Lifestyle

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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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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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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.

Matt Hawthorne ©

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Hawthorne ©

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

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

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

Matt Hawthorne ©

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

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

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

Matt Hawthorne ©

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

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

Matt Hawthorne ©

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 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.”

 

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Originally from California, Matt Rainwaters moved to Austin 6 years ago to start his career in photography.  From landscapes to reportage, Matt strives to create honest work and talks with ILTP about his recent  experiences photographing in Haiti and Guatemala.

Tell us a little about your background.  How did you get started?  
I’m from the San Fernando Valley, just North of LA.  Photography for me started around age 14 when I bought a video camera– I used to make skate videos with my friends.  Now everyone has a video camera on their phone, but back then it was rare for someone to have their own camera, so I just fell into the role of photographer for my friends. When I wasn’t filming skate boarding, I was filming punk rock. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I bought my first still camera.

When I wasn’t filming skate boarding, I was filming punk rock

Then when I was 21 I left a job working in this crazy special effects shop – a pretty unique job making monsters for horror movies and art films- to go to Brooks.  I focused on black and white printing and landscapes, and I did everything I could to avoid photographing people. My degree is actually in industrial and scientific photography. When I graduated, I was showing black and white landscapes in galleries all over California, but you don’t make much money doing that, so I took a job teaching high school photography.

My buddy Adam Voorhes told me there was lots of opportunity in Austin, so I moved and it’s just kind of worked out from there

After three years, I got concerned I’d never have a professional photography career if I was still teaching, so I quit my job one day in the middle of a teachers meeting.  Then my buddy Adam Voorhes told me there was lots of opportunity in Austin, so I moved and it’s just kind of worked out from there. That was about 6 years ago. Being from California, do you think you need to go to a big city, like LA,to get started?  Did that help you being from there?
Being from LA didn’t really help me.  It’s really about your work and vision.  I moved here with a landscape portfolio and three years of teaching experience now I shoot more portraits than landscapes. 

Who are you influenced or inspired by?
I saw the Richard Avedon documentary, “Darkness and Light,” and the way he dealt with subjects was revolutionary to me.  He could talk to his subjects and direct the entire shoot without them realizing it. It’s a rare skill to be able to disarm people in front of the camera and get an honest photograph. Avedon was a real master at that.

Renee Cervantes is an influence as well. We met in school and have been close friends since.  He’s a phenomenal photographer based in NYC. Renee and I have a similar work style that involves minimal gear, and we talk shop about that kind of thing.

Lou Mora is another influence. Lou amazes me with his natural light photos. He’s been especially inspirational lately as I’m trying to move away from using artificial light and am shooting more natural looking photos.

Lastly, Nadav Kander, is very influential. Nadav can shoot anything and make it look good.

 [Keith Carter] said, “Above all else, always be honest with your work” And that stuck.

How would you describe your visual style?
I think your style is always changing. For me, I want consistently honest work.  I’m not forcing the subject or coaxing them to do something they don’t want to.  I did a phone interview with Keith Carter when I was a student, and at the end I asked if he had any advice for an aspiring photographer.  Keith said, “ Above all else, always be honest with your work” and that stuck. 

I don’t do a lot of conceptual photography because I don’t think it would be honest coming from me; I’d rather just show a person as they are. 

You obviously shoot people now…
I knew if I wanted to make it as an editorial and commercial photographer, I’d need to photograph people.  So I spent a few months before moving to Austin photographing some of my students to build my portfolio.  After moving, I got a break shooting with Austin Monthly and the first thing they had me do was shoot a fashion spread – the last thing that I am is a fashion photographer. I just made it as landscape-y as possible, where the girl was smaller in the frame.

Then I started getting a lot of the assignments that took a reportage twist – a lot of prison and disaster stories… and that stuff takes a mental toll on you.  Right now I’m trying to focus back on lifestyle images, music and punk rock – like Fun Fun Fun Fest and SXSW – to return to the inspiration where it all started.

 It’s a great job where you get to travel, meet people and see new things.  Even though you’re in Guatemala and think you’re going to die…

Most memorable photo shoot?
The most recent one:  I was working for the New Republic on a story about Guatemalan Bus Drivers, which is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world right now, ahead of industrial logging and deep-sea fishing.  And it’s not because they’re flipping buses off the sides of cliffs – even though  they’re doing that too.

They’re being extorted by MS13 and M18 – the most notorious gangs to come out of Southern California after a huge deportation in the mid-90s. Now the gangs have incredibly sophisticated crime syndicates and their income comes from extortion.  We spent a few days with a bus driver  who was being extorted by one gang and hunted down by another for almost killing one of their members.

At one point our bus broke down and we were in the neighborhood where he beat that guy up who’s trying to hunt him down.  We’re on this bus like sitting ducks, in a neighborhood that we’re not suppose to be in, and I’m photographing him with a huge medium format camera trying not to be obvious.  I really thought we were going to die there a few times.

Haiti was rough too.  I spent 9 days in a hospital without running water for the Texas Medical Association with doctors giving aid to patients post-earthquake.  No one talked about how there’s this overwhelming need for aid in Haiti, beyond the earthquake.

We were outside Port Au Prince by 4 hours, but the infrastructure is just so rough, it’s difficult for them to bring people to the hospital.  So we were helping the local people, but they don’t have basic things like soap.  I saw two horribly infected legs that had to be amputated with handsaws because they just don’t have soap to clean the wounds.

The work is hard for me to look at so I took it down from my site about a year ago. That’s bad stuff, but there’s good stuff too. Overall, it’s a great job where you get to travel, meet people and see new things.  Even though you’re in Guatemala and think you’re going to die, it’s an amazing experience and something most people don’t get to have.  It definetely grounds you.

What’s your favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
The people are really unique; there’s so many interesting stories coming out of Texas.  In California, the really great thing is the landscape – you’ve got the coast, snow in the mountains, and a beautiful desert – you have that same kind of diversity here in Texas, but with the people.

How do you spend your free time?
I grew up skating, and just started doing that again.  I’m also raising a baby and that takes up a lot of time, but she’s a little cutie so it’s worth it.

Do you have a dream assignment?
I feel pretty lucky; I get a nice mix.  I’ve done a good job of not getting pigeonholed, so I still get a range of studio assignments, environmental portraits and travel jobs.  I get a good mix of travel and adventure, doing work that I’m interested in, plus some fluffy stuff that helps pay the bills.

Your book ‘Beard’ started as a personal project.  What was it like getting it published into a book?
The “Beardfolio” project went viral really fast; then over a year later, a friend of mine, Will Bryant, told me to pitch it to an editor at Chronicle Books.  I did, and then two-weeks later, they said they liked it and wanted to print it as a book.  Publishing a book is not a super profitable endeavor, but it’s really fun.  It’s also great marketing piece and really fulfilling to be able to walk into a bookstore and say, “I did that.”

You’re bearded now, but have you always had a beard?
I didn’t always have a beard but I kind of feel like I had to be a bearded ambassador after printing the book. One of the guys in the book said, you can’t really know your face without seeing it with a beard.  I just prefer the way I look with a beard now.  And my wife likes it, so that makes her a keeper.

Best career decision so far?
The faith to invest time and money in personal projects and using those to promote your work instead of tear sheets.

It’s really about your work and vision.

So just like you asked Keith Carter, do you have any advice for a young, aspiring photographers?

You really have to enjoy what you shoot.  That’s kind of a no-brainer.  Make sure you love photography before you decide to dedicate your life to it… because that’s what you have to do to make a career out of it.  And be honest with your work… Keith said it best so it’s worth repeating.


Favorite Taco:  I love tacos! I can talk passionately about tacos, maybe more so than photography.  In Austin, best taco joint, world-class, one of my top three favorite anywhere, is Piedras Negras, but we lovingly call it “Not Dos Hermanos,” because the trailer is on the foundation of a leveled Mexican restaurant named Dos Hermanos… the sign is even still there.

Favorite BBQ:   Kreutz Market’s ribs.  I love that its dry rub… it’s truly an art to make BBQ that good without sauce.

Favorite Beverage:  Beer: Hops and Grain’s Pale Dog  Coffee: Non fat latte from Jo’s on South Congress  Water: Whole Foods’ brand sparkling mineral water in the giant green bottle

Favorite Texas Weekend getaway spot:  My backyard… cruise over we’ll smoke ribs and play Bocce

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How did you get started in photography?
I always loved art, and my dad taught me and my sister how to draw when we were little. However, I didn’t really get into photography until high school when I took a black and white film class at a community college. I fell in love with photo, and also thought it would be easier to make a living doing commercial photography then drawing or being a gallery artist. I was one of those weird students that knew exactly what they wanted to do going into college and never changed their mind. I think that might be a little abnormal, but maybe good abnormal? Not sure!

Do you remember your first camera? The first photo you were proud of?
It was a 110 film camera and I think it actually said “My First Camera” on the package. Pretty sure my dad still has that somewhere…I should look for it. I was super proud of some of the images I took in my first black and white film class, and I still really like some of those. You can really fall in love with photos when you are doing everything manually, with care by delicate hand. They are so much more special that way.

How do you manage the business side of photography? Do you send email blasts and postcards?
I have sent out lots of promo stuff the last few years, and gotten some response, but mainly I get jobs through relationships and people I know, or get introduced to people in the business by way of people I know. If I could go back and tell photography students one thing, it would be to make friends with people in the design program at their school. Those are the people who are going to be hiring you in the future, and those are the relationships you need to make and keep throughout the years.

Personally, I find email blasts annoying, and so I would rather not annoy other people with my own, but postcards and other things are always fun to get in the snail mail, so I will send those out to photo editors and ad agencies. Advertising through blogs and people with lots of social networking followers is a great tool to spread your name out there as well. I got a really awesome job shooting for the University of Minnesota through Twitter of all places, so you never know how people will find you!

 If I could go back and tell photography students one thing, it would be to make friends with people in the design program at their school.

Do you have a rep? Why/why not?
I don’t currently have a rep. I had one for a while a few years ago, and I go back and forth with wanting one and not wanting one. On one hand it would be amazing to not have to deal with invoicing and receipts, but on the other hand I would have to give someone a percentage of jobs. My plan is to just keep doing what I am doing, and if I get a really big job that I am having a hard time handling, I might start looking more seriously for a rep, or if someone approches me, I might think about it.

Do you mainly shoot in digital?
Yes, mostly digital, although, I only had 2 digital classes in college, and shot a lot of film on my Mamiya 645. I still shoot film for fun, but all jobs are usually taken digitally.

What’s your go-to gear?
Those that know me, know that I am the antithesis of a gear head. I am completely content with a only a Canon 5D Mark II and a 50mm 1.2 lens. That’s all I need. As for lighting, just give me the sun. I have always been enamored with natural light, and manipulating what is already available in the scene by way of reflectors and such. I am intrigued by light and watching it play on walls and in spaces throughout the day. I am constantly observing light patterns and reflections…sometimes it’s annoying because I can’t turn that part of my brain off, even when I don’t have a camera in my hand.

Have you spent time living in LA or NYC? Do you think it is crucial?
I lived in NYC the Summer of 2007, and then from 2008-2009, but moved back to Dallas shortly after the economy hit rock bottom up there. I think it is absolutely beneficial to move to LA or NYC, but not necessarily crucial. You are a fish in a MUCH bigger sea, and I have found it easier to establish myself in a smaller pond such as Dallas, where there is still a lot of cool work.The market isn’t as over saturated in Dallas so I am more easily spotted as a photographer. Plus, it is so much cheaper for me to fly to NYC multiple times a year for jobs than to actually live there (clients are usually pay for the flight anyway). However, I do miss it sometimes. NYC is a great city, and I love walking. I’ve been to LA a few times and shot some things, but the traffic makes my whole entity rage and my blood boil (I am not exaggerating). I don’t know how they do it over there. I definitely respect LA dwellers!

Have you spent time assisting other photographers?
When I lived in NYC in 2007, I assisted two photographers and learned so much about how to deal with clients, calculate expense receipts, and just the business side of things in general. It was extremely helpful, and I am still in fairly regular contact with them. However, when I wanted to start shooting on my own I actually found it more helpful to prop style assist. That way I got to meet art directors and people on shoots without being labeled as a photo assistant. Sometimes it is hard for people to see you as a shooter if you meet them while working for another photographer. Plus, you would never ever want to step on the toes of aphotographer you were assisting for or steal their client from them.

So, it’s hard because if you want to say, shoot for Gap, and you photo assist on a Gap photo shoot, it is going to be difficult to escape the photo assistant context in which you met the Gap creative director. Common sense says you should not give your business card to the creative director anyway, because you are working with the photographer. I would never dream of doing that, so it’s almost detrimental to your career to meet clients who you want to work for while being a photo assistant. However, in prop style assisting, I got to meet art directors and sometimes the prop stylist I was working with even promoted me and handed the art director my card. I think photo assisting can be great in lots of ways, but if you want to shoot on your own I wouldn’t recommend doing it for very long.

Sometimes it is hard for people to see you as a shooter if you meet them while working for another photographer.

 

What is your favorite thing about photographing in Texas?
I think Texas is so versatile in look and feel. You have big cities, flat fields, deserts, hill country, and pine trees! Texas is huge, so it’s nice to have the ability to get in your car and drive! The sunsets are so lovely, and I feel like there are so many different locations and backgrounds to use in photographs.

Do you have a dream assignment?
I love shooting look books, and catalogs, so I would love to shoot some things for Fossil, or more for Anthro. I’ve also always wanted to shoot an editorial portrait for W Magazine. The portraits in there are so pretty!!

Do you have any favorite photo books?
I love love love Sally Mann, and her Immediate Family book.Those images of her kids are so lovely; I could stare at them all day. I have also always been a huge William Eggleston fan, so anything from him is super.

What are you inspired by?
Dappled light, fall leaves, building things with my hands, music, punny jokes, documentaries, and good conversations.

How did you end up working with Anthropologie? What about Pinhole Press?
I sent Anthro a promo and they contacted me about doing some promotional stuff for their Push Play music series. It was pretty awesome to shoot Stacy from Eisley and Sucré. I was a huge fan of Eisley in 2004, and if my 2004 self would have known that I was going to get that job 8 years later I would have not believed it! I have been working with Pinhole Press before they even launched as a company. I few years ago they found some images of mine and bought them to use for their products and company launch. We just developed a relationship and I have been working with them ever since! They are hands down some of my favorite people to work with and it’s been fun hanging out with them on our crazy kid filled shoots. The best was spending a couple days shooting in CT at their amazing cabin, while mini golfing and ice cream eating!

Favorite breakfast taco?
Good to Go Taco. In my opinion, breakfast tacos always need to be in the near vicinity of good coffee, and Good to Go and Cultivar Coffee are in the same place, so double win!

Favorite libation?
A salty dog (grapefruit juice, vodka, and a salted rim!) is probably my favorite cocktail. And of course I am always game for a delicious Shiner, yum.

Do you collect anything?
I collect milk glass vases. I guess maybe that is kind of weird, but I love finding them in antique or thrift stores when I am traveling or on vacation. They are small enough to easily take back home, and they look so pretty altogether. So far I have 16. I used to collect stamps though, and go to a stamp club at a library. All part of being homeschooled I guess!

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Sara Kerens is a fashion and editorial photographer splitting her time between Dallas and New York CIty. Some of her recent clients include Anthropologie and Marie Claire.

Were you always interested in photography? How did you get started?
I started out Pre-Med and wanting to be a cardiovascular surgeon. My parents are still disappointed I’m sure of it. I took an Intro to Photography class in college because it was a hobby. My professor, Cade White, encouraged me to apply for an open position at the newspaper. Within the year I was the Chief Photographer. I kept shooting even after leaving the paper to be involved in student government. I shot engagement pictures in college to make extra money and charged $35. I know. Learning the business side of photography was a bit painful for this Rio Grande Valley girl.

Could you elaborate a little on learning the business side of photography? How do you manage business, marketing and promotion?

the business side of being a freelance photographer is a beast!

Yes, the business side of being a freelance photographer is a beast! I love the creative aspect of photography. I had to learn how to manage the money, the marketing, producing and much much more. Being a freelance photographer without an agent is like having 5 jobs. I sought the advice of many people in photography as well as public relations directors, and marketing gurus. At the end of the day, it falls on me. Social media has been a huge way to get my work out, especially to audiences that I may not already be in contact with. It’s important to present yourself genuinely. Who you are and what you enjoy and are doing. I am a very extroverted and positive person, and you get a feel for that through my tweets and posts.

How are you developing your personal vision?
I have several goals that I desire to accomplish with my career and personal life. My work and life often overlap because of my interest in certain subjects. At this point, I am both shooting and showing my book to a wider audience. This helps see how my style and interests work with a variety of publications and clients. I desire to travel and live in Europe, so that influences the track that I am pursuing and the type of work that I spend my time on, even personal work. My style overall is consistent, but I like to push myself and even challenge myself to try different techniques or subjects. It’s fun and keeps it interesting.

How often do you take photos?
I photograph daily. Even if it is my iphone, I snap at least 5 photos a day. I Instagram consistently because for me, this is such a fun way for me to share my life and work with those who care to look and be a part of it.

Do you mainly use digital?
I shoot mainly digital because that’s generally the most economic route. Clients usually want digital as well, especially with fashion as they can see the images immediately on screen and take home images from the shoot the day of.
I take Polaroids when I am able. I photographed a Dallas band, Fox and the Bird, on tour last summer. I shot over 100 Polaroids in the two weeks I was with them along with video and still shots. A printed piece has been in the works for a while and I’ll let you guys know when it’s finished. Very excited about it.
I have a lot of film cameras that I play around with, and do personal projects with.

I know you go back and forth between Texas and New York, could you discuss your reasons for doing this a bit?
I grew up mainly in Texas and have lived there since graduating college. I first visited NYC two years ago on a last minute trip. There is a huge market here, and I see this city as a place to pursue my foreign interests as directly as I can from the U.S. I have amazing clients in Dallas that I want to continue working with a well, so I found that working in both cities was a great fit for me career wise. There are extremely talented creatives in Dallas and the city’s art culture is really taking off. It is an exciting time to be connected there. There is a strong Texas presence in NYC. I have many friends who have moved here, and several of my favorite stylists and makeup artists are Texas transplants.

There are extremely talented creatives in Dallas and the city’s art culture is really taking off

Do you have someone you look up to in the field?
I have had several teachers and photographers guide me and push me along. Dallas specifically has been an incredible place to learn and grow. I have been very fortunate to work along side extremely talented and kind photographers. People want to help you. You have to remember that.

Do you have a dream assignment?
I have many. I would love to shoot a catalog for Anthropologie and Free People, do a piece on Iceland for National Geographic, as well as document Sufjan Stevens’ next tour. I photographed his Age of Adz tour performances in both Dallas and Brooklyn, and they were both incredible. I would love to join the Cousteau family on a sea adventure and document that as well.
How do you stay motivated?
The girls in my sorority in college joked about never seeing me without a camera. It’s true. I love what I do. It is internal and my desire to express myself through photography is pretty strong.
Was there one project that gave you that “ah ha” moment, where you knew this is where you wanted to take your work?
There was a point that I decided I was going to photograph things of interest to me, even if that meant I was hustling all week and shooting nonstop in my spare time. Once I started doing that and posting it, I began to get requests for similar paid assignments. That process was a huge “ah ha” moment for me. I will continue in that way.

Do you have any favorite photo books?
Can I count Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants as a photo book? Laura Wilson’s Hutterites of Montana is a favorite. She is the photographer that documented Richard Avedon when he was shooting “The American West.” I remember contacting her when I first moved to Dallas because I wanted to meet her and learn from her. About a year after emailing and calling her rep and not getting a response, I realized that she was Luke and Owen Wilson’s mother, and why I never got a response. Laura, if you’re reading this, I would still love to meet you and hear your stories, and I am not after your sons.

What was the most helpful part of your ‘education’ that wasn’t photo related?
Connecting with people is the most important and helpful part of my ‘education’ that was not photo related. Life doesn’t make sense without relationships. I work with people who have stories, and great depth. I connect with the people that I’m photographing. It makes a difference. I learn so much from the people that I come in contact with. Letting your subjects tell their stories will translate through the photos.

Connecting with people is the most important and helpful part of my ‘education’ that was not photo related

What are you inspired by?
Music definitely inspires me. I often have thoughts or ideas of shoots or movement by the particular music I am listening to. I’m also inspired by a variety of people and environments. Wes Anderson’s genius is inspiring as well as Tim Walker, and I think that I have whimsical dream inside me like that.

I like the grit and dirt of life as well, and maybe it’s just my generation, but I am inspired by life as it really is.
I am inspired by people who are passionate about life or passionate about what they do, or actively working to change things for the better, and those that have compassion for people, for the human spirit.

As Jack Kerouac wrote in one of my most favourite books, On the Road, “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

People inspire me. The human condition inspires me and motivates me. In the depth of depravity there is great hope.

People inspire me. The human condition inspires me and motivates me

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
I define success as quality of life. That means relationships and living. My day to day life is enjoyable and challenging. At the end of the day I believe that I am working hard, and I do not think that the work I’m doing is changing the world. I think I express beauty and show the reality of the world.

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?
I moved to NYC in May to pursue more editorial, lifestyle and fashion work. I will be splitting my time shooting in both Texas and NYC. I have been working on a book of some of the subjects that I have photographed. I would like to get that finished this year. I have some projects on the horizon in LA and in Europe.

We all are dying to know, how did you get the Anthropologie gig?


The short and sweet of it is that I was contacted by a scout. Being at the Mothership was certainly a dream. I shot their online merchandise in studio. That was so much fun because I got to see all the beautiful apparel and shoes before anyone else had seen them. I met their copywriter as well who names and describes all the clothing. Fantastic job. I was there for a week shooting and stayed in their bed and breakfast on the Navy Yard – which is completely decorated with Anthropologie bedding, furniture, EVERYTHING. I am looking forward to opportunities to work with the company again.

For more information about the Anthropologie shoot, check out Sara’s blog post.

Favorite fried chicken?

I have two places that are relatively new to Dallas that I have frequented and have photographed both places; Sissy’s and Chicken Scratch. Go there.

Favorite breakfast taco?
Taco Joint. They have my heart. Jalapeno ranch! It’s incredible. Plus everyone that works there is so welcoming and they remember your name.

Favorite libation?
Drink specifically – Anything with gin in it. Place to get drinks depends on the night. School night: Strangeways and the Windmill. Weekend: The Gin Mill, The Londoner (also great fish ‘n chips). Mimosas: Smoke – they make them right and they are bottomless.

Do you collect anything?
Dresses perhaps. I also at one point had 4 copies of Settlers of Catan – all the same 483 Mayfair version. Klaus Teuber has a hold on me. I have since narrowed it down to just one copy with the expansion pack as well.

Any hobbies outside of photography?
I make notes of inefficient traffic areas or lights and make reports to the city. I also collect those paper miniature scale models of iconic city buildings and monuments and never actually put them together, even though I promise that I will. I also love to watch dance movies. I cannot wait until this summer for Step Up 4 Miami: Come for the Sun, Stay for the Heat. Please tell me that MTV contacted you and that I will be spending one day on the set of Missy Elliott’s music video learning the choreography.

 

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Sarah Wilson is an editorial photographer based in her hometown, Austin.  Her approach to environmental portraiture is documentary in nature; focusing on subjects and stories that give a sense of community and culture.

Tell us about your early years in photography.

After high school, I decided to major in photography in college, and pursue it as a career.  I attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Photography and Imaging Department.  In my last two years, I spent semesters interning for several photographers including Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Clark, and Ken Schles. Then I moved out to Marathon, a little town of four hundred people in the middle of the West Texas desert, to do a summer internship with a photographer named James Evans.

The experience in Marathon was a turning point for me.  Within a couple of weeks, I had met nearly everyone in town, which quickly made me feel like I was part of the community.  I realized that Marathon was the perfect place for me start a portrait project, so I borrowed James’s 4 x 5 field camera and I began photographing the locals: the weathered, hunched-over cattle rancher, the Marathon High School six man football team, the constable, the teenaged boys that would hang out on the street corners, and the ninety year old woman that would drive around the 3 squares miles of town in her pickup from sun up to sun down.  Each individual portrait came together to tell the story of the community as a whole.

The Marathon project became my NYU senior thesis show, which I submitted for a grant called the Daniel Rosenberg Traveling Fellowship, and won.  This grant allowed me to complete and exhibit another portrait project one year after graduation about the Cajun community where my mother was born, and where much of my extended family still lives.  With two solid projects under my belt, I had the confidence to dive into another project about the community of Jasper, Texas, where in 1998, three young white men chained an African-American man, James Byrd, Jr., by his ankles and dragged him three miles behind a pickup truck.  It was a hate crime that threatened to fragment this small East Texas town.  Texas Monthly published a selection of this work, which in turn jump-started my editorial career.

I feel fortunate to have had several opportunities to complete and exhibit full bodies of work

I feel fortunate to have had several opportunities to complete and exhibit full bodies of work within a few years after graduation.  This filled out my portfolio and quickly solidified my intentions as a photographer.  Over time I was able to move away from assisting, and began working for myself.  I do however highly recommend that young photographers spend a few years interning and assisting- I learned more about photography as an assistant than I did in four years of college.

Lots of people think you need to move to a bigger market (LA, NYC) in order to make it in this business.  Outside of your education, do you think that living in NYC was helpful or made a difference in starting your career?  

I believe that it’s a good idea to spend some time in either New York, LA, or Chicago if you can.  If these big cities are not in the cards for you, it would be beneficial to attend a few of the portfolio reviews, where art directors, photo editors, curators, and art buyers can take a look at your work.  If they like your work, you can make solid connections very quickly, over the course of a weekend.

Your work can be described as “documentary portraiture.” How did you establish and evolve your personal vision?

I aim to tell the story of a community through portraits of individuals within that community.  For the Jasper, Texas project, I photographed law enforcement officers, family members of both the victims and killers, church leaders, the men convicted of the crime, the prosecutor, the young boy who discovered the body of James Byrd, Jr, and many others.  From an outsider’s perspective, many of us were ready to condemn Jasper as an evil place all together, but I hope these images tell a deeper story than what was seen on the nightly news.

Your award-winning personal project Blind Prom has been published all over the place, including, in Texas Monthly, BLINK, Fraction Magazine, Marie Claire South Africa, NewYorker.com, and several other blogs.   It’s also won the PhotoNOLA Review Prize, a nomination for Santa Fe Prize, and Critical Mass Top 50, and has exhibited in Chelsea at the Foley Gallery and at the Lishui International Photography Festival in China.  Can you talk about your experience in photographing blind teens and working with your boyfriend, Keith Maitland, on the PBS documentary, The Eyes of Me?

In 2005, my boyfriend Keith Maitland and I moved back to Austin from New York to work on a documentary film about four blind teenagers that attended the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin.  Keith directed, edited, and produced the Emmy-nominated, The Eyes of Me, and I was his stills photographer when he needed me.  The film followed one academic year.  We made it a point to cover prom, and since then, I have volunteered as the school’s prom night photographer each spring.

After hair, makeup and final primping in the dorms, the students travel by bus to the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Dinner is served, followed by an eager progression to the dance floor.  With an hour left in the night, prom court crowning begins. The room erupts with applause, as crowns and tiaras are placed upon the heads of that year’s favorites.

 With each new couple or individual that enters, there is a unique set of circumstances

Over the course of the evening, couples leave the dance floor to have their formal portraits made. Each year, I create a painted backdrop appropriate to the prom theme, which often stretches my limited painting skills, but I enjoy the creative problem solving.  In the quiet separation of the portrait room I have the opportunity to interact more directly with the students.  With each new couple or individual that enters, there is a unique set of circumstances.  Some students have a good amount of usable vision, many are completely blind, and still others have additional physical and mental challenges.  But no matter what, on this night, there is pride and joy, and it is my pleasure to share in it.

These images not only memorialize prom night for the attendees and their parents, but I hope they introduce a larger audience to what life might be like as a blind teenager.

How important do you think personal work is?  How important has it been in your development and your style?  

Personal work is very important- it’s an opportunity to hone your style and show prospective clients how you see the world.  A majority of my portfolio consists of personal work mixed with particular assignment work that felt like it could be personal work.

Who or what influences/inspires you?  

I have always loved the portraits of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, and Dan Winters.  These are my heroes. They show both the greatness and the imperfections within their subjects.  They honor the glowing humanity within people.

How do you stay motivated?

I’m starting to learn how to take things one day at a time.  The life of a free-lancer is very unpredictable.  A job that exists this month may not exist the next.  Once I figured out this fact, the challenge has been to have faith and continue to do work that is fulfilling to me.  I try not to think too far ahead because it’s already been proven that completely unexpected opportunities come my way when I am open to them.

the challenge has been to have faith and continue to do work that is fulfilling to me

What’s the most helpful part of your “education” that wasn’t photo related?

Meditating; reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; listening to public radio, especially This American Life; and wandering the halls of the European Portrait wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Best career decision so far?

Moving back to Austin has been the best career decision so far.  Working for Texas Monthly has been often as fulfilling as doing personal work, and I have become a satellite photographer for some national magazines, which has been great.  I’ve stayed busy, doing a mix of things, so I can’t say that I’ve been bored.

Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?

There are so many different kinds of people in Texas that are in to all kinds of good, bad, and strange things.  This makes for interesting subject matter.

Do you have a favorite or memorable photo shoot?

Back in 2001, I was photographing one of the church leaders in Jasper.  I could sense that for this man, having his portrait made was real proud moment.  As we talked about his life and his congregation, he suddenly said to me, “Photography is your ministry”.  I would consider myself more of a spiritual person than a religious person, but I took what he said to heart. Through photography, I have the opportunity to serve humanity.

Do you have a current dream assignment?
I would like to follow in the footsteps of the FSA photographers, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, and Walker Evans.  I would move from town to town, photographing the people and places that shape our country.

What else would you want to do if you weren’t a photographer?

If I weren’t a photographer I would want to be a psychologist or a chef.

Any other hobbies or talents outside of photography?

Cooking, hiking, taking my little boat out on Lady Bird Lake.

Weirdest thing in your camera bag?

Perhaps we should talk about what I don’t have in my camera bag.  I don’t have a waterproof housing for my camera or a pelican case for my equipment.  These items would have come in handy on a recent assignment to photograph an afternoon canoe trip.  We went down and so did some of the equipment.  Lesson learned the hard way!

Photo books you love? 
Avedon’s In The American West, the Aperture Monograph of Diane Arbus, Keith Carter’s From Uncertain to Blue, Shelby Lee Adams: Appalachian Lives,Dan Winters: Periodical Photographs, Heber Springs Portraits: Continuity and Change in the World Disfarmer Photographed, and William Eggleston’s Guide.

Do you have any advice for someone just getting started?

 If you narrow your portfolio down to your strongest work, you will direct your clients towards hiring you for what you’re passionate about

Make sure that you only present examples of the style of photography you really want to pursue on your website, in your portfolio, etc.  You don’t have to show that you are capable of being a sports photographer, a wedding photographer, a still life photographer, and a fashion photographer.  If you narrow your portfolio down to your strongest work, you will direct your clients towards hiring you for what you’re passionate about.