Jody Horton is an Austin-based food and lifestyle photographer whose work has appeared in Garden and Gun, The New York Times Magazine, and Esquire.
What’s your background? Did you study photography?
I went to Clemson University and got a BA in in English with a minor in Communications. At Clemson, I took an intro to photography class. After Clemson, I went to the University of New Mexico for a Masters in Cultural Anthropology. During grad school I was interested in photography and film, and took 16mm film classes as part of the grad program. In school, I used visual mediums for ethnographic work. I did a study on low rider culture where I took pictures of their cars and then interviewed the car owners. I also did a semester in Bangkok, plus some time in central Java and attended the Maine Media Workshops.
What was your first big break?
For a number of years I was focused on documentary video. When my first son was born, I realized I couldn’t do it as well because it took so much time and the technology was changing so quickly. The amount of time needed to apply for grants, storyboard, etc. just wasn’t right for me anymore. So I decided I needed to become more serious about photography.  My first break came from meeting with Texas Monthly. Leslie Baldwin (Director of Photography) and TJ Tucker (Creative Director) loved the work and were enthusiastic. I pitched several stories to them, one of them was on squirrel hunting in east Texas. A few days later they called and asked me to shoot it. I had only met with one other magazine before, Garden and Gun. The fact that I could approach a magazine and they would hire me to do something and was extremely gratifying.

How do you stay motivated?
I’m motivated by needing to save for my children’s college of course, but also motivated by the idea of death. You only have so many years that you can do this and do it well. That’s what brought me to photography seriously in the first place.

You only have so many years that you can do this and do it well

You obviously love food and stories around where our food comes from. How did that come to be?

When I was in grad school I created a local food magazine. I started doing food photography then. The magazine had a cultural bent, and I would cover local growers as well as restaurants. I was drawn to people who were really passionate about what they do, and food people seem to be very passionate. I have a lot of different photographic interests — portrait, landscapes, etc, and I like how the theme of food can encompass all of those things. There’s a lot of range. That circle sort of limits the world to a degree, but it is a colorful subject matter and has a colorful community.

How did you end up in Texas?
While on a trip to Costa Rica doing adventure photography and writing, I met my future wife who was living in New York City at the time. We dated long distance for a while and then ultimately decided we would both move to Austin. Austin seemed like a cultural and geographic middle ground between New Mexico and New York City and there was an active documentary film scene.

What’s your favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
Texas is an awesome place to be, and Austin has one of the most vibrant food communities in the country. Part of the reason it does is because the community is really open. It’s not about who you know as much as in other places. Texas is so big and Austin is situated right in the middle of so many major Texas cities, so I can really cover assignments all over the state.

Texas is an awesome place to be

Do you have a favorite uniquely Texas assignment?
I met an interesting man, Shelby Johnson, while working on the squirrel hunting story. Johnson lives like people lived 70 years ago. He has a ton of free time, so Johnson will would go squirrel hunting for 3 weeks at a time after he pulled in his summer harvest. He would spend weeks on end catfishing. Johnson was a window into an older farming lifestyle — a community that is set on a the same schedule of work and play. Even further, Johnson could articulate so well what he loves about doing what he does. I like doing stories about people who otherwise the public wouldn’t get to know. I find an interesting person and then through them interesting stories.

Dream assignment?
I would like to have the chance to document food or food culture for Saveur. Or to shoot for National Geographic documenting a community of fisherman or pearl divers in the South Pacific.  National Geographic, want to send me around the world to document oyster gathering and eating?

How do you define ‘success’ in your own career?
Earning enough to where I can take care of my family, and have some freedom to do jobs that don’t pay well but that are interesting.

What’s next? Any exciting projects coming up in 2012?
I have a hunting and cooking book in the works that will come out in the fall of 2012. Hunting is being reconsidered now and being seen as a natural means by which to acquire local and sustainably harvested food. Hunting used to be associated with rednecks, but it’s being reclaimed and now as more types of people are hunting. Also, I am taking photos for a book on wood fired cooking by Tim Byres of Dallas’ Smoke. The book is essentially based on traditional American cooking, with a focus on making everything from scratch.

Do you have a favorite bbq spot?
Locally Franklin’s. Overall though, I’m more in love with South Carolina pork BBQ. My favorite is a backyard whole hog served with red vinegar pepper sauce, typical of mid-state South Carolina. My wife is a vegetarian. Her stance: “I draw the line at having a whole pig roasted in the backyard.”

Favorite breakfast taco?
I prefer the breakfast burrito, which you can find at Taco Shack. But the very best is one that cannot really be had anymore was from a place called Desert Willow in Alberquerque. Potato, egg, cheese, applewood smoked bacon, the best New Mexico red sauce I’ve ever had.

Favorite libation?
I’m a whiskey straight kind of guy. I love the tobacco-infused drink at La Condesa.

Do you collect anything?
I like stuff that carries other stuff. I have a great bag collection. I’m also always collecting interesting props for food shoots.

Hobbies outside of photography?
With little kids in the mix there is not much time for ‘hobbies’, but I do like to play guitar. I also like to make work a hobby. Do what you want to do.

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