Editorial

Andre Delacroix, Chef/Owner of the Brazos Belle Restaurant - Bur

Eric W. Pohl is an editorial and commercial photographer and native-Texan with a penchant for travel, food-culture and outdoor subjects.

Originally from Houston, Eric now makes his home in the Texas Hill Country, west of Austin. When not behind the lens or scouting a location, he can be found hiking, grilling and enjoying life with his wife, their son and three dogs. He’s also an outdoor enthusiast, a lover of barbecue and a Texas history junkie.

Eric is a travel writer and author of Houston, Texas: A Photographic Portrait (Twin Lights Publishers, 2014) and Texas Hill Country: A Scenic Journey (Schiffer Publishing, 2017).

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Aaron Bates is an Austin-based photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and produces adventure, travel and lifestyle images.

He’s an advocate for conservation and a supporter of our national parks, state parks and all wild places in between. He strives to connect people to the great outdoors and encourages the preservation of what is all of ours through his work. Although much of his work is produced in the wild, he enjoys working with subjects that are more tame. Aaron has worked with Texas Monthly, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Tourism, University of Texas and more. His work has also been featured in the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art.

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

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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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Following an undergraduate degree in Fine Art at the University of Derby, England, a process of elimination led Spike Johnson to Texas. Mentored by Throne Anderson at the University of North Texas, he embarked on an MA in photojournalism, graduating in 2011. Spike photographs in the documentary style, exploring themes around religious friction and self sufficiency in it’s broadest terms, focusing on rural areas of Myanmar, the United States, and England. In 2012 he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Thailand. His work exhibits internationally, and publishes with outlets including Vice Magazine, Foreign Policy, BBC World, The Telegraph, Human Rights Watch, and The Global Post.

Recent awards include:
Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding in Depth Reporting, Society of Environmental Journalists, 2012.
College Photographer of the Year, International Picture Story, 1st place, 2011.
Society of Professional Journalism, Feature Story, 1st place, 2011.
Society of Professional Journalism, Magazine Photography, 3rd place, 2011.
The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Investigative Report, 1st place, 2011.
NPPA Monthly News Clip, Multiple Picture Story, Region 2, 2nd place, April 2012/ October 2011.

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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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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are your mentors?

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

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

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

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Are you shooting more studio work now?

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

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

I will have to quote Ira Glass on this one: 

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

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

Kristen is represented by Wonderful Machine.

 

 

 

 

 

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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