Scott Van Osdol shoots what he loves —documentary style, commercially. He keeps it simple, clear, and compelling. His work has won more prizes than a case o’ Cracker Jacks: CA, PRINT, HOW, PR Week Campaign of the Year and dozens of local/regional ADDYs. He shoots real people wherever possible. This storytelling impulse goes way back. His first solo exhibit, “Working”, opened at the Texas AFL-CIO Union Hall in 1981. Scott comes by this authenticity thing honestly.

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.

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.











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.

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

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











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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

trish copy

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

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

Who are your mentors?

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

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

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


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.”


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.






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.”


Dennis Darling is an Austin-based photographer and professor at the University of Texas who has inspired generations of photojournalists.

You’ve done a lot of traveling and covered widely different subject matter. What drives that?
It’s curiosity. When I came to UT, I came on a tenure track, which means in six years if you haven’t proven yourself to their satisfaction, they ask you to leave after the seventh. So I saved a few hundred dollars a month. I figured that would give me enough if I didn’t get tenure, or if I did get tenure I would ask for time off and go travel. A lot of those pictures I send out [in the email retrospective], I haven’t seen at all. They were just contact sheets. They were from that trip in ‘86 or ‘87 where I got tenure and bought a one-way ticket around the world with no particular thing in mind.

For $2000 back then, you could buy a ticket, good for 365 days and, as long as you were heading in the same direction, you fly where ever. It was nice to be able to wake up in Malaysia and say, “Today I want to go to Thailand,” and just go on a whim.

There was no agenda?
None. I went to Ireland and then England and then flew to Delhi because I had been to Europe a lot at that point. I was out seven months, I think. This was before the Internet. It was hard travel. I went to make a phone call from Katmandu to the US and they said come back Thursday and this was Monday. They had one wire coming into this place and you had to make an appointment and they’d put you in a booth and could call for ‘x’ amount of minutes.

It proved to me that I could probably go anywhere and do anything I wanted to by myself – that I didn’t need any support. I went into the jungles of Borneo, I went into Burma when it was still Communist. I went up into the golden triangle in Laos and Thailand. I did all these weird-ass things, and for the most part, I didn’t take any pictures. I just did things that interested me. I didn’t photograph everything I ever saw. Most of the stuff I did [photograph], were things that I wanted to remember, not necessarily an interesting picture.

All my negatives fit into four shoe boxes.

All my negatives fit into four shoe boxes. I throw them all away, all the jobs I ever done. When I got out of college I worked for Whittle Communications which owns all these college life magazines, but they also own Esquire. I worked for Parent Magazine. I used to have pages of [negatives] of breast feeding mothers and people and playgrounds. I just went through my negatives again and threw away another basket full of them. Hopefully, in the next decade when I’m old and grayer, I’ll have just one shoe box that I can pass down say, “Here’s what I’m proud of,” and the rest of it doesn’t even matter.

Any surprises in going back through that work?
The surprises are the subject matter I’ve been able to get in to. And I don’t know why that interests me. Probably Catholic school full of people in strange uniforms, violence, and intolerance. It just gave me a taste for exploring those themes. Take a woman, dress her in wool and tell her she can’t have sex for the rest of her life – that will make somebody mean. They got a chip on their woolen shoulder. The thing I value the most is having a sense of history – the Holocaust, the Mexican-American men that fought in the Mexican revolution, a series I did for Texas Monthly, or the WWII veterans, or any number of the other things I’ve done. I’ve had this desire to photograph things that will survive and be important somewhere down the line to somebody else.

Did you have that sense of history in the making when you were photographing the KKK or motorcycle gangs in the ’60s and ’70s?
I don’t know. I’m drawn to the darker side – the people who create the darkness or the people that suffer from it. I didn’t realize this until recently – I had photographed the American Nazi Party and now I’m doing Holocaust survivors. I guess if you live long enough you end up back where you started.

I’ve seen one of your Nazi Party portraits from your email list and your portraits from Terezín. It strikes me that they are both nonjudgmental depictions. The way you approach the darkness is still respectful.
Yeah. I’m not there to judge. I have opinions but I’m not interested in what makes people tick, just to show that they’re ticking. One Jewish friend of mine…I showed her the Nazi portraits and she says, “You showed those SOB’s for what they really are.” I show the same picture to the Nazi’s and they say,” Great! You really show us the way we are,” and they give the prints to their families.

I’m drawn to the darker side – the people who create the darkness or the people that suffer from it.

So the photograph is a neutral document.
That’s important. It’s easy to photograph somebody in an awkward position. Newspapers do this all the time. They’ll find the most unflattering pose for somebody that they’re in opposition to – some politician with his mouth open or an awkward look. It’s easy to do that in subtle and not so subtle ways. Someone picking their nose or itching their butt. It’s harder to convey that kind of sinister existence or survivors that have overcome obstacles that live to be 90. It’s harder to convey, in a subtle way, that people can then draw their own conclusions. I hope [the viewers] are interested enough to follow through and go beyond the pictures and learn something about what the pictures are of. Maybe not to learn more, but to whet their curiosity. Whether they learn anything or not, I don’t know. I have plenty of pictures that are not flattering to the Klan but I choose not to use them. I think you can be opinionated in a civil, and not mean-spirited way, but that’s not en vogue at the moment.

I’m basically a crappy technician and a lot of my negatives aren’t good negatives, but I occasionally hit on something. I credit that to my sense of design and proportion rather than my photographic skills. I should be going to digital. I’m the perfect candidate to take digital pictures because I’m crappy at doing that other stuff. But I do and it takes a lot of work to make it work.

That’s why I’m sending out all these things I haven’t seen before, because I didn’t have the energy to screw around in the darkroom with a 35mm frame that’s 40 years old. But now you have Photoshop, spot the dust electronically, burn, dodge, and make prints. The technology has caught up with my inept-ability. It’s starting to gel now. And that was the impetus for this email thing. I knew I could send 100 or 200 photographs that I’ve never seen larger than an inch tall. The technology made it possible.

I’d been thinking about this for a long time. Last year I tried to make a picture a week and it lasted about four weeks. I just couldn’t do it and schedule it around school to get in the studio, the PTA or my wife’s travel. Then I thought I can send one out a week that even I haven’t seen.

I look at these contact sheets and I think, I don’t remember that at all. There’s one coming up that’s a grab shot, it’s called Garbage Can Cowboy, Venice. It’s this guy walking with a little pistol.

Garbage bag cowboy, Venice,Italy, winter 1992

He’s got a mask on and this ugly looking hat and he has a garbage bag over him with a star on it. I looked at that picture and said, “This is really weird.” Its’ not a great picture, just a weird picture. It needed a lot of work, it was on a gray cloudy day at dusk, and I’m sure I just said there’s no way I’m going to get grade 4.5 paper and screw around with burning and dodging on that thing, it’s never going to come out. Now it took 15 minutes and I have a decent print of it. But there’s lots of them like that, with vague recollections or no recollection at all.

Do you need an intern?
I have my share of student help. I have various TA’s, four or five a year that work for me, and they have an aversion to work. Ha ha. They want the money but they don’t want to do anything. It takes more time to manage them than just do it myself. And what would they do?

Make scans of the negatives? Are you afraid of how they would handle them?
I handle the negatives terribly. I’m, like, eating a ham sandwich while I’m doing it. I shouldn’t say this, but I don’t even measure my chemistry. I think about film the same way I think about cooking. If it says a cup, it’s sort of a cup, could be a little more or less, and a pinch of sugar. Not that I’m a great cook, but I’m a decent cook and I bake well. It’s a unique experience each time, and sometimes it works and sometimes the souffle comes out flat. I’ve got a lot of flat souffles on gelatin.

How did your project on Terezín begin?
I was sent to Brazil on study abroad and I hated it because it was so rough and tumble. It was impossible to take a group out with cameras and expensive equipment. I was in Salvador, the third largest city and the old slave capitol. It was 100% black and I’m 100% white, there’s no body whiter than me but Queen Elizabeth. It was difficult [to shoot] because of the poverty. We had five years worth of salary for a local around our necks. We didn’t lose anything but some pick-pocketed money. When asked to go back again, I said, “No. What else you got?” And they said Prague.

Doris Grozdanovicova, photographed in front of the former military hospital where her mother died - Terezin Ghetto, Terezin, Czech Republic, June 2012

I didn’t even know about Terezín, but I hopped a ride with another study abroad group because they had an extra seat. I went to Dachau 25 years earlier and got interested in the Holocaust then. I started taking my students out to Terezín and then started looking for survivors to talk to my students when we went out there.

The thing about Terezín that’s interesting is, unlike most of the camps that were wooden barracks, the Germans took over a 17 century fortress town and kicked all the residents out, turned it inside out, and made the town the prison. It was a beautiful architecture done in the 1700’s baroque and 1800’s empire style, all in really good shape. It had churches and stores – all that stuff became barracks. A town of six or seven thousand turned into a town of 70 thousand when it was a prison. They were putting people up in the attics.

There was an inordinate amount of people with creative talent that were held there. Because of where they were drawing from – Bohemia – there were a lot of composers, artists, sculptors, musicians, and dancers all in that one place. And because it was not a death camp, but more of a concentration or holding tank, the Germans allowed them to perform for each other and perform for them.

They had these things called “friendly evenings” where the kids would perform little children’s operas, or, one of the people I photographed, the 108-year-old woman in London, she was a concert pianist. She played 100 performances while she was in Terezín for over four years. Because of that, Terezín has this reputation of being almost a country club. By comparison to Auschwitz it probably was. They were doing these performances, but also getting shot and hung in the lower fortress below the town, brutalized and then sent off to other camps. It has a lot more survivors than Auschwitz. People survived Terezín in one way or another.

I went over there in the spring to attend this conference of survivors, and I didn’t get many takers because I don’t speak Czech. But I did meet a woman who was a filmmaker and producer. She had done some documentary work about WWII. She knew all the people, so I hired her to make connections for me and act as translator. I was able to photograph a lot of people, almost two dozen, in a short period of time when I was there this summer. They trusted her. Now they are asking for pictures for their newsletter, but it took a year to get to that point. I plan on going back a couple of more times. There’s reputed to be 400-600 people left, although at this point most of the people left were children at the time.

What’s it like working with the survivors of the Holocaust?
It’s a little stressful. You’re dealing with these people that, for the most part, most of their families perished. It was arbitrary – you go, you stay. If you could do something for the war effort or entertain the Nazis, you could stay, or you were a good cook, or whatever. It was capricious. So a lot of times people would go there as a family and then the family would be whittled away with each transport so they would be the only person surviving from the entire family. They would be shipped off, usually to Auschwitz because it was the closest camp to the east.

That’s stressful to say, “Would you mind coming back to this hospital where your mother died when you were 12 or 13?”

Is there a lot of survivor guilt?
Not so much survivor guilt, but I feel sort of guilty because I’ve been trying to photograph these people in locations that are significant to their history. Some of them are feeble or have medical conditions and can’t leave their apartments. If I can, I try to talk them into going some place that has some kind of meaning, good or bad. That’s stressful to say, “Would you mind coming back to this hospital where your mother died when you were 12 or 13?” They generally come.

The woman that I brought out to the hospital was the first person I met 6 years ago that got me interested in the project. I was on quite good, friendly terms with her, but she wouldn’t go into the hospital. She would stand out in front of it, but would not go in. It’s that kind of thing.

It’s not like the photos I take here – portraits just for fun of somebody dressed up in trash or recycled goods. Everyday there I’d wake up with a black cloud over my bed – oh, another survivor, but there was a bigger cloud if I wasn’t able to photograph them. It’s a contest against the clock. I’ve already had one of them die. I had written her about photographing her a couple of times. I didn’t hear back. I wrote back in the summer and she didn’t reply again. My fixer then said, “You know, she died last week.”

Everyday there I’d wake up with a black cloud over my bed – oh, another survivor, but there was a bigger cloud if I wasn’t able to photograph them.

A lot of the sites are also being destroyed. I photographed a lot of stuff in the train yard because its scheduled to be an office building soon. I missed photographing the foundation of the old barracks because they got bulldozed. Prague’s expanding so they’re going to these sites that used to be on the outskirts of the downtown area that are now in the downtown area. They’re vanishing. Terezín is falling down.

Some of the buildings I was let in hadn’t been opened in 40 years. Me and my fixer would go out there and the city manager would come and open up this huge barracks that was two blocks of ruined buildings and would let us in, lock the door, and say,”Call me when you want to get out.” We’d be locked in there. It’s fascinating. I look forward to working more on it.

What’s next with the project?
I’m doing this thing in the fall, just as an add on component to a musical performance at bass concert hall for three days, ‘The Music of Terezín’, some of the music that was written and performed at Terezín.’

Do you only shoot medium format? Some of the Terezín stuff looked like a panoramic format…
I guess I do. I don’t have a 35mm. The pano I’ve had since I was a student is called a Brooks Veriwide. It’s the old Graflex back with a Super Angulon lens, so it’s in essence a 4×5 camera – you have to cock the shutter, shoot, advance the film. You have to consciously move from one frame to another or you get double exposures. It’s as close to shooting with a 4×5, except the film holders, as you can get on a 2.25 camera. There are only 8 pictures on a roll, 4×9 or something. The Super Angulon lens is made for at least a 4×5 camera or a 5×7, so you’re only getting the center of the lens – you don’t get that wrap distortion. It’s 101 degrees which is about what two eyes see next to one together. I like it a lot.

The drawbacks are the largest aperture is 5.6, so you’re always need light. The depth of field is critical, and that’s why I take 12 frames instead of two. You’re not actually focusing because it’s a rangefinder. You just set the distance. Sometimes you just get their ear in focus. That’s a challenge just to make a picture. Of the 12 pictures I have, 4 photos are bracketed not for exposure but for depth of field – it goes 2 feet, 6.6 feet, 16 feet and infinity. Outside it’s easy with bright light, but inside – there’s one in the warehouse – I was shooting at 8th of a second and holding real still.

You’ve been a professor at UT for 30 years. What have you learned from watching generations of students go into the profession?
I came in Pampers and I’m leaving in Depends. Got the whole bowel cycle. Haha. You would think it would be interesting, but no. The students are less curious about things now. It’s that trophy generation that wants everything handed to them. “Can you tell me who to contact?” Instead of going out and making contacts themselves. I think the digital age adds to that. Maybe laziness is too harsh a word, but complacency where, “Oh yeah, I’ll just take 25 shots and get one instead of take one and getting one.” I’m not enamored by digital photography. I still shoot film.

I think digital tends to trivialize some aspects of photography and gives the students a mystical sense that they don’t have to think to much about what they’re doing. In some cases that’s very good. I don’t own a digital camera but I have one on loan from Olympus that I do street photography with.

I think digital tends to trivialize some aspects of photography and gives the students a mystical sense that they don’t have to think to much about what they’re doing.

I don’t have to think. I know it’s going to focus and it’s going to make the right exposure. I’ve never shot it on anything but Program mode. It’s good exercise. Like photographic batting practice. Bunting or something. Not hitting home runs but bunting. Making pictures.

[Digital] is counter to everything I learned in school. And I think that what I teach is not the hardware and software of photography, but the seeing. You can walk two blocks from my classroom and see the Gutenberg Bible. The same graphic principles in that book apply to a web screen, or a magazine page, or a photograph – the rule of thirds, this, that, and the other. Those doesn’t change, just the technology changes. The technology makes people think they actually know more or better than they actually do.

How do you get students to get beyond technology to the basis of seeing?
I don’t know if they can do that. I just think the good ones will. You really can’t teach photography, and what you really can’t teach that photographers need, is curiosity. You cannot teach curiosity. If you’re not curious about life then you’re just spinning your wheels.

You really can’t teach photography, and what you really can’t teach that photographers need, is curiosity.

What is it about the trophy generation that contributed to this lack of curiosity? Is it the ability to Google anything we want?

Probably so, and people like me that spoil their children. They say, “Oh, you need milk? Here let me do that for you.” Instead of, “Go get the milk yourself and learn how to open the cap.” The photographers now – some of them are very, very good. And the ones that are tend to be multi-talented with interest in photography, design, fashion, art. But the people that just want to make pictures and work for National Geographic, they’re not interesting people.

Students aren’t very interesting. I used to hang out with students, maybe because I was more their own age at one time. I still hang out with them, but the pool I hang out with – either I’ve become more discriminating or they are less interesting, or both – but they tend to not be very demanding about what you teach them and what they want to learn. They want things presented in an easy to absorb or consume fashion, which is unfortunate.

Photojournalism, or art in general, is the journey rather than the destination. Sometimes there’s never any destination, sometimes ‘no destination’ is conceived by the photographer. It’s getting moving in some direction, but not to a place where you can sit. This generation is destination-heavy and journey-light.

[The] trophy generation wants everything handed to them. “Can you tell me who to contact?” Instead of going out and making contacts themselves.

You’ve said in other interviews that you’re an ‘occasional photographer’ and there’s no reason to photograph all the time. What’s up with that?
I take single pictures. I do series too, but each one can, hopefully, stand by themselves. I’ve done day-in-the-life, I’ve worked for newspapers and magazines and all that stuff. If I get one good picture that’s all I want each time I go out and raise the camera up. I’m not documenting everything around me. I look at these photo books and I think, how did that person ever get someone to publish that series of pictures? There’s only one or two good ones in there!

For the Holocaust series, I try not to waste people’s time and do three hour shoots. Most people have a very low tolerance and diminishing returns happens about 3 or 4 minutes after you make the first picture. Nobody’s taken their picture three or four times in a row and they think, you got it. Digital contributes to that, you can take 15-20 pictures in 10 seconds, but should you?

I took 20 frames tops for each person in the Holocaust series over a 15 or 20 minute period of time. My friend Michael O’Brien did that book ‘Hard Ground.’ He took two pictures, just two exposures for each person. People have to think more and shoot less, but the way the equipment and camera manufacturers and all that business goes, they tend to shoot far more and think very little, except how to put some kind of filter on it at the end. I’m really just an old fart. People who throw parts of their picture out of focus or throw on an effect – it’s trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. So I don’t carry anything but a camera and a light meter, and only occasionally.

Do you ever assign your students to shoot film?
UT just got rid of our darkroom. It just closed down. The rooms are still there, but there’s nothing in them. This is a nice time to be a traditionalist though because you can do some very un-traditional things, if that makes sense. I can use a material that basically hasn’t changed since the 1890’s – the film – in a camera that was built in the mid-20th century, and use 21st century technology for finishing, scanning, and making the print. You cover 150 years of photography to make that one picture. It’s an opportunity that other people haven’t had. There were no bridges from daguerreotype to tintype but now there are bridges that you can go back and forth between technologies and centuries. Someone like Robb Kendrick does tintypes. He has the originals, scans them, and then digital prints made on Iris printers. The opportunities to use old processes are great, you just have to have a vision, not Nikon’s vision or Canon’s vision of how things should look.

I can use a material that basically hasn’t changed since the 1890’s – the film – in a camera that was built in the mid-20th century, and use 21st century technology for finishing, scanning, and making the print. You cover 150 years of photography to make that one picture.

Your background is in art. What does the art approach add to a straight photojournalism program?
It probably doesn’t add anything. It probably prevents students from getting a decent job. Haha. But again going back to those basic principles. The Parthenon looks like it does because of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man (man with hands outstretched). The 35 mm frame, the piece of paper you write on, the windows you look out of, they’re all based on a ratio found in all art, something that we’re hard wired for. If you can get those basic principles across and have them applicable to the technology of the present time, then that’s the art influence.

Some people intuitively have an art background without even knowing it, and some people you can send to the Art Institute of Chicago for 10 years and they’ll come away with not much more than they went in with.

What’s difference between those people?
Curiosity probably. People do not look at things anymore. I have a 12-foot bulletin board in my office full of stuff that I put there so I could look up on occasion and be inspired. It always shows up in my photographs some where along the line. It might take a year, two years, or five years, or it might be the next photograph I take, but those things I stick up there for inspiration have an influence. But people hardly ever look, unless it’s a website or something on Facebook. They’re more interested in Facebook than Jansen’s History of Art. Even when they have something that highly suggests they might look at something beyond Facebook – subject matter they might be photographing, to see what’s been done beforehand – they don’t do it. They don’t take the opportunity. The technology is there but most of them don’t use it. They have no links to the past, it’s all future.

Are they reinventing the wheel?
It’s not even a wheel. It’s like a square wheel, or a reinvention of the sled.

Not to get completely off-topic, but does that have ramifications politically and historically, that we’ve lost the ability to learn from our past?
Well, I don’t know that we’ve lost the ability, we’ve lost the interest. These students that I have, they have a fragile grasp of anything over a few years before they were born, which was at this point, 1990.

Who are you inspired by?
Lots of people. How I learned lighting was to study Irving Penn. He’s a master of lighting and incredibly old school. For all his money, he had a studio on the roof in a New York building with window light. He had a camera, oftentimes an old Rollei, and a window. Sometimes he had some rolled-up carpet to put over a table to make it softer.

Richard Avedon I like because he’s adventurous, but he’s got a mean streak. I’ve met him a few times and went out to dinner with him years ago. I didn’t like him as a person, but I liked him as a photographer.

Is there a photograph you wanted to make that didn’t work out? An assignment that went horribly wrong or remarkably right?
Most of them go horribly wrong. It’s like Christmas, going out on assignment. It’s never what you think it’s going to be. It’s usually far better, or it’s a tie, or a pair of socks, or a sweater from your mother. My mother gives me a sweater every year. I’m from upstate New York. I haven’t lived there since 1967 but she gives me a sweater every year. I give it to Goodwill. You go down there in January, you’ll find a brand new sweater sitting on the shelf from the D. Darling collection.

Some assignments have gone terribly wrong, but then when you throw the negatives away you don’t ever remember. It’s a form of photographic amnesia. In ‘Desperate Pleasures’, a retrospective up to that time in the early ’80s, I wrote to not look at the book as if I had started as a child prodigy in photography. I destroyed all the Cro-Magnon Darling’s from the early years. Nobody sees, nobody knows.

Is that important for the photographer’s psyche, you think? To destroy the failures?
It is for mine. People, like Michael O’Brien, he’s got every single negative he’s ever taken. His garage is full of racks. He looks at mine and I’ve got three boxes on the shelf. He says, “What’s that?” I said, “My negatives.” “Yeah, but where’s the rest of them?” “That’s them. That’s it. That’s all.”

I don’t see any reason to have anything you’re not proud of lurking around in the wings. It never gets any better. Sometimes I’ll look through and find something like the Garbage Can Cowboy, but it’s there because at some point I made the value judgment that there might be something in the future. For the most part I’m a fairly good editor. And it’s from art experience and life drawing classes and all this stuff where you know that was a step you have to take. I have a sculptor friend that does bronzes. They’re worth thousands of dollars, and people ask him, “How long did it take you to do that?” And he says, “60 years.”

Everything you do, you have to take one step before you take the next. Without that step you couldn’t take the next, or, if you took the next, you’d stumble. But you don’t have to save your baby shoes or the sneakers you wore in third grade. They’ve done their job and out they go. The mistakes I made ten years ago, I’ve internalized it, and processed it, and hopefully I won’t make it again, but I don’t have to keep that mistake around to haunt me. And so it goes.

Everything you do, you have to take one step before you take the next. Without that step you couldn’t take the next, or, if you took the next, you’d stumble. But you don’t have to save your baby shoes or the sneakers you wore in third grade.

You’ve said you’re an ‘Under the Radar’ photographer. What does that mean?
I don’t have a website. I’ve never tweeted. I’ve never even texted. I have a job. All young photographers want to be famous, but I came to the conclusion a long time ago that it was too much work. You always have to be out there selling yourself. It’s just something I don’t want to spend my time doing. I’d rather be drinking a beer on the patio watching fireflies than emailing people to show them my portfolio. I’m lazy when it comes to publicity and if it happens, it happens. I’m not adverse to talking about stuff, I just don’t want to have to go and pursue it.

Not to draw a direct comparison, but I love those historic caches of photos like those of Vivian Meyer. Those archives that surface where someone spent their life diligently documenting – it’s a historical legacy because it’s an effort, sustained over a period of decades, and leaves evidence of a unique personal experience.
I have some of those same outfits she wore. With the purse and everything. I’m a little bit of a nanny, too. Ha Ha. I feel that way, too. It’s a past-time that I have, photography. I don’t watch sports. With a name like Darling, I got a dispensation at birth about being interested in athletic events. I tend not to watch TV, except the news. I don’t go to movies. I mean, I’m really dull, but I hang out with exciting people, and that’s the reason I’m able to hang out with them. They don’t see any threat. I come in with a single camera and a roll of film. No lights, no generators. I spend my time doing art and thinking about pictures and sometimes taking actual pictures. Other people go to sports bars, I go to Klan rallies.

Any advice you give to young photographers?
It depends on what they want to do. If they want to take pictures like mine, I would say get a job that’s not related to photography at all. In the past I’d say get a teaching job, but those don’t exist anymore. Old farts like me just landed someplace and then stayed. Everyone I know that teaches at other schools are my age and they’ve been there forever.

But if they want to do it just as a hobby or past time or whatever, I would say be curious and adventurous and go out and find things. I don’t see any reason for making pictures that somebody else can make five minutes later. The things that I photograph are the right time and the right place and they won’t happen again just the way they happened. The Klan in the ’70s turned into people in camouflage living in Idaho in the Aryan Nation. It’s not that I look for those things, but I’m somehow drawn to those situations.

I don’t see any reason for making pictures that somebody else can make five minutes later.

What’s an example of something someone could take five minutes later? Shadows and landscapes?
Oh, music. Every student wants to photograph bands. How boring. They want to photograph them performing. All musicians look alike, all stages look alike, they do the same thing over and over again, they play the same songs, they use the same instruments. That’s a case where they’ll go and make xeroxes of what they’ve already seen. There’s plenty of stuff out there. Look for the last of the line, the last munchkin from the Wizard of Oz, the last WWI vets. Things like that.

There’s things happening now that won’t happen again. I think there’s value in that. That particularly interests me because it goes beyond just making a document, it captures a piece of living history, the last thread. You’ve got to combine photography with your interests, even if it’s sports. If you’re sitting watching a Dallas Cowboys game, there’s things happening, the world is passing you by while you’re wasting your time.

Your portraits are very connected and some of them were the results of short-term rapport built in foreign countries. How do you approach people?
The problem with foreign countries, and the advantage, it’s a double-edged sword. I speak no other languages. I can order a beer and identify two body parts in Spanish. Other than that I’m verbally bankrupt after I leave the border. So you’re relegated to making animal noises or drawing pictures on the back of envelopes.

The pictures in foreign countries look differently than the ones I make here. The girls in Mexico, I didn’t talk to them at all, that was seeing something, approaching them, being non-threatening, making a picture and then you can say ‘Thank you.’

Mountain Mist, Main Plaza, Cuetzalan, Puebla, Mexico 1996

You just have to approach people in a non-threatening fashion. Lots of time I hold my hand out like I do for dogs, let them sniff me and then I pee on their leg. Ha ha. They might say ‘Fuck-off’, but I don’t know it because I don’t know ‘fuck-off’ in Spanish. So I wave and leave. That’s the advantage, you have no idea what they’re saying about you after you leave.

I think you have to be honest with them and tell them what you want, what you need, what you’re going to do with the stuff. I always send somebody back a picture. That helps when they get something back. I would suggest that.

[People] might say ‘Fuck-off’, but I don’t know it because I don’t know ‘fuck-off’ in Spanish. So I wave and leave. That’s the advantage, you have no idea what they’re saying about you after you leave.

What’s next?
I don’t know. Plastics. I think there’s a big future in that. Ha ha. I’d like to finish off this Terezín thing. I have no projects in the wings, but that’s generally how I operate. They just come up, you know? It could be almost anything.

Right now I’m doing this crap, well it’s not crap, it’s lighthearted stuff. Stuff I know I can do with hands tied behind my back. Pictures of women with wings or tattooed people or whatever. I’ve done it before. Because I’m married and I have two kids, 10 and 12, and they have school and I have commitments to PTA, or this or that, and it limits my travel. It prevents me from doing something more meaty. What I do here I like, but it’s photographic batting practice – hit a few balls to the outfield and some of them go over the fence. It’s necessary to occasionally shoot because you get rusty.

I would like to do a series of different portraits once a week again. I’d love to go out to the Mormon thing in West Texas, the FLDS, to photograph those women that dress the same way with those hairdos all the same way. I would love to do that. I would give a collection of prints to anyone that could get me into their compound to make those pictures.

One of my students photographed some women boxers, there’s a gym on the south side someplace, and he never did that, he changed projects, but I told him I would steal it as soon as he graduated. He graduated in May. I’m interested in women. Men don’t particularly interest me at all. Maybe I’ll do a series with pictures I have and pictures I have yet to take. I’m always busy, but most of the time it’s just being busy with no particular end-game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Davidson

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

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

© Dan Winters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Follow Matthew on instagram: @mahon_


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