortunate.  There are many great photographers in Austin and only a few places to exhibit.  Davis Gallery is kind enough to have a show specifically for photography and mixed media, but most art galleries in Austin view the medium of photography as an entirely different art form, and maybe aren’t willing to go out of their comfort zone to learn more about it.  More than likely I’ll have to go outside of my hometown to find an exhibition space for “Being a Twin: Elements”.  Really hoping someone will want to show it!

 

You’ll definitely want to see these pieces in person. Face Value closes October 18th, 2014.
Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski
Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

Photo by Kristen Wrzesniewski

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

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

8399741580_b3c7f52aa7_o

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

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

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

DSC_9667

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

trish copy

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

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

Who are your mentors?

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

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

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

P1060990

Are you shooting more studio work now?

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

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

I will have to quote Ira Glass on this one: 

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

DSC_4735-2

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

Kristen is represented by Wonderful Machine.

 

 

 

 

 

FallForwardtif

Visual storytelling encompasses various mediums, from homemade keepsakes to professionally composed photographs, to imagined otherworldly scenes. Peggy Weiss‘ work in digital collage layers these kinds of images to create work that is at once familiar and dreamlike. Weiss uses her own photography as well as the snapshots of friends’ photo albums of yesteryear and new digital collage techniques to create her pieces. Weiss has also begun to add layers of painted details to her collages.

Weiss received her education at the University of Texas and Laguna Gloria Art School in Austin and has remained here, exhibiting her works and expanding her mediums. I  met with Weiss at her studio space in the Canopy building where we discussed her work.

When did you begin photographing and why?
In the days before Photoshop, I hand-colored prints and old photos, using those great Marshall’s Oil Paints. That was when I started collecting vintage photos. I had fun with the paints, but I found it very limiting–I wanted to take the process further. With the advent of computers and Photoshop, I had the tools I needed. I then started photographing images to use in my compositions, along with the old photos.

So, when did you create your first digital collage?
My first collage was in 2004, the year my mom died. I had an old picture of her and my dad that I scanned, and I started playing around with it. I’ve reworked that image over the years, and it’s now one of my pieces in the Harry Ransom Center Photography Collection.

I talked to you a little about how your Friends & Strangers series and know that you used old photos are inspiration. Where did the images that inspired your photos come from?
Old photos have always spoken to me. I started with my family’s old photos, then my friend’s family photographs. When I exhausted those, I scoured junk shops and eBay for more.  The Family, Friends and Strangers series is ongoing, although finding old photos to work with is getting more difficult.

Usually, when I start a piece, I have no preconceived notion of what I’m going to do.

What is the process in making them?
I collect photos, scan them, and put them in a library on the computer. When I find a window of time, I’ll select an image to start working on in Photoshop. I shoot constantly with my Sony Nex 7, and archive these images for backgrounds, skies and other elements to use in a collage. Usually, when I start a piece, I have no preconceived notion of what I’m going to do. The process is very experimental and organic, and just comes out of my crazy head.  I add layer after layer, after layer, sometimes ending with as many as 100 layers in one image.  The beauty of Photoshop is “command z,” the undo command. I can delete anything that doesn’t work and then try something new.

You mentioned that you have started to paint on some of the prints. What does this allow you to do?
Painting on top of the photo is just adding another layer, creating an effect you can’t get on the computer. It enlivens the piece and gives it texture.  I’m getting bolder with this process, and I’m collaborating with a young painter; we’re having fun with it.

What do you think digital collage gives you that just photography cannot?
As a photographer and collage artist, new techniques and technology allow me to fulfill my desire to create stories. I can’t help playing with my pictures. When I look at a photo, I think about how I would alter it, and what other photos would be good to combine with it. One photo might have a person’s expression I like, but the body isn’t working for the scene. So, off with their head, and onto another body. (Growing up with three sisters, we played paper dolls endlessly.)

When you photograph to use your work in your digital collages, do you go out with an idea of what you need for a certain collage or do you use a particular one of your photos to inspire a digital collage?
Some of both. I’m always on the lookout for something appealing to use in a collage…a strange sky, a dog, a long fence. I have a friend with a great collection of mid-century modern furniture and I’ve been to his house several times to photograph his vintage stuff–TV, chairs, lamps, fabric.

As a photographer and collage artist, new techniques and technology allow me to fulfill my desire to create stories

At first glance, I thought My Morning Swim series were photographs because they are less surreal than your other series. Did you take the photos for My Morning Swim? Where did the inspiration for these come from?
My Morning Swim was sort of accidental. I was on my way out the door to swim at Barton Springs, and spotted my son’s GoPro camera on his desk, so I took it. I swam laps with it on my head, not really knowing what images I was getting. The stills from the video were too low res to do anything with, but I loved the underwater images of the other swimmers. I started taking single shots with it, and swam with it 6 or 7 times that summer. I then digitally enhanced the frames selected for the series.

Will you describe your collaboration with your son you have coming up?
We’re starting work on an art video that will be part of an upcoming show at Davis Gallery, Austin.  My son, Aaron, is a film maker, and has agreed to help his mum transfer a vision to video. Characters from my collages will come alive (think Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets David Lynch). It will be about a 5 minute loop.

What do you hope your art will look like in a year? Or five?
I like pursuing new techniques and technologies.

I like taking pictures.

I like transforming an image into something new and unique.

I’m pretty sure I’ll just continue down that road and see where it takes me.

0005

Cody Hamilton is an Austin-based advertising and editorial photographer specializing in the creation of images with a visual twist and an off-beat humor. His style reflects his love of the great surrealist painters with a modern and clean aesthetic. He is also the founder of the newly-opened Whitebox Studio.

Are you from Austin originally?
I grew up in Wyoming and went to school at the Art Institute in Colorado. I lived in Missouri for a bit then moved to Austin about four years ago.

What inspired you to open a studio space?
It’s something I have always wanted to do. I’ve had the name for the studio in mind for about six years. The time finally came around, and we got the right people together to do it.

Is the main focus of the space to foster collaboration? Or was it to fill a void in the Austin studio scene?
Both. All the members wanted a space to create more community but also offer it as space to rent. More and more studios are closing which makes it harder to find a space to shoot in. So, that was a big motivational factor for me to get everybody together and to get us a space. I wanted something that was nice enough and that we could all afford. Collaboration and community are a big part of what we do.  Also, we’re hoping to do quarterly industry parties as soon as we get settled in a little more and finish building the studio.

Collaboration and community are a big part of what we do

I saw the “Making of” video on your Brew Methods project.  How did you come up with that concept?
Well, I was talking to my dad actually, about trying to come up with ideas on personal projects and he asked me what I was passionate about and of course, he knew that it’s photography and coffee. So that got me thinking of ways to try to showcase coffee that have not been done before and trying to do something that’s not cheesy or the typical coffee related photo. I played around with building some lettering before so that naturally came together. Then, building the words on the different ways of brewing coffee came after. It took a ton of time but it was fun… six pounds of coffee later.

How long did it take to produce from start to finish?
Since it was a personal project that I did on the side, it took about three months because it was done in the evenings in between jobs. The longest thing was gluing all the beans on. My wife helped a little with that but did not like gluing beans as much as I did. Then, the actual cutting of the letters and space structure actually only took a couple of days.

What is the best part of producing a new body of work, from conception to the finished product?
Actually doing it. Having people see the work is fun and hearing that they enjoy looking at it is great but for me my favorite part is the actual process. I started doing more and more constructed pieces to where it’s almost like creating sculptures and then photographing them. That’s probably one of my most favorite things about it because there is the challenge of figuring out how to do that but also how to do it in a way that photographs well. That’s why I’ve done some of the behind the scenes stop motion stuff because I want people to see that’s it’s not CGI. It’s actually being crafted versus being done on the computer. As good as CGI is there’s still this soul that’s missing from it.

What are your views on extreme postproduction in any of your images, advertising or otherwise?
I have nothing against excessive retouching as long as it’s done tastefully.

What is your thought process in set design as far as using props and developing color schemes? Do you have a background in set building?
As a kid, I grew up building different things. When I was in high school my dad and I built a log house. My grandpa was an electrician so he showed me how to wire the house. It was always a part of my life growing up and I like to apply that in my photography. Color scheme is important but I like to let my wife handle that. She’s the color guru.

Is there a new project that you’re working on now? If so, could you tell us about it?
I’m experimenting a lot right now trying to figure out how my style translates into motion. I’ve been avoiding the transition but there appears to be a need in the direction my clients are taking. Not necessarily full on commercialized videos but clips that can be used for additional billboards and things like that. My next project, I’m playing with the idea of that but nothing too specific yet. There will be something soon though.

I’m experimenting a lot right now trying to figure out How my style translates into motion.

 

How did you know you wanted to be an advertising photographer? Was it your first choice?
No, actually. It’s funny because if people were to look at my portfolio when I was in school, they would have had no clue that it was the same person. Everything in it was a lot of editorial portraits. So now if you look at my website you can’t find editorial portraits even though I still shoot them. Advertising just seemed to happen naturally. I always found myself going back towards my digital roots of Photoshop and retouching. Compositing was always a thing I loved doing in high school and it just seemed to rear it’s head up every now and then with whatever I was shooting at the time. After living here for a couple of years and getting a lot of guidance from Adam Voorhes, it definitely steered me in that direction. The same thing happened with The Butler Brothers. I sat down with Marty Butler one day and and asked him to look through my portfolio and give any advise he could muster. He specifically pointed out a lot of my conceptual work and said not many people in Austin can pull this off so perhaps focus there.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue commercial photography?
I think specializing is a smart thing to do. It seems that people tend to generalize their work, but I think if you want to do advertising then specializing is a must because clients are going to come to you with a specific thing and you want to be the person they go to. I think if it’s too general they won’t come. Another is to shoot a ton and just shoot what you love.

I think specializing is a SMART thing to do

What photographers are you inspired by lately?
Simon Duhmal is one. Duhmal has a collaborative studio in Canada called Made of Stills. Duhmal and some of the other guys at Made of Stills do a lot of projects similar to what I do.

I am also drawn to the work of European photographers. I go to the site Ads of the World often, and I’m most drawn to the photographers from European counties like Poland and the Czech Republic. Brussels has a lot of cool work too. That whole area seems to be willing to take more risks in advertising.

Do you have any favorite photography books?
Archives’ 200 Best Advertising Photographers is my favorite thing on earth to flip through.

There are also great blogs out there like, A Photo Editor and No Plastic Sleeves.

What are your favorite places to hang out in Austin?

El Tacorrido Drive-thru and Salvation Pizza are some of my favorites.

I also like hanging out at the dog park with my daughter and dog.

Editor notes:
Whitebox Studio has one more spot open & they’re looking for someone that can fill it. They also want students that are looking for internship possibilities and maybe have collaboration with surroundings schools with that.

+ Get ready! Whitebox Studio will be having Grand Opening party as soon as they finish the last of the construction process.

 

3and4

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.

mahon_01

Austin-based editorial and commercial photographer Matthew Mahon recently took time out from assignment work and cycling to talk about how Instagram is changing the rules for photographers, dish on Phoot Camp and explain the dangers of riding a bike at 30 miles an hour.

I hear you just got back from Phoot Camp. What was that like?
Phoot Camp is the brainchild of Laura Brunow Miner, who I met when she was the editor of JPEG magazine.  Unfortunately JPEG couldn’t survive – it was a beautiful magazine – but Laura, steadfast and true to the component of great photography, decided she was going to start Phoot Camp. And what she did was she hand-selected 50 photographers throughout the world who had been submitting to JPEG and she invited them to come out to California. Thirty people showed up to the original Phoot Camp. It has since turned into one of the most creative, wonderful photo communities that exist today.

Explain how the selection process works.
The way you get in is you have to do a self-portrait and you have to write a 500-word essay on why you should be there. Nobody is guaranteed – not even the alumni – to get back in. You have to bring it. If you look at the self-portraits from four years ago to last year you can see how the level keeps improving. But the interesting thing is Laura sometimes understands that a certain photographer might work well in the community and pushes them through. It’s her vision. She’s like a John Szarkowski [the legendary Director of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art].

I understand the Phoot Camp participants collaborate with one another. Photographers are typically more competitive than collaborative, so how did that work?
Right, it’s the antithesis of how most photographers work. And that’s what’s so amazing about Phoot Camp. It’s this community that all of a sudden comes together, embraces one another, brings costumes, lights. You need a tripod, you need a camera, you need a model, whatever…

The typical attitude is, “Let’s celebrate photography. We’re here just to take pictures. We don’t care. We’re going to shoot with Holgas, we’re going to shoot digital, we’re going to shoot with Hasselblad, we’re going to shoot 4×5.” It was wild. After that, I was convinced this was the community I wanted to be plugged into.

Visually I’m like a mathematician. I like to have a problem, and take the different pieces and put them together and try to figure it out. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it fits magically.

Why is being part of a photographic community so important?
Because when we stopped shooting film, when we stopped seeing each other in labs all the time, and we all started sitting behind computers, we stopped communicating. We still communicate through email here and there, and now with text messages and on Facebook. But we used to actually see each other; we used to be physically there. If Wyatt McSpadden didn’t live across the street from me I’d never see him. But I used to see him in the lab all the time. When we were all shooting film, we were busy photographers and we’d see each other and we talked. Now we are all sitting in front of computers editing and retouching, removed from each other. The community has disintegrated.

You’re not from Texas originally. What’s your story? What brought you here?
I grew up in New Jersey right outside of Manhattan. I went to college at Rutgers. When I graduated in the early ‘90s, I had a bunch of friends that moved to Seattle. I moved out there 10 minutes prior to the grunge explosion, and lived through that whole scene. I always wanted to be a photographer, because that was my education. But at the same time I had this idea that I wanted to be an artistic photographer. So what I did was I tended bar, and I would invite bar patrons to these shows at underground galleries. We used to have these shows in this artist collective I was involved in where 500 people would show up, a lot of them people I’d given invitations to at the bar.

One of the women I’d given an invitation to ended up being an art director at an ad agency and she asked if I could come in and show her creative director a portfolio. Her name was Jo Dixon. I had no idea what an art director was. I had no idea what a creative director was. And I’d never heard of an ad agency, but I walked in and showed my portfolio. The creative director started gushing over this 15-picture book that I brought in. She was like, “Where did you find this guy?” They were talking about me like I wasn’t there. They thought I was perfect for this ad and offered me $2000 plus expenses. This was something I normally did for free. She asked if that was enough. I thought I was going to throw up on myself. I was a bartender because I wanted to maintain artistic integrity and all of a sudden I was just like, “Fuck it. Sell me out.”

My advice to any young photographer is to figure out for yourself how you want to be creative and run with it. Find what your passion is and just go. Don’t be traditional. Tradition will more than likely stymie you.

So why did you leave Seattle?
The girl I was with at the time was from Austin. She moved to Seattle for me. She hated it. It was grey, wet and rainy. She lamented leaving Austin.  After seven years in Seattle I agreed to go back with her to Texas.

I came here, it was 1999. The economy was crazy. The high-tech bubble was expanding. I got in with a lot of the West Coast magazines. Zana Woods [longtime director of photography at Wired magazine] was the first person to ever hire me at Wired. I started shooting regularly for Wired and then all of a sudden Industry Standard, Red Herring, all those cool West Coast magazines that I thought were so much cooler than the Northeast magazines, because they had a different look, they embraced me. And because so much high-tech was happening in Austin, all these little Austin-based ad agencies were hiring me to shoot their ads, and it just exploded. That was one of my best years.

So did Zana give you your first big break?
Zana was definitely a part, but more so it was a woman here in town named Jennifer Taylor. She worked at this satellite office of Leo Burnett. She hired me to do a bunch of advertising. I was shooting for Wired. These high tech companies were advertising in Wired. It was a perfect marriage. For 12-14 months it was non-stop. I think I made $170,000 that year as a photographer in Austin, Texas, and I was 33 years old.

How did you learn to handle yourself on these big ad shoots, having not really learned that in school?
I had no idea. But at that point in time, the way the dot-com industry was working, there was so much stuff to be shot. Jennifer held my hand through it all. She’d call me three days before a shoot and say I needed to have catering, this, this, this and this. These are the people you need to call. Back then, when she would hire me to do one of these jobs, I wasn’t doing estimates like I do now. It was just like, “You’re it. We’re hiring you. Let’s talk money. This is what we can afford.” At that point I was shooting stuff for Newsweek and Wired for like $400 a day, so $3500 for a day of work – it was the most money I’d ever made in my life.

At first I was a photo assistant and I didn’t have a computer, so I was hand-writing invoices. That’s what we did back then. She said you CANNOT give them a hand-written invoice. So she did my first letterhead for me. Because, here’s the interesting thing at that time: there was so much need, and it was important for people like her to find talent to fit that need. If she could find someone who was unique it was all the better for her; it made her look better, even if she had to hold my hand and wipe my mouth because I had chocolate on it.

Is the key takeaway then to just focus on having a unique style and look and trust that the business side will come along in time? Is that the Matthew Mahon lesson?
No, do what you love. Period. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. Because if you don’t love it, you’re going to end up not liking it. Bottom line is you got to want it but you can’t be guaranteed that people are going to want to buy it. It’s cyclical. There’s no magic button you can push. Take Neil Young for example. He has had an undulating career. And what Neil has always done, is Neil has stayed true to who he wants to be. He has never sold out to anybody. He never did anything he felt like didn’t agree with who he was inside. I live the same way. If there are weeks I don’t want to be creative I don’t do it. If I want to watch movies and sleep all day that’s what I’ll do. But when I am inspired I dial it and I get in it.

So what gets you really inspired? What is your perfect assignment?
That’s hard to say because the majority of my career has been magazine work. I show up and photograph people I’ve never met in places I’ve never been. However, as difficult as that can be at times, it can also be remarkably surprising and rewarding. Because what happens sometimes is you walk into a situation and everything is working. You’re dialed and you figure it out. Sometimes it’s a bad situation and you figure it out but those times are usually not the greatest pictures.

The thing is, when anybody calls me to go take pictures I’m excited.  It sounds ridiculous but if Texas Monthly calls me, if Time calls me, if People calls me, regardless of what it is, I get excited to work. When I show up, each time it’s a different situation.

Visually I’m like a mathematician. I like to have a problem, and take the different pieces and put them together and try to figure it out. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it fits magically. Sometimes you work really hard at it and it fits together in some way you didn’t anticipate. I’m so sad that magazines are going away because I would shoot magazine photography for the next 50 years. I would die doing it.

Do you see any potential in websites taking on some of the commission work magazines have traditionally supplied?
When Martha Bardach was still at Time, she hired me to shoot specifically for the website. ESPN hired me once to shoot specifically for the website. Same pay. It felt different though. There wasn’t the possibility you’re going to see this double truck in the magazine. It’s going to be on the website. It’s not even going to be a quarter page of the website. It sucks. I don’t have an iPad but I have looked at some iPad magazines where they put additional photos in. It’s interesting. It’s different. Do I think that’s where it’s going? I don’t know.

Photography is always going to be relevant because people like to look at things. But are we still going to be getting paid? I don’t know. Look at Instagram. People can create amazing images with an iPhone now. And people get paid to do it. There are social media people at major companies that hire Instagrammers with big followings to do Instagram events. And they’ll pay them $700. They’ll pay better than Time magazine for a day rate to shoot a portrait, or to go photograph something with your iPhone. Think about that. Photography then becomes a vehicle. It becomes a very specific vehicle at that point to just reach the masses.

Instagram has totally changed the game. It’s like the new Facebook. It’s so hot now. That generation of Facebookers that got on at the very end don’t even know what Instagram is right now, that’s how hot it is. That’s how technology works. The older generation has no idea what it is. And it’s just this juggernaut that moves and it’s going very quickly. And it’s happening constantly but at the same time it’s going to spawn into this next thing. Where does this put us as professional photographers who try to hone our craft and light things? I don’t know. I have no idea. I’ll tell you one thing: If I could sync into an iPhone with a strobe, I’d do it. I’d do it in a minute.

What do you like best about being an Austin-based photographer?
I like being in Austin. I like not being in New York. I like that there’s a car parked right outside my front door that I don’t have to jockey for a parking position. I like living in a simple place. I almost brought my career back up to New York at one point and I’m glad I didn’t. I might have done better up there. But Austin’s a great city. Dan Winters is somebody that came here after he was Dan. Someone like Randal Ford became Randal out of Austin but at the same time Randal works harder than I want to work. I don’t want to work that hard, and that’s being honest. I like to work and I like to be creative. I like to be obsessed with photography in a healthy way but I also like balance. I don’t want it to dictate everything that I do.

I know fitness and biking specifically are big interests of yours. Is cycling your number one passion outside of photography?
I’ve always been a cyclist, but it was five years ago that I was riding and a friend of mine suggested I take up racing. I tried it and I really enjoyed it. I dedicated three years to it. The races I was good in are called criteriums – they call them crits. They’re inherently far more dangerous than road racing because you’re going around a circuit, you’re in a pack that’s constantly traveling at speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour, you’re bumping each other. So you have more potential to get taken down.

I crashed three times in my last season, and it was always other people crashing into me and taking me out. After the third one, I went down going 37 miles per hour right after I’d crossed the finish line. Someone actually crashed into me after we finished and took me down. I said, “I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore.” It was the most painful thing. I had road rash from my ankle all the way up to my elbow. You slide across asphalt at 37 miles per hour wearing the equivalent of pajamas for the reward of bragging rights. You tell me if it’s worth the risk. I was a Cat 3 racer when I stopped.

So I started touring, which is the greatest thing because you get to climb mountains, you get to see oceans, you get to see lakes, you get to see farms. You get to see parts of America that people don’t go to. That’s what I do. I choose parts of America that most people don’t drive to. And you find the most remote roads to ride on because you don’t want to ride with cars. And it’s amazing. It’s actually magical. I have a good buddy who goes out and joins me in the summer. It’s a great thing.

© Bruce Davidson

Which photographers have most inspired you?
The original inspiration for photography was Bruce Davidson. My very first photography class I was taking at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. My mom had signed me up for it. She was an administrator there. The teacher saw that I had a rather significant attraction for the medium. The class was like 30 people. It was about the 9th class of a 12-week course. My instructor’s name was Herb Edwards. And it was a three-hour class we went to. We’d get there a 7:00 and leave at 10:00 at night. I loved it and he saw that I loved it. It was 10:00, class was disbanding, and he grabbed me and this girl and said, “Hey, I want to show you two something. Will you stay after class?” So we went to this back room and he put up a slide projector and he showed us Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street. We stayed there until 11:30 looking at this work. I just remember looking at that work and thinking, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is it.”

How old were you?
22, 21 maybe. I even went up to East Harlem and shot with my Pentax 1000 and did not get the same results, because you know Bruce Davidson was shooting with 4×5 or 8×10, whatever he was shooting. It was amazing though.

© Dan Winters

Dan Winters is another inspiration?
Yeah, once I started shooting commercial jobs and lighting things, I got clued into Dan early on. He was still in LA. I’d seen some of the celebrity stuff he’d done. I was always a New York Times Sunday subscriber, so I’d get the magazine. One of the greatest photographs I’ve ever seen was the Helen Mirren photograph on the cover when she won the Oscar that he shot for The New York Times Magazine. It’s beyond photography. I can’t even explain it. You look at it and you think to yourself as a photographer, I want to be that good. That’s what I want to do. I want to create things that look this amazing.

Harry Benson was somebody else who I was really inspired by. You could not have two more polar opposites. Harry literally walked in and shot. Dan walked in and very methodically built, and so I have these two different schools of thought about how I want to go about things. When I work I move fast. I exhaust assistants. I don’t exhaust them in a bad way where I’m mean to them, but I work them. I work a situation, and we move and we’re fast. I don’t build things. I sometimes am slow but once I get off tripod, and I always try to get off tripod, I move. That’s where I feel free.

What advice do you have for young photographers just coming up? You worked as an assistant. Is that a good way to go?
Sure, that’s a good way to go. But honestly in this day and age I have no idea. At Phoot Camp there were five different people that had over a million followers collectively that get paid to go Instagram with their iPhones. If I could show up to a job with my iPhone I would do that. If camera phones are going to become that good, that you can do it that way, why not? My advice to any young photographer is to figure out for yourself how you want to be creative and run with it. Find what your passion is and just go. Don’t be traditional. Tradition will more than likely stymie you. There was definitely a way to do it for a long time, but the game has totally changed in the last 10 years. It changes momentarily. We live in a world of social media now and it is constantly changing.

I have this friend who just started Instagramming three weeks ago. She’s already has 110 followers and she’s a commercial real estate sales person. She loves it, and she’s now getting her commercial real estate people to pay her. She actually shot a job today, one of her commercial real estate friends had seen some of her stuff on Instagram and he offered to pay her $600 to photograph one of his commercial properties. She’s doing it with her Blackberry and putting it on an iPad and her Blackberry is from 2004. It’s a totally different game now. My advice is, figure it out. It’s a weird time.

Are magazines saying you can’t put pictures from the shoot on social media before the story is published or does that go without saying?
For me, the era I came up in, I’d never do that. There’s been a few occasions when I’ve done that but it’s so removed there’s no way you can figure it out. I was shooting a job in Panama for Smart Money. On my Facebook I posted I was in Panama but I never mentioned what I was doing. People want to see that you’re shooting in Panama. But I would never mention I was there for a specific client.

But here’s an interesting thing. I recently did a shoot for Circuit of the Americas, the new Formula One racing track that’s opening here. They called me to do their first print advertising campaign that came out in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. As we were shooting it, they had these guys that brought the car there. They were all Instagramming and they were Facebooking. I was as well and the art director was in support of me doing so. It was weird because this is not how it normally goes but it was smart. I got so much attention from that and so did they. Every one of those pictures – I took three that day – every one of them had 80 likes. For 80 likes you got to think other people are looking at it. Huh. That’s a different way to approach it. Just throw it all out there the moment it’s happening.

People in this day and age want to see things now. And it’s that fleeting too. When you Instagram something and it gets 100 likes in a day another few likes might trickle in over the next week and then it’s dead.

It’s just buried in the avalanche.
What does that mean for imagery? I don’t know.  There was an interesting article written by a guy named Nate Bolt: Why Is Istagram so Popular: Quality, Audience and Constraints. It was very intentional the way they built the application and why they did it that way. You can’t shoot five pictures with Instagram and then go on your phone and edit. You have to commit to it at that moment. If you commit to it you have to upload it and if you don’t like it you have to delete it. They did that intentionally. They wanted it to be that way. They wanted you to not be able to create portfolios. That’s why it’s Instagram and not Latergram.

**********

Follow Matthew on instagram: @mahon_

**********

Jay DeFoore (@jdefoore) has served as an editor at Photo District News (PDN), Editor & Publisher, American PHOTO and Popular Photography & Imaging.

Gordon_ILTP-14

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.

Alyssa Banta ©

Alyssa Banta is a Ft.Worth based photographer who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2001. She combines anthropology with photography to create her work of people and for people. ILTP had the pleasure of talking to her about photography and more deliciously, tacos.

How did you get your start in photography?
I went to graduate school at UT, and I was an assistant for a National Geographic photographer and his writer wife, and I really loved the idea of that kind of life, and so I sort of begged my way into an internship even though I didn’t really know how to use a camera or flash or anything. When I came back to Ft. Worth, I begged my way into working for Ft. Worth Weekly and The Dallas Morning News and the Star-Telegram. After I did that, I went to New York and met some editors and then started getting some work done here in Texas.

 I think part of the trick is to just ignore all the people that say that you can’t do it, and focus on the one little voice that says that you can do it

On your professional journey, what are some struggles you’ve had to overcome?
There have been more struggles than you could imagine, really. I think when you determine that you’re going to live a life in the arts, or when you just determine that you’re going to do it on your own terms, there are so many struggles you can’t imagine and I think part of the trick is to just ignore all the people that say that you can’t do it, and focus on the one little voice that says that you can do it.

So, struggles…people telling me I was crazy, people telling me that everyone wanted to be a photographer and why did I think I wanted to be and, “how could I be a photographer?” At some point, I moved to New York City thinking that I would switch work, and I go there and there’s like ten million photographers and I don’t get any work at all, and just a lot of people saying that I couldn’t do it and just me saying that I could do it. A lot of people try to talk you out of stuff, a lot of people want you to be average or normal, they’re like, “What are you talking about? What’s your job? You’re not going to have a job?” and so, it’s hard, people talk you out of it, and when you’re younger, your ideas are forming, it might be easier to listen to those voices, but you just got to ignore that. If you want to do something, you just have to go for it.

What was your best career decision? 
You know, I don’t have a single career decision. And that’s kind of a cop-out a little bit, but I think it’s just more of a career philosophy and that career philosophy has been to just take every chance I could. So if someone wants me to take a picture of their dog, which I had to do in Philadelphia, I would really treat that as a National Geographic assignment. If you do that, every door opens. That’s such a cliché, but all of the sudden, you meet people, more opportunities happen. All of the sudden, you find that you really love taking pictures of dogs, so that’s been the way that I sort of run my career, and my life in general. 

Who have been some of your influences and mentors?
I’ve got a really great friend from The Dallas Morning News who met me back in 1999, and he no longer works for them, but he’s still my very good friend, and he used to be a photo editor and when I begged him to have a job, he said, “Hell no! You’re going to have such a better job than working at the Dallas Morning News. You’re going to go places and do and be things, the Dallas Morning News is too small for you, you’re going to be bigger than that.” And that really helped me, because every time I feel I’m too far out on a ledge, he just pushes me further out on the ledge and says, “Go for it more!”

As far as photographers go, Eugene Richards, Mary Ellen Mark. And then an old school photographer – I like the classic guys – there’s a black photographer who worked out of Harlem named Ray Decarva and he shot black people in black doorways at night and it’s like black on black on black, and it is so exquisite the way he uses dark to paint.

 the whole notion that they don’t belong either there nor here, it’s like I said, they’re in this “third place”

What projects are you currently working on?
Currently and continuing, I like to work on a project that I’ve been working on for years and years, which is the Hispanic world here in Ft. Worth. So those are two different things, the Mexicans and the Hispanics that live in Ft. Worth, what interests me is that crashing of the cultures. They’re from wherever they are and they’ve got their culture, then they come here and they mix with ours and they make this third “other thing” that’s neither there nor here and it’s kind of exquisite and it’s kind of like painful to see in what they do, they’re yearning to be back home and if you see what they do, the whole notion that they don’t belong either there nor here, it’s like I said, they’re in this “third place”. That’s fascinating to me.

The other part, with the workers and the men working here, what’s interesting about that is they give up everything, come here, some of them work really hard and go back, a lot of them stay here, it’s, again, that mixing of culture and trying to live with your culture and trying to be in a new culture, that’s what’s interesting to me.

And then, people pay me money to do family histories and oral family histories of them and I make these books. I spend a week with their grandmother or whatever it is and I do a documentary on them and then I do a written oral history and I put it in a beautiful leather book with pictures and words. You know, the family can look up when grandma got married, but when I talk to her, she’ll say, “You know what? We didn’t have enough money, so I had to use my neighbors dress and we cut it and my sister did my hair and we couldn’t afford to go on a honeymoon until two years later”. Those are the details I like to pull out of people, because that’s the anthropologist in me.

Alyssa Banta ©

What would you say is the greatest message provided by your work?
I think the greatest message is that no matter who we are, geographically or socioeconomically, the greatest message is that we are all people just trying to live our lives. We’re just living, you know, everybody – even in war zones and poverty zones, everyone is just trying to get through the 80 years that they’ve been given on this earth, as best they can. That’s my message, maybe. You might look at my pictures and say, “bullshit,” but that’s what I think my message is. But we’re just all trying as hard as we can, and the big noisy things, war, treaties, borders, people don’t think about that minute-by-minute, they’re just trying to get through it, live, you know? Who cares about immigration? Yeah, that’s always an issue; they’re just trying to get through it.

How does it feel to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize?
Great! And since that nomination, I’ve gone on to win other prizes, and actually win them and not just be nominated for them, but it feels great. It’s awful to want to chase prizes, because I would like to think that I’m above prizes and that I do my work for me and for the world, or whatever, but it’s pretty groovy, it’s pretty awesome to be recognized in a field that’s fantastic, you know, and it’s what I love to do, so it’s very nice to be recognized.

 don’t give up and don’t be highfalutin’, like don’t be freakin’ cocky

Any advice to photographers starting out?
Don’t give up. If you love it, don’t listen to anyone telling you not to do it – do it! And don’t freaking look around, don’t look around to other people and compare yourself to them. Everyone’s got a different set of events that they’ve got to live through and everyone’s got to learn different stuff, everyone’s moving at a different pace. So if you’re a photographer starting out, don’t give up and don’t be highfalutin’, like don’t be freakin’ cocky. Don’t say, “no” to an assignment saying, “oh, I don’t do weddings.” Freakin’ do the damn wedding, because you’ll get better, you’ll learn, you’ll practice what you’re supposed to be doing. Because if you’re a photographer, you’re in it because you love it, and you’re not chasing the money, you’re chasing your heart, you’re chasing what you love, so do it and don’t give up. There, that’s my advice.

What do you enjoy about being a photographer in Texas?
I enjoy, having lived everywhere in the world, and I really have lived everywhere in the world. I enjoy taking pictures of my place. And I also enjoy the fact that I’ve learned how to take them that anthropological way, you know, seeing cultures. Before I went off and became a war photographer, I didn’t really know how to do that, now I come back with all those skills and so I see my city in a different way now. I see Texas a bit differently.

So are there any good barbecue spots in Ft. Worth? Or do you enjoy the taco spots more?
I’m so about the taco trucks right now. I’m so about eating…like I’m all about the tacos. Like, I’m over the barbeque and I’m all about the damn tacos. And we’re talking dollar tacos made by people that serve lengua and buche (stomach and tongue), and I’m all about that right now. There are so many little tiny places like two blocks away from my house, so there’s about a four-block stretch where I eat down the street from me and at three-in-the-morning, those places are hoppin’. It’s the best – they’re great.

What is the most interesting item in your camera bag?
Gosh…I have so many things in my camera bag. I’ve got a peso paper bill from Havana, which I don’t even think that they manufacture; they’re changing all that right now. Um, I’ve got a sparkplug gauge, because I find that it’s very handy for some reason. I’ve got this weird dehydrated seed from a tree somewhere in Central Asia, I don’t even know where I was, and it’s odd because it’s been a few years now, and the tree is beautiful but it was all dehydrated, so I took a seed from there. So, not very interesting, but that’s what I have in my camera bag.

What is next for your career?
You know, that’s a really interesting question, and I just don’t know. I’d like to do a book, I’d like to keep doing my Texas Hispanic documenting that I’ve been talking to you about, I’d like to keep moving. What I’ve learned is that you don’t always know what direction you’re gonna go, you’ve just got to stay as loose as you can and just see. As it is now, I continue to get work, and get my work for the family history books, so my next step is maybe to continue with the Hispanic thing that you and I talked about and try to get that published or publish it somehow. So that’s what I’ll do. 

4_stumptron

Adam Voorhes is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Austin. A few of his many clients include Texas Monthly, ESPN, and Esquire.

As the owner of four dogs, I love your animal portraits. Do people ever hire you to take pictures of their pets?
Although 99% of the photos I take with my phone are of my bulldogs… No. Never.

I did photograph an art director’s Weimaraners in Christmas outfits once. I made him swear to never tell anyone that I took the photos.

I will say, my little buddy bulldog, Catfish, has been in more magazines than most models could ever hope to be in. He’s one handsome little dude.

Were you always interested in photography?
I was interested in illustration until I was about 15 (I still love to draw). A  highschool photo class changed everything. The romance of the darkroom, the science meeting art, the small group of historical figures to look up to–it was just too easy to identify with. As soon as I saw an image I’d captured appear under that red light, I was hooked.

As soon as I saw an image I’d captured appear under that red light, I was hooked

How did you get started?
Student loans and worked my ass off. Same as most people I’d guess?

What made you decide to go to Brooks to study photography? 
I was going to college studying computer science and history. Although that was supposed to be my focus, I managed to take every photo class the school offered in 18 months. I never really understood that I could make a career of this. It was like not knowing the moon exists. I’d never noticed it and no one ever pointed out the blatantly obvious.

One day I went with some fellow photo nerds to Carmel. Carmel is a coastal California village that Clint Eastwood was mayor for some time with phenomenal art galleries. We went to all of the galleries. All of the famous f64 stuff was showing (like Weston, Adams, Bernhard, Sexton, and so on) and the new ones like Michael Kenna. At the show there was a ‘landscape’ of parking meters in fog that struck me because it was a landscape approached like a still life. The composition of the piece was so intentional. At that time I still didn’t know that I was inherently a still life photographer. I asked the gallery curator about the work. She knew I was just some kid and couldn’t buy anything, but she took print after print out of the files, took them out of their sleeves, and let me handle them, ogling over their craftsmanship.

The photographer was Rolfe Horn. He’d gone to Brooks. That day I decided I would too. Lots of student loan forms later I was there. And in my third year I met Rolfe. He was guest lecturing my class, and that night I found myself on a beach with him drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, smoking backwoods cigars and taking 45 minute exposures with my 4×5.

A few weeks later there was a raffle in my class for a print Rolf had made from that night. I remember the look on my instructor’s face when he pulled my name. He swore to me that he did pull my name and showed me the scrap of paper. It was fate.

Hell, I don’t even believe in fate, but how can you deny that?

I love that photo.

Do you think photo school is a necessary foundation for photographers?
No. But things are a lot different now. Things are different every year. What does seem to be constant is that photography is an entrepreneurial venture. And if you can be prepared for that, you will be better off.

What are your go-to cameras or your favorite cameras you have experimented with in the past? 
A view camera is my most comfortable and truest tool (currently using an Arca Swiss 6x9cm with a Phase One P65+). Although it is very time consuming, so I also use a Hasselblad V system when I need to work faster. It is still all manual, but much quicker than a view camera.

I guess I like the old school stuff.

Do you have a mentor in the field?
No. Not like that. I have my wife. She is my collaborator, my inspiration, my director, and in a lot of ways she is pretty much my handler. I would flounder a lot more without her to point me in the right direction.

What has been your best career decision?
When I was starting I built the basic still life portfolio similar to what most of my competition has. Cosmetics, a shiny phone, a few gadgets and fashion accessories. Everyone has a similar portfolio and it gets old pretty quick. After a while I got bored with the assignments I was getting. People hired me to do the dry stuff that was in my portfolio. I started thinking about my work in a new way. I wanted to inspire ideas in art directors and designers. I wanted to make still life that told stories and conveyed concepts. That is now the ultimate goal with my personal work. I’m trying very hard to develop a strong portfolio that shows still life in an atypical way, while staying true to tradition. Since changing my perspective about my work and portfolio, my assignments have gotten much more interesting.

I wanted to make still life that told stories and conveyed concepts

What is your favorite thing about photographing in Texas?
Living in Austin. I have a remarkable quality of life here. When I was living and working in New York I missed things like trees and smiles on people’s faces. The trade off is that very little of my work comes from Texas, so I have to work that much harder to bring work to Austin from cities like New York.

Why would a magazine hire me a thousand miles away where there is someone just as good (or much better) down the street? I have no idea! I’ve managed to trick a few of them into thinking I’m not too bad. I hope I can keep it up because I like it here.

Do you think that living in New York was important to your success and making initial connections?
I learned a lot in New York and gained insight into the industry. Most of my clients are in New York, so having lived there is handy. I would recommend living in New York to anyone. But did I make contacts while living there? No. I had to become known before anyone would want to be my contact. It’s a bit of a puzzle really.

Do you have a dream assignment?
No. I just want to do good work with fun people.

How do you stay motivated?
Staying motivated isn’t an issue. I have a long list of ideas that I’d like to bring to fruition. The hard part is making time. My clients always come first, and my personal work is an after thought.

I have a long list of ideas that I’d like to bring to fruition

What was your first big break?
I had some editorial projects with Shape & a few other magazines right out of school. I also landed Stephen Dweck as a jewelry client after I moved to Brooklyn. However, the one job that really stands out to me is the first GSD&M ad I shot for BMW when I was struggling to get going here in Austin. I’d really been making my living as a camera assistant before moving here, so I was starting at square one. I was struggling to get by, selling old camera gear to pay rent.

I didn’t have strobes, so I used clip lights from the hardware store and foam core to build my light setup. But light is light, as long as you point it in the right direction you can make one hell of an image. And my little career started to grow after completing that job.

How did you establish your personal vision? Was there one project that gave you that “ah ha” moment, where you knew this is where you wanted to take your work?
I don’t think it works like that. You can have an ‘ah ha’ moment where you discover something you want to rip off / emulate, but I think you are who you are. You can express unique ideas from your own perspective, or you copy others.

Do you have any favorite photo books?
Oh yeah. Venenum, Guido Mocafico is the pride of my bookshelf. Gift of the Common Place, Ruth Bernhard was one of my earliest inspirations. Still Life, Irving Penn. A Notebook at Random, Irving Penn. Pretty much any Irving Penn book really. I’m also pretty fond of Blunt, Nigel Parry. And any Yousuf Karsh. I’m very inspired by classic portraiture. And if I can stray from pure photography, I find a lot of joy in the works of Dave Mckean & Mark Ryden.

What was the most helpful part of your ‘education’ that wasn’t photo related?
Marketing. Photography – Marketing = Fail.

Who are you inspired by?
My wife. But if you mean old or dead people? Irving Penn represents everything I aspire to achieve and never will.

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
It is complicated. Each achievement is a stepping stone to the next level of possibilities. There isn’t really a final goal to reach. So true success is never reached. We just keep working.

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?
Ha, you’ll have to wait and see.

Favorite bbq?

Franklin’s, isn’t that everyone’s?

Favorite breakfast taco?

Mine. I make them at home with eggs from my backyard chickens.

Favorite libation?

Mine I make at home! I’m a hobby mixologist. I’ll say my favorite starts are gin or bourbon.

Do you collect anything?

I don’t like ‘stuff.’ So my go to answer is no. But I do have a small box filled with vintage Polaroids & one off prints I’ve been collecting for a few years. I like images that tell intimate stories about people’s lives. They document history in a very personal way. It is true Americana at its brightest and darkest.

Any hobbies outside of photography?

I’m a serious gardener. It’s something that requires a level of dedication and can take my mind off of work for a while.