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I got my start in styling in a round about way – as a photo assistant for the extraordinary fine art photographer Nic Nicosia, working in his darkroom, shopping for props and helping him concept ideas for his surreal photos. Later, I built and designed window displays for Neiman Marcus.

I Iived and worked in New York for nine years as a prop and wardrobe stylist. As a senior stylist, I went on to be a part of the team that opened the largest Amazon photo studio in the country at the time, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I feel so fortunate to do what I love for a living, which at it’s essence is collaborating with other creatives and bringing a vision to life – the more daunting and elaborate, the better!

I currently live in Austin and style still life, product, food, wardrobe and interiors for national brands and publications.

 

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.

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

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

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Wynn Myers is a lifestyle photographer born and raised in Austin. Known for her eye for authentic moments, Wynn loves to capture the beauty and joy in the everyday. Wynn’s love of photography began when a friend introduced her to the high school darkroom.

After attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, she relocated to New York City, where she worked for fashion designer, Zac Posen, and attended the International Center of Photography. In 2006, Wynn graduated from the Maine Media Workshops’ Professional Certificate Program. Wynn received her BA in Photocommunications, Summa Cum Laude, from St. Edward’s University in Austin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Clemons, a University of North Texas alumni, is an editorial and commercial photographer based out of Dallas. Some of Justin’s clients include Texas Monthly, NY Times, and American Airlines. While Justin travels some for work, he says he is most inspired by Texans!

How did you get started in photography? 
I started taking some photo classes in college, and enjoyed the classes so much that I just kept taking more and more until I decided to make it my major. Strangely, I never really considered myself very creative growing up. I was actually an embarrassment in high school art class, but I absolutely loved the process of creating. In college, I learned to loosen up and not to be so controlling, and I  also learned about design, composition, textures, concepts, etc.

The biggest component that pushed me into pursuing photography on a professional level was my professor Dornith Doherty.  She saw something in my work and told me that I could make it in the real world doing photography. I interned for a summer putting together kitchen appliances and cabinets to be photographed by a JCPenney’s photographer and loved every minute of it! During this time, I learned about lighting techniques, business strategies and dealing with clients, and I finally started to make the leap toward having my own business. From then on, I worked on building up my portfolio and started pursuing editorial work.

I think it’s really important to have your business and brand spread out like fingers in lots of different areas instead of just one single promotion tactic.

How do you manage the business side of photography? How do you promote yourself to potential clients?
Oh my gosh! So much time and energy is put into getting estimates together, producing jobs, managing assistants and crew, dealing with clients, billing, TAXES, post-production, promoting, updating websites, updating blogs, updating work on other websites and being active on social media. I am forced to do the business side. Business isn’t my strong suit, but I make it happen.

I think it’s really important to have your business and brand spread out like fingers in lots of different areas instead of just one single promotion tactic. I have both an editorial and an advertising list.  I try to do a printed piece about twice a year.  I am working on a magazine size promo piece at the moment. I am on some websites that show photographers and their work in order for creatives to go and find good shooters.  Some of these have a monthly fee and some are free like: PhotoServe , Wonderful Machine , and FoundFolios. Hopefully, I Love Texas Photo soon too, haha. Carissa (my rep) sets up lots of book showing at ad agencies and I try to stay pretty consistent with updating my blog.  Social media is playing a decent size role in promoting these days as well.  It’s just a good way of showing that you are busy shooting cool stuff and helps keep your name and work on people’s minds. I mostly use Instagram (@justinclemons).

What would your ideal/dream assignment be?
I recently shot a job for a publication called Whiskey Advocate. The piece was focused on a small whiskey distillery in Waco, TX called Balcones.

It was one of those jobs where at the end of the day, I got in bed thinking, “Today was a really amazing day!”  And then I thought, “I actually get paid to do this!”

It was just so much fun walking around this whiskey plant having Chip (head distiller and owner) explain the whole process while showing you the storage of old wood barrels and letting you taste all of their amazing whiskeys  (After I got my shot of course)! I love learning new things and experiencing new things. I love people that are specialists in what they do and love doing it – people that had a dream and followed it. So, maybe my dream job would be traveling around shooting people that are creating something they love and learning about their process while I’m there.

Justin Clemons ©

Why have you chosen Dallas as the place to work and be?
It’s pretty simple really… family. Dallas is where both my wife and I are from, so we have a huge web of friends and family around here.  It would be difficult to leave that behind.  And since graduating college in 2003, I have had 10 years of making connections and relationships in the Dallas photo world, connections that continue to lead to jobs. It would be really hard to start that whole process all over again somewhere else. I really like the people in Dallas. I just wish we had better weather and terrain.

Who have been or are your influences and mentors?
Like I said earlier, my professor Dornith Doherty was a huge mentor for me. I share studio space with Andy Klein, Scott Slusher and Matt Hawthorne, which is an amazing privilege. All three guys are extremely talented in different areas, and we all get along really well.  It is so helpful putting together a series or promo piece and being able to get them to come look at it and get their opinion. Specifically those who Influence my work and style, I would have to say people like…  Eric Ogden, Peter Yang, Dan Winters, Chris Buck, Chris Crisman and Julia Fullerton-Batten to name a few.

Where do you find inspiration in Texas?
I find inspiration in the people of Texas rather than a location.  There are some extremely talented and interesting people that are doing really creative things that I am challenged by.  If I were forced to name a place, I would have to say my backyard.  Just sitting back there on a nice day smoking a cigar and sipping on scotch relaxes me to the point that my mind can wonder.      

Justin Clemons ©

Do you feel that social media (twitter, facebook, and instagram) has impacted or changed the way you do business? Has it helped more than hurt?
For better or worse, it has changed things somewhat. Negatively, it adds another thing for me to do.  I always feel like I’m not Instagraming, tweeting or on Facebook enough.  I always feel behind in those areas, and when I do make time for it, it seems it’s when I’m at home or at dinner with my wife and daughter and should be paying attention to them. On the positive side, it is a way for people to see that I’m busy and I’m shooting interesting work.  Social media is a good way to keep on the front of job giving people’s minds.  I do have some art directors and creative directors I know that follow me on Instagram. It just raises their perception of you. When you are posting images from shoots or BTS shots from locations or you are just able to make everyday life look cool in photos, they put a higher value on you and your work.  They feel they can trust important shoots to you.

Who are some of your most recent or notable clients?
Some recent clients include: Texas Monthly, D Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc Magazine, DFW Airport, and Walmart.

When you are posting images from shoots or BTS shots from locations or you are just able to make everyday life look cool in photos, they put a higher value on you and your work.

What is the must have item in your camera bag aside from the camera? Most interesting thing in there?
Wrigley’s Doublemint gum is a must.  No matter how cool or good you are, if you got skanky breathe nobody wants to talk to you.

Justin Clemons ©

What goes into setting up a portrait shoot for you?

 I just like to be as prepared as possible, because I don’t like surprises.

I’ll answer this as if I was shooting an editorial portrait….

I want to shoot in a place that describes what they do visually, but isn’t cluttered or boring.  If people will give me the time, I try to show up at least an hour and a half before I am supposed to shoot the portrait.

When I get there, I meet the contact person and get them to give me a tour of the facility in order to scout where I want to shoot.  While I am doing this, my assistant is unloading all of the equipment from the vehicle.  I’ll pick out two locations (minimum) where we can shoot.  I explain to my assistant what lighting I want to use and where we will be shooting first, and we get to work putting it all up.

Once the lights are up and placed in the area I feel is good, my assistant stands in as the subject, and I photograph him. We make tweaks and changes until I’m excited about the image.  We will do this at the two or three locations I have picked before the subject arrives.

The subject is sometimes in a hurry and doesn’t have a whole lot of time to shoot, so we are as prepared as we can be.  If the subject is in a hurry or doesn’t like pictures, we still get good shots, because we have everything set. They can just walk up, shoot and they are done.  If the subject is cool and doesn’t mind pictures, its even better.

We can take our time, try different things, add in some relevant props, have him move around some, and get amazing shots. So much of it depends on the subject. But even if you have a boring, crabby subject, if you have cool composition, great lighting and interesting background, you can still get a good photo for your client.  I just like to be as prepared as possible, because I don’t like surprises.

 


Leslie Baldwin is one of the most sought after photo editors in Texas.   She shares her insights, favorite TM covers, and advice on approaching photo editors.  “You have to be totally passionate and dedicated or you’re going to get steam-rolled. Next comes perseverance and patience. Oh, and be nice!  That’s very, very important.”

 

How did you get started in photo editing?
It was quite an indirect route, which I think is common for a lot of photography editors. I received a BFA from UT, which is great, but it doesn’t quite prepare you for the real world. After I graduated, I had enough sense to know that photography had the most real-world application — as opposed to painting or print-making which I did quite a lot of in school. And if I wanted to avoid working for the IRS or Allstate I needed to learn fast how to make a living with photography.

I started out taking pictures of kids, but struggled to make ends meet. I had a lot to learn about the trade. I moved to New York in 1995 and landed a job as a studio manager. I didn’t even know what a studio manager was at first! That job was basically boot camp into the photo industry. I went on to manage the studio for Matt Mahurin whose work I admired so much. That was a fantastic job. I learned all aspects of producing shoots and dealing with magazines. Matt was doing a ton of editorial work at that time. It was through this job that I developed an interest in becoming a photo editor, so when Matt shut down his Greenwich Village studio and moved to Long Island I transitioned over to working at magazines.

My first full-time magazine position was working with Arthur Hochstein, the Creative Director at Time magazine. I helped coordinate covers at Time for four years. I had been in New York for 8 years and was becoming homesick right at the same time a staff change was happening at Texas Monthly. I jumped at the chance to come home and come on board at Texas Monthly. I interviewed with Scott Dadich and, fortunately, I got the job. Here I am nine years later.

  Be talented.  And be nice.

 

Texas Monthly is one of the most desirable publications to shoot for in the country; how can one make an impression with you if you’re inundated with emails and promos.
That’s a really good question because I am totally inundated! Show your best work and keep it simple. And as counter-intuitive as this might sound, don’t expect a reply. Just keep sending the occasional e-mail or promo. If your work is good and relevant to our publication, we know you’re out there and will come to you when the time is right.

I still love old-school promos too, btw. I get a stack of mail everyday, and while 95% of it might go in the trash if there’s that one promo I like I put it on my stack of promos on the shelf (see below). It might be nine or ten months later, but I’ll remember the work and will go look for the promo if we want to consider hiring that person.

Be talented.  And be nice.

Since you mentioned what to do, what are things NOT to do when contacting you or any other photo editor?
Do not call or email and ask what type of photography I want. It is the photographer’s job to know what type of work a magazine publishes. There’s not a photo editor in the world who has time to call someone and explain what type of images they run.

Being persistent is a good thing, but there is a fine line when it switches over to being annoying. It’s very difficult for me to be able to give individual feedback about someone’s work. There’s just no time. I get multiple e-mails a day asking for that one-on-one attention. I wish I had more time, but, the hard truth is that I don’t.

Unless I’m your best friend, do not IM me on Facebook.

Tell us about a shoot that went horribly wrong.
Honestly, we haven’t had a total catastrophe. My struggles have been more with celebrities and their egos!

Navigating the Tommy Lee Jones shoot was quite difficult (ok, I cried that night). He’s known for being a tough character, so I don’t think I’m speaking out of line here: we flew in Kurt Markus from Montana and we all caravanned out to Tommy’s ranch. After 5 minutes, TLJ said it was time to shut it down. That was tough, because it was supposed to be our cover, and I just knew we didn’t have it.

So when something like that happens with Tommy Lee and it’s a cover shoot, what happens?

Our Editor had to call his publicist – he had a movie coming out – and we had to inform them that we barely got any images. They did allow us to come shoot him again, and we got a few more frames, but it wasn’t much different than before. It was just a difficult shoot. The images ended up running on the inside of the magazine. In the end, I really like the way the portraits came out. Tommy Lee kind of looks like hell, but hey…

Do you get to go on shoots often?
Rarely. We’ll go to cover shoots if they’re nearby. It’s too bad, because that’s the most fun part of my job, when I’m able to get away from the desk and go.

You’d mentioned hiring a photographer from Montana for the Tommy Lee shoot and you sometimes hire out of town photographers. Does that get the goat of Texas photographers? Do they give you a hard time?

Some of our contributors who have a long history with Texas Monthly will give me a hard time if we use another photographer too much or fly someone in from out of state – but it’s always in a friendly way. I think in general photographers are a competitive group of folks, so it gets their goat when anyone is hired besides them! Doesn’t matter if it’s here locally or out-of-state.

Sometimes I try to explain to them (and to staffers too who will sometimes ask) that even though the bulk of our photographers are here locally, we still love and are excited that we’re occasionally able to bring in photographers that aren’t based here – whose work we love and we think would be fitting for a particular story (Todd Hido, for example).

We have a lot of photographers that grew up in Texas that have moved, either to LA or NY, and so we have great pre-existing relationships with a lot of folks who are no longer here but who come back on occasion — people like Peter Yang and Van Ditthavong.

So it sounds like there’s a story and you hire based on who’s best suited for the story?
Definitely. We try hard to match up the right photographer with the right story. Some photographers will be fine wandering around a ranch all day, while others might find that terrifying and prefer a studio environment – which I totally understand. For covers, sometimes we know we’ll need to do a lot of comping and post-production. Someone like Randal Ford is a master of that. He managed to photograph a chimpanzee in Las Vegas and put it in the same frame as a shoot we did here in Austin – it appeared as if it was all in-frame. That type of shoot is not for every photographer!

Since you’re talking about covers, do you have a really controversial cover and a favorite cover, or is it like your kids and you can’t pick a favorite?
I tried to pick a favorite, but I couldn’t. On the one hand, you have the classic Texas Monthly covers – cowgirls, cowboys, small towns , etc. — that are cliches on some level, yet I never tire of them because I think we do them so well (I should specifically point out our Creative Director, TJ Tucker, who designs and art directs them so well). On the other hand I love the big production shoots we frequently do with photographers like Randal Ford. His 2011 cover for Best and Worst legislators (which was a remake of a cover we did in 1977) was so much fun to do — as was our How To Raise A Texan cover, though it was almost the death of me. Lots and lots of work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One that was really controversial more than the others?
Dick Cheney as our Bum Steer of the year was probably the most controversial . You might recall in 2007 Dick Cheney, unfortunately, shot his friend in the face on a hunting expedition.  We did a spoof of the National Lampoon magazine cover where it says “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog (below).”

 

 

Darren Braun created this spot-on photo-illustration and we thought it was perfect, but a lot of our readers were really, really offended.  One reader was so offended they took their shotgun to the issue and mailed it to our editor (below).  But, I totally love that cover and thought it was perfectly executed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should photographers pitch story ideas to you? Is it worth the effort? Say you like the idea, what happens next behind the scenes?
Yes, it’s worth the effort. If it’s a good idea, it’ll stick in my brain and we’ll offer it up at our monthly ideas meeting. Or present it to out editor directly. But, be patient, it might be something that we can’t explore until a year or two down the road.

 

If your work is good and relevant to our publication, we know you’re out there and will come to you when the time is right.

What do you think about instagram? Other magazines have started hiring instagrammers, and I noticed Texas Monthly just recently got an account and had some images from Allison V. Smith from Marfa.

I think instagram is fine, but, for me, it doesn’t beat seeing a 10-page photo spread in a magazine.

Allison V. Smith asked if she could send some stuff from Marfa for the web and our instagram account. It was the first time we’d hired someone specifically for social media. Her work came out beautiful. No denying that.

Since the Texas Photo Roundup reviews are just around the corner, do you prefer print or iPad portfolios?
I’m open either way. I love iPad portfolios but still enjoy the physical books as well. Photographers sometimes present their work then apologize, which photographers should never do! They should feel confident in the way they’ve chosen to introduce themselves.

While it’s rare, I might still get the occasional set of loose prints that are disorganized, etc. – I’d avoid that for sure.

Any final thoughts or advice for any up and coming photographers?
First and foremost, you have to have talent. I know that’s hard to define, but you have to be totally passionate and dedicated or you’re going to get steam-rolled. Next comes perseverance and patience. Oh, and be nice! That’s very, very important.

I know in this digital age, it’s harder and harder to have the personality and vision of the photographer shine through. While it’s impossible to define talent and what being original means, just do what you want to do, and not what you think someone expects or is the trend.

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Favorite BBQ:

I’m a Smitty’s girl. Just love the brisket and that open fire pit that greets you when you first walk in.

Favorite Beverage:

Water, of course. Next up: Vodka + anything.

Favorite Weekend Getaway Spot in Texas:

It’s been a couple years but there are some rental cabins out on the Rio Frio that I just love. It’s a notch up from camping for sure, but still pretty rustic. And enough of a drive where there aren’t too many floating drunks.

Where are you from?
I was born in Port Arthur, but we moved to Beaumont when my mom remarried. That’s where I’m from but I freelance in Dallas now. I moved out of Beaumont in 2004 to go to the University of North Texas.

What’s your degree in?
Photojournalism and International Development

Tell me about working at The Orange (Texas) Leader.
It was a little 8,000-circulation paper back in 2002 and I did that for two years.

How did you get your start there?
My mom had saved up a small college fund for me.  After I finished my chemotherapy at 18 I ended up messing around in college my first semester at Stephen F. Austin (a college in Nacodoches, Texas) and came home with a 1.0 and went to Lamar for two years (a college in Beaumont, Texas),  but I still wasn’t really figuring anything out. So I took what little bit of college money I had left, worked two jobs, and saved up enough to spend three months backpacking Europe.

How did your experience in Europe change you? 
The thing about Europe was that it was really the first time I was truly on my own.  I’d been sick since birth and the cancer only magnified my somewhat sheltered experience growing up.  When I left to backpack I was suddenly forced to rely solely upon myself.  Build relationships with strangers, monitor my cash, develop a budget and suffer the repercussions of not sticking to it.  I’d found myself in churches a lot of the time too and developed a stronger spiritual life.

How did you hook up your first staff photographer position at the Orange (Texas) Leader?
I was shooting this Bridge City [football] game and the editor of the Orange Leader saw me out there and asked, “hey, do you want a job? There’s a Lion’s Club carnival tomorrow. Do you want to go shoot that and that’ll be your trial run?” I woke up the next morning and went and shot the Lion’s Club carnival and got a bulldog page on Sunday morning. I worked for them for two years for something like $6.25 an hour.

When I returned from Europe I had had this sense of adventure under my belt and a stronger belief in myself.   When I got the job for the Orange Leader, shooting daily assignments, a lot of that experience I’d learned in Europe about socializing with a variety of people and stepping out of a comfort zone was utilized in a constructive way.  I used to think that that first job for the small daily was not only a continuation exploring daily life but it was also a boot camp of sorts photographically.  I’d talk with classmates at Lamar about the nature of the business and say how much I enjoyed the variety of experience.  How I could be at a kindergarten classroom at nine, a homicide having lunch with the sheriffs department at noon and a basketball game by 730.  It was all really exciting for me at that time in my life.

You mentioned chemotherapy earlier. Can you talk about that?
I had lymphoma from age 15 to age 18.

Did the experience influence your work in any way?
Not immediately, no I think it took a while. About the same time I got my driver’s license is about the same time I found out that I was sick and I was already the confused teenager anyway and so once I got a car I would just go wander off around Beaumont. Just cruise around town until sundown. This is before I did photography. I’ve always had this drive to get out and cruise around and explore and meet people.

You are a former Dallas Morning News photo intern. How did that come about?
The Morning News had me intern with them in ’05. Chris Wilkins called me and asked me if I wanted to do an internship and I said let me check my fall schedule for school and (Dallas Morning News photojournalist) Mona Reeder called me back immediately and she said “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You just say yes to stuff like that. Don’t worry about school right now.” So I called Chris back immediately and said I’ll take it. That’s how I started to [later] begin freelancing for them. After college, I just naturally went into freelancing full time.

We all went through this cusp, this in-between, where you and I both have a photojournalism degree but the NPPA job bank didn’t necessarily have anything in it.  Freelancing bridged the gap.

 You and me both met at the Eddie Adams Workshop.
Yeah, we both had Bill Frakes.

What did you draw from that experience?
That I went too early. I couldn’t even tone my images properly back then. There were some other people there that had a portfolio and had a really good experience for networking and having an actual dialogue about work. But for someone [who] hadn’t even finished college yet it was a bit premature I think. It was more of the experience of meeting other people. It was more about the social interaction and getting a taste of what professionals do.

Talk about what you’re working on now.
For the past three years, I’ve been working in the Mississippi Delta. I started that in 2009. In between freelancing in Dallas. I go back as much as I can.

Where is “there”?
A network of about five communities in northwest Mississippi. I’ve been abstractly documenting daily life in the delta. I went there just to find myself at first, I wasn’t looking for a story. I was looking for something better than me, stronger than me. It ended up being this time to just speak with people and get back into a project and begin shooting for something that I wanted to shoot. It’s since grown into something beyond me. It’s grown into something that’s about other people. It’s about strength, and humility and pride, hope and religion and faith.

Tell me about your decision to use medium format, black and white film for your project in Mississippi.
The only reason I started shooting that was because I had a brand new camera, a 1973 Mamiya C330. I’d just got it and thought I’d take it for a spin, so to speak.
At Lamar, I was trained in black and white photography in the darkroom and I guess I wanted to go back to something familiar.  But I ended up finding this new thing; it was like a turning point in vision. I began finding something that’s mine in a way. Merging documentary traits with a more artful background.

Who was your teacher?
Keith Carter.

You’ve told me before that you bring a bicycle with you when you go to Mississippi.
Looking back, I think using my bicycle was a perfect compromise. I could cover more ground than walking but yet still be connected more so than if I had confined myself in a car. I liked the idea of using a bicycle because it allowed accessibility.  Naturally, a lot of people were just curious about what the hell this little dude with big glasses was doing riding his bicycle with this weird-looking camera. It was like an automatic attention-grabber. Conversation-starter. But a big smile and a wave goes a long way.

What plans do you have for the Mississippi work?
I think it’ll naturally fall into book form. I’m going to have my first solo show in Portland, Oregon at the Newspace Center for Photography. It’ll open June 7, 2013.

[With this show], I can begin playing with the images in a new way. I’m interested in seeing the relationships the images will take on with one another.  It’s different from the experience of a book or website presentation and raises all sorts of questions, but I’m really excited to begin the process.

What’s been the reaction to your photos by the people you’ve photographed for the project?
It’s humbling. They take a lot of pride in them. One of the families that I photograph told me once that, “when you bring back photographs of us, you give us joy.” And when I stay the night at their homes I find their portraits hanging in their bedrooms.

Building relationships be it in my daily work or personal projects has always been important to me. The experience and journey I guess you could say has always rode shotgun alongside the desire to tell a good story.

In terms of this new project in Mississippi I’ve been working on I think this is where I’m really beginning to not only explore a new visual aesthetic and way of developing my narratives, but I’m also relying on myphotojournalism background to search out my characters and choose my topics.

You don’t typically light your portraits. Why is that?
I can light a portrait, and I keep a reflector in the bag, but I tend not to overcomplicate things. It’s already a puzzle. I can appreciate exploring for natural light in an environment. Sometimes lights are just another damn thing that needs a battery or plug.

Sometimes lights are just another damn thing that needs a battery or plug.

Who was an early photographic influence on you?
The first guy I fell in love with was German portrait photographer August Sander. I was intrigued by his work ethic, being able to catalog so much work. It was scientific. And if [your images] make a government want to burn your book you know you’re doing something right. But most intriguing was his ability to communicate effectively with people on all levels of society.  That speaks a lot to me.


What’s the most interesting thing in your camera bag?
I have this, uh, I don’t even know how old it is. I have this crushed granola bar. I just pulled it out to check my luggage at the airport this morning and I asked the guy if it was all right if it was in there. Chocolate chip.

How long has it been in there?
At the very least, months.

What’s your favorite Texas barbecue?
Actually me and the lady, we make these short ribs in the oven and she makes a Dr. Pepper sauce and we smother that thing in that.

You don’t have to travel around the world to find interesting subjects…sometimes you can find the whole world in your own backyard.

Any parting thoughts?
I think the most important thing I’ve realized over the past few years is that you don’t have to travel around the world to find interesting subjects. You can of course, but sometimes you can find the whole world in your own backyard.

Kimberley Davis is an Austin-based photographer specializing in food and interiors. She shares her tips for starting out in food photography, her inspirations and more.

Kimberly, do you have any tips for aspiring food photographers? I know some food photographers use a lot of trickery. How do you make food look so appetizing on a shoot?
Working with a skilled food stylist makes all the difference in making the food look as appetizing as possible. They usually have a range of tools, from tweezers in various sizes, q-tips, make-up sponges, spray bottles, dowels, etc.  I know sometimes food stylists use artificial ingredients to make food look good, but in my case, the food has always been edible-unless it’s a Thanksgiving turkey.

Lighting is absolutely key to shooting food

Lighting is absolutely key to shooting food.  Lighting can create texture in even the most boring dish.  For those just starting out, I would recommend working with someone in culinary school to do some mutual portfolio building.  Also, don’t touch the food! Let the food stylist do that, they don’t pick up your camera!

What are some of the keys to making an interior look beautiful? Do you get decorating envy when you walk into some of these homes?
Definitely!  A prop stylist is always helpful to work with in making a home look inviting.  Even adding flowers can make a big difference.  When I shoot interiors it is usually a focus on the interior design elements, vs the architecture of the space. For me, the beauty is in the details, and that’s why people hire me.

What’s been one of your best career decisions so far?
Working for a magazine publisher gave me a ton of experience.

Best decision since going freelance?
Hands down is joining ASMP! The contacts alone have been an invaluable resource.

Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
It’s Texas! I am grateful every day to be in Austin, especially after moving out of state for four years.

One of my favorite TX themes to photograph is of course, Texas BBQ. If I only take pictures in BBQ pits for the rest of my life I would be fine with that! I love those sexy smoky walls!  And of course all my gear smells like BBQ for weeks!

One of my favorite TX themes to photograph is of course, Texas BBQ

Do you have a dream assignment?
On one hand I’ve already had my dream assignment. I photographed Paula Deen and her sons for their magazines.  I got to travel with them, photographed other celebrities, more than I ever dreamed of actually.

There are several magazines I would love to photograph stories for, and collaborating with other photographers is on my bucket list too.  I love to work as a team, especially when everyone brings something different to the table.

What was working with Paula Deen like? She is such a character!
Working with Paula Deen was great! She is exactly the same as she is on TV, like the southern aunt who cooks that I never had. I had amazing opportunities shooting her for her magazine, including trips to New York, Key West, South Beach, Cashiers, New Orleans, and several to Savannah of course. Paula even let me try on her amazing and huge diamond ring once! Many great memories there, definitely some of my favorites!

Weirdest thing in my camera bag?
I have a few of those round shiny cardboard take out container tops in my bag because they make great reflectors!  I can fold them and set them on a table, they cost nothing and they’re handy.  Be resourceful!

Latest gear obsession?
I have a little shoe mount bubble level that my friend Andrew Pogue gave me and I love it!

I stay motivated because I really enjoy my work

How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated because I really enjoy my work and there are busy times and times that aren’t busy, so that keeps me motivated too.

Did you have a big break?
My big break came from Mac Jamieson, the Creative Director at Hoffman Media.  He saw the potential in my work and was patient.  He gave me advice and I took it, built a new portfolio and he saw my dedication.   He taught me a lot and had a lot of faith in me too.  I got a ton of experience there in 4 years working for 8-9 magazines.

How did you develop your personal vision?
My personal vision came with practice really.  It is definitely possible to achieve the same look with different lenses and of course I have a favorite, but lighting is everything.  I use strobes and I use natural light, it depends what it is and what it’s for.  The point is that I am conscious about how I am lighting, even with natural light, I will light the same as if I use strobes.  It has to be a thoughtful process.

Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by Jody Horton (ed. note: read Jody’s ILTP interview here).  Even before I moved to Austin I followed the Farmhouse Table blog and I knew his work from that.  I love Debi Treloar’s work and her book Food for Friends.  Sang An,  Katie Quinn Davies (What Kate Ate) her sort of messy/dark food images are gorgeous, Wyatt McSpadden, Maren Caruso has an inspiring portfolio, I especially love her conceptual food work!

All time favorite photo books?
Most are cookbooks…Food for Friends, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home, Wyatt McSpadden’s Texas BBQ

How do you define success in your own career? 
Being brave enough to put yourself out there and then making and keeping happy clients is rewarding.

What’s next? Exciting projects in 2012? 
Texas Photo Roundup was pretty exciting!  The first quarter of 2012 has been a good start and hopefully that momentum will keep going throughout the year.  I have a new website, starting email promos, really marketing myself this year.

Advice for someone starting out?
Join ASMP and most important, show up!  Let people know who you are, make friends, and it will make a huge difference.  Assist and you will learn a lot.  Learn the business side, it’s crucial to making it!  Don’t take no answer as a “no” answer.  Just keep trying –respectfully- and don’t give up.  Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, associate yourself with photographers who work hard and have a positive outlook.

Learn the business side, it’s crucial to making it!

Favorite BBQ?
You asked the right person!  Franklin BBQ chopped beef/Tipsy Texan is so good it doesn’t even need sauce!  The pies are really good there too by the way.  My other favorite is Cele Store in Manor.  It’s truly a special place, historic building, as casual as it gets!  They’re only open Thursday and Friday for lunch and Friday nights I think.  The BBQ is great, and you definitely want to get extra white bread for dipping in the sauce.  Yum, I want some now!  I also love Rudy’s.

Favorite breakfast taco?
Dan’s Hamburgers believe it or not!  They make great breakfast tacos!

What do you collect?
I collect notebooks.  I have one for everything…there are five sitting on my desk right now!  One is a large sketchbook I use for making notes about each job.  I love the little notebooks books from Wiley Valentine the most though.  Beautiful paper is one of my favorite things!

Hobbies?
I love to garden, and also love to photograph flowers. It’s not something I usually do for work but I just added a Flora gallery on my website because I think it’s still worth showing.  My once a year hobby is baking Christmas cookies for friends and clients.  I look forward to it and enjoy sharing them.

How do you stay sane?
Who says any of us stay sane? Just make it work, ask for help when you need it, and keep going.

How did you get started in photography?
I took pictures all the time as a kid. My Dad gave me his Olympus camera when I was in 8th grade and I was hooked.

What’s one of your best career decisions so far?
Moving to New York City for 11 years. It really helped my career immensely.

What’s your favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
Since I just moved here in October I’m still discovering that one. But so far I’m enjoying the lack of attitude and pretentiousness of the people here.

Tell us about a dream assignment?

it’s working with a great crew or shooting a story with an amazing writer or editor

That’s a hard one because sometimes the best assignments I’ve had were the ones that on paper didn’t seem like the best assignments. It’s not shooting one particular person or place even, it’s working with a great crew or shooting a story with an amazing writer or editor who gets the place your photographing and allows me to produce my best work. That said, I’ve been dreaming about shooting a food story somewhere in Scandinavia.

Latest gear obsession?
Not obsessed with gear at all.

How do you stay motivated?
Knowing I can’t do anything else for a living at this point.

What was your first big break?
I assisted the former photo editor of Travel + Leisure, Jim Franco, when I first moved to NYC. He encouraged me to show my work to the magazine and I got my first job. No matter how small the jobs were they gave me I worked my ass off and it paid off. They liked my work and it opened a lot of doors for me having shot for them.

No matter how small the jobs were they gave me I worked my ass off and it paid off

Talk to us about how you established your personal vision? was there oneproject that gave you that “ah ha” moment, where you knew this is whereyou wanted to take your work?
I’m not sure if there was any “ah ha” moment. My personal vision is evolving. But I do have a way in which I work with my subjects that allows things to happen organically. People are always telling me how relaxed and easy I am to work with and I think there’s a certain feel to the work I get by creating that atmosphere.

Any tips for photographing kids? You’re great at it and I think people don’trealize just how tough it can be to get kids to cooperate.
Don’t try to control them too much. I pick a scenario, a space or place that I like, find or create great light and let them do their thing. Face it, they’re going to do the thing you least want them to do, but if you’re patient something good will come from it. It’s also easier if there’s more than one of them and they forget you’re there.

Who are you inspired by?
People who are really good at what they do and make it look really easy and treat people around them kindly.

All-time favorite photo books?
Diane Arbus Revelations and at the moment this crazy college yearbook I found from Uncommon Objects from 1943.

Most helpful part of your ‘education’ that wasn’t photo related?
Being a mom.

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
When people connect with my images and are excited to work with me.

What’s next? exciting projects in 2012?
I’m traveling cross country back to New York for the Summer with my husband and toddler son. We’re going to take a week to get there and I plan on documenting the whole ridiculous mess.

I was also pretty fearless about approaching clients I wanted to work for and telling them just that

Advice for someone starting out?
I worked for some really nice photographers that I learned a lot from and helped my career in the beginning. I was also pretty fearless about approaching clients I wanted to work for and telling them just that.

Favorite bbq?
Since I just moved here there’s lots of haven’t tried, but I did go to Smitty’s Market and it was pretty freaking good.

Favorite libation?
Rosé

Do you collect anything?
When moving from NYC to Austin I discovered I have collected a crazy amount of negatives and contact sheets.

Hobbies outside of photography?
Cooking