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Spencer, based in Austin, Texas, draws on his background as a photojournalist for editorial, non-profit and commercial storytelling. His experience ranges from architecture and food to healthcare and travel through stills, audio and video.

He began cultivating his visual skill set while earning a bachelors in biology. After a brief stint with a portrait studio, Spencer completed his masters degree in photojournalism. He has traveled extensively for work all over Texas and the world for editorial and commercial clients. When he’s not working, he can often be found lurking museums, hunting down craft beers, or hiking as far into a wilderness as his legs will take him. Spencer looks forward to working with you to bring his creative energy and experience together with yours.

Tarick Foteh is a Houston-based commercial photographer and retoucher.

“When I was seven years old, my dad bought my mom a Canon AE-1 35mm camera for her birthday. Luckily for me, the multiple dials, f/stops and shutter speeds were enough to convince her to stick to her Polaroid and the Canon was relegated to a storage closet in our house until I stumbled across it one day and claimed it as my own. I remember riding my bike to Walgreens to buy my first few rolls of film only to realize that I had no Idea what the dials, f/stops and shutter speeds were for either. Since the best way that I learn is through experience, the Canon and I were a great match.

That camera stayed with me through the 9th grade when I was accepted into a magnet school for advanced visual art students. It was then, for only six weeks out of the entire semester that I would enroll in my first and only photography class. Being in a darkroom, processing my own film and printing my own photos meant I was way cooler than the other kids. I Continued to experiment throughout high school and into college where I studied graphic design and advertising at Texas Tech University. Eventually I graduated and became an Art Director for JWT. Although I had a secure job working for one of the top advertising shops, I was always searching for something better, hopping to other ad agencies in Houston, Chicago, and St. Louis.

One day a client that I was working for decided that they no longer wanted to use stock photography in their advertising. I was very excited because at this point I had moved on from experimenting with photography and this was a chance to rekindle my old passion. They had a massive budget and we hired a photographer who knew how to consume that budget very well. I showed him examples of the ways that I wanted the images lit and shot, and he showed up to the first location with a tons of lighting equipment, medium format cameras with digital backs, and all of the out-of-reach toys that a tech junkie such as myself lives for.

All of the excitement surrounding that shoot couldn’t prepare me for the disappointment that I felt once the photographer sent me the images. They were poorly lit, flat looking and left a lot to be desired. That disappointment then transformed itself into a confidence that I’ve never really felt before. For some reason, with a knowledge of photography limited to my experiences with my mom’s old film camera, I felt that I could do better.

Soon, I got the crazy idea to move back to Houston, and back into my old childhood bedroom. I spent all of the money that I had saved on digital cameras, lenses and strobe lighting that I had no idea how to use. That was totally ok because as I said before, I learn by doing. It took a couple of years for me to say “I’m a photographer” whenever someone would ask me what I do. Slowly, people began to hire me and within 3 years, I was shooting still and motion images for a great group of clients. 13 years later, I still reside in Houston, (no longer in my childhood bedroom) and my work frequently takes me nationwide to shoot portraits, products, interiors, and much more. Photography is the one thing that I have never really tried at. I just do it. So, here I am. I still have the Canon AE-1 camera that pushed my life in this direction. Unfortunately, Walgreens no longer sells film.”

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).

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JoAnn Santangelo is an Austin based photographer whose work documents hidden and marginalized communities. Her bodies of work include Proud to Serve, documenting LGBT veterans, Austin Faces AIDS, images of HIV positive Austin residents, and Austin Seen, showing daily life in Austin communities.  JoAnn works from Falcon 5, her container art space which she encourages people to take advantage of and build a community with. Falcon 5’s first pin-up print swap will be Tuesday, September 17th at 7pm. It is a casual BYOB meetup where people can bring prints for feedback or just to meet other like minded folks. Prints will be swapped at the end of the meeting!

How did you get your start in photography?
I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Boston, and I was one of those kids that was always running around the neighborhood. Perhaps photography was an escape because I was really shy. I hid behind the camera, like a lot of photographers do.

I never thought photo could be a career, so I went to business school but hated it and dropped out. Eventually, I found a camera repair shop that was hiring. I got the job and was working on repairs but in the same building was a photo studio. I would go watch these big photo shoots and think, “this is really cool.” Inspired by these big fashion shoots, I started to assist. I assisted for four years and worked my way up but wasn’t happy. Fashion shoots were fun but not that kind of photography I wanted to be doing, but at the time I didn’t know photojournalism existed.

PERHAPS PHOTOGRAPHY WAS AN ESCAPE BECAUSE I WAS REALLY SHY. I HID BEHIND THE CAMERA, LIKE A LOT OF PHOTOGRAPHERS DO.

Then, I met a woman in my neighborhood who called herself a documentary photographer and had all these photo books by people like Eugene Richards and Diane Arbus. I was like, “That’s It!’ That’s what I love.”

Around that time, I came to visit Austin and fell in love with the city and decided to move from Boston. Once in Austin, I just started riding my bike and taking portraits in the street. I did that for about a year and people started saying they were really good. I just thought “yup, this is what I want to do.”

 

You mentioned discovering Eugene Richards’ photo book, and I know you ended up working with him. How did that come about?
Yup, I did, while I was attending ICP (the International Center of Photography). Working for Eugene was a dream came true. Once that friend showed me Eugene’s book I just became a huge fan. When I was shooting in Austin, I would email Eugene. He didn’t know me, but I emailed him to say that I really admired his work. In the emails, I asked if he’d ever take a look at my work and let me know what he thought. He never responded.

When I moved to New York and went to ICP I saw that Eugene was on the board of directors, so I emailed him again but got no response. However, my shooting class at ICP was with Brian Young who happened to be good friends with Eugene. Young actually printed for Eugene for around 25 years. Eventually, I went up to Young and talked about how much I loved Eugene’s work. So we talk, and Young asked if I’d like to meet Eugene. Literally that next morning… guess who’s standing there! Brian didn’t introduce him to anyone but me. He made Eugene come to ICP to pick up a print.

Eugene had a show the weekend after I met him, so I go and it was packed. I was standing next to him at the coat check and he said, “yeah, you emailed me,” and I said “yeah…” He asked what he could do for me. I asked if he would need an intern, but he said he stopped taking interns a while ago. He ended up saying I should email him and his wife (who works very closely with him) and try to meet up for lunch. So I did, and sure enough we both lived in Brooklyn. We all ended up talking for almost two hours at this dinner, and they explained how they had bad experiences with interns. He eventually said he didn’t have that much work for me, but if I wanted to give it a try he would be willing to take me as an intern. Never did I think when I was writing those emails in Austin that they would have led to that!

 I love NY and Boston but my heart was in Austin

So if you were working with one of your idols and mentors, what brought you back to Austin?
Well, the internship ended after school, and I continued for a month but eventually went on my own. I stayed in NY for a year and a half, but my wife and I left Austin with the intention of coming back. I love NY and Boston but my heart was in Austin. I love the creativity in Austin, and that I can have Falcon 5 (JoAnn’s container gallery space). I consider myself a documentary photojournalist, and you can do that anywhere.

What was the first project you started after collage?
I started with Proud to Serve, documenting gay veterans. I started it in school but continued the project after graduating. It lasted about 2 years.

Was this the project you received funding for through Kickstarter?
I did. It ended up funding a road trip. What happened was I started the project in college, and when I graduated I had documented about 13 veterans. It was hard at first to get the project started; I didn’t know how to find the subjects. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in the news but not as commonly known as it became. The news took it on about 4 months after I started which made it easier to find people at the rallies. At first I went to DC for a Lift the Ban rally where I met the first four people.

That helped get me connected with people to photograph, but I was in school and had no money to travel. My initial subjects would say, “you have to meet my friend to photograph… but they live in California.” Sometimes they would be closer, like Maryland, so I would borrow cars and drive up and down the East coast.

Then my images from the series got published in The Advocate. I was mentally done with the project by that point, but the article made me feel like I really had to continue this. About a year into the project, I had finished photographing about 25 people.

After some time, I was contacted by the LGB center in NY about my Walking the Block series that they wanted to exhibit during gay pride. They wanted 30 portraits for the exhibit but at that point I had about 16 or 17. It was getting closer to the exhibit and I had all these people who I had contact information of but they were all over the country.

I finally decided to buckle down and go on a road trip to meet these people I’d been in contact with for over a year at that point. Kickstarter had just come out, and I said screw it, I’ll try Kickstarter and got an amazing response.

People in the military were super supportive. This one woman was active military and tweeting it like crazy. The project was funded, and I left for a 30 day road trip. I drove 10,000 miles and photographed 46 veterans. I came back with 65 images and they gave me more space.

The timing was great. The exhibit went up on Veteran’s Day. I edited and printed the images and, a month and a half later, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. It ended up getting picked up by Redux and published all over the world. I also self-published a book because when I was on the road in Alabama, people couldn’t see the exhibit beyond the internet. I knew the basics of InDesign and someone hooked me up with a publisher in Hoboken. I literally designed this thing and the day before the exhibit I picked up 100 books. I sold there but also gave some to the veterans. What was so cool is, they had a panel with all these bigwig Don’t Ask Don’t Tell people. They said Obama needs to see this and so I went up to a woman on the panel and introduced myself. I said I wanted to send a book to Obama. I wanted to make sure he actually got it. So she asked to send two copies to her and she sent me a check and made sure it got into his hands. A few months passed and I emailed her. She said she sorry that  she hadn’t told yet but she personally handed it to Obama and he was very moved by it. And then a month later I got a thank you note from him.

I am sure that’s hung up somewhere!
It’s tacked up on the wall! But yeah, it was a positive experience.

What I do is for social change.

I didn’t realize you self published. I love how you have a trailer space, you self-publish, you use Kickstarter. You are using DIY methods to make it happen.
My whole thing is to make it accessible. What I do is for social change. It is to show people things they see every day, whether they choose not to see it or haven’t been exposed to it. The way to do that is not conventional work. It would have been harder to get this type of thing published. Yes, I could have done it that way, but not in the time frame it had to be done. You’re not going to make any money this way, but that’s not why I do this job! I do this for accessibility and social change.

The reason why I got this trailer was I moved back to Austin after the Proud to Serve project and was a little burnt out. I was also trying to figure out what I was going to do next. So, I contact Aids Services in Austin because I had done volunteer work before and I like the organization. I emailed them and asked if they would be interested in a multimedia project about people in Austin who are HIV positive. They said yes and that it was what they have wanted to do but didn’t know how to do it.

It happened that fast. I spent a year working on that project. We wanted to exhibit it but I thought it would be hard to find a space. Also, they wanted it to open on December 1 for World Aids Day. I thought, “well, why don’t I try to put on a show in an abandoned store front. They used to pop up all over Manhattan.” I spend 2 months contacting spaces that were for rent that didn’t seem to be moving fast. Meanwhile, people were offering spaces for me to use but they were so out of the way. I really wanted it to be central. I needed to be where people could stumble upon it.

Then, I was walking on Town Lake, and I saw the Falcon container. I figured, why not put the show in a container. I contacted them and talked to them about my plans. I asked about donations for sponsorship and they were up for it. I just needed a place to put it.  Then, this other woman had a space over near where progress coffee is. Another subject knew her and put us in contact. I was hesitant because I found this container and I really liked that idea. During the meeting she was saying I could put the work here but I couldn’t play video during certain times. But that was the whole point of the project, for people to hear the voice. I mentioned the container and said I just need a place to put it and she took me out to where an unsuccessful food trailer lot was out front. It had electrical boxes already and she explained she owned this lot and offered me to put Falcon 5 there. I was like, “No Way!” It was exactly what I wanted. She said I could stay there as long as I wanted.

A lot of people came. People would stumble across with no idea what it was and it really opened their eyes. A lot of responses were that they never thought about it but they realized they probably knew someone with HIV.

Do you think the audience views the work differently depending on the space?
The container brings different groups of people. A traditional gallery can be a bit of a highbrow scene. I had a lot of older people come in to the container and viewed the work as more rugged.  One lady said, “you go to a lot of seedy places.” I’ve never had anyone tell me that before. Definitely not when it was at the gallery. Maybe the container takes the posh off it.

How do you like working in multimedia and how does it differ from your still work?
Doing just still imagery, it is quieter, in every sense of the word. You get to view it at your own pace. I like the pure imagery of it. I don’t think adding sound should be a necessary thing. I think the work should stand well on its own. Sound can accent it. I think it is a way to enhance, bring things to life…. my main thing is bring in their voices.

Now I do video because, ASA wanted it. So I figured it out. For the last year, I worked for the Sustainable Food Center. I started adding B roll, interviews with the farmers, but also visit them on the farm to just document what they do. That’s a whole new arena. It enhances and adds a new level both as project and work wise. I don’t want to be a film maker but this really is a short documentary. But still, what I learned is I will need an assistant and postproduction. You’re adding more and giving more but as an artist it adds a lot. I do prefer still work for my personal projects. I still shoot film… someone said, “woah, you still shoot film” and response was, “I shoot film for my heart and digital for money.”

What film camera do you shoot with?
The Nikon F11. It’s the first professional camera I’ve ever had. I bought it in 1999 when I worked at the camera store. I was leaving that job soon and I just had to buy it. The night I bought it, I just put it with my pillow and I said to my, then partner, “where are you sleeping tonight?” It was my baby, it is still my baby. I still have the same 28mm lens I used when I rode my bike every day when I first moved here.

Anything you really wanted to speak about that I didn’t cover?
What I would want people to know is I have a vision with this gallery space. That’s why the next show is going to be a group show. I am meeting with another photographer to make this more of a community space. After I graduated, we would have meetings because we missed the critiques from school. It’s such a loner career. You spend a lot of time by yourself and its hard to get your work out there, especially in the physical sense. That’s the other thing, everyone keeps their work on there computer. We want to print them out and, maybe monthly, tack them up on the wall and get some feedback and bring on some conversations. Bring a bottle of wine and then trade prints. If someone has an idea for a show to curate, come and talk to me. The only thing is, if it’s your show, you’re in charge of it. It’s your space. If you sell something, it’s yours. I’m not going to take a percentage.

So how should people who are interested contact you?
We have a website for Falcon 5 that will launch by September which is when our first group show will go up. After that it is just going to be open. The meetings should happen before then though!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© O Rufus Lovett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© O. Rufus Lovett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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