Details

Where are you based?
I’m based here in Houston, Texas. I don’t have a studio per se because most of my work is on location. I live in Katy, which is sort of outside of everything. But it’s good for family, it’s just a lot of driving.

So why Katy?
It’s really just where I landed when I moved here from New York. My wife’s family all live out there and we have a daughter who is seven now and the family recommended we move there for her. It’s worked out but I think I’d prefer to live closer in.

So you used to live in New York?

It’s been a long road to get to the point where I’m at, but it was fun. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it

I lived in New York for ten years. I went up there to study photography at the International Center of Photography there and then assisted a bunch of people. I never got a degree in photography but as I was working, I would take courses at night here and there as I could while my wife was going to college. It was a very long road. It’s not an easy way to go. But over the years, I’ve amassed the experience to finally go out on my own. At this point, I’ve been shooting freelance for myself for nearly eight years. It’s been a long road to get to the point where I’m at, but it was fun. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Who were some of the people you assisted?
There were a lot. The notable people would be Ben Fink. I was his first assistant consistently for two and a half years and he’s probably the most influential person on my own career. He’s a food and travel photographer, very well-respected. He’s shot a lot of cookbooks, and things like that. He’s really the person that changed the direction of my career. I really wanted to do more photojournalism and documentary work, but that’s how I veered off course. But it’s all worked out, I’m happy with that.

I’ve also assisted Bruce Davidson, a Magnum photographer. I loved his work, I still do. In a distant way, he still influences my work. I really go for honest portraiture and a straightforward approach to my work. I tend to try and capture things in the moment as opposed to directing things much. People seem to like that approach.

If you could synthesize everything you’ve learned from them, how would you sum it up?
The main thing that I learned was that it’s really about your eye and not so much about all the production and you don’t need a whole entourage of people and tons of equipment and unlimited funds. It’s all about opening your eyes and discovering what’s there and making something bigger and better and more beautiful out of it. I think both Bruce Davidson and Ben Fink, both had that sort of effect on me, you know? They just have a very amazing eye. They just see right into a situation and zero in on that thing that’s amazing and beautiful and fascinating and powerful. It’s the kind of thing that stays in the back of my mind in my head while I’m shooting.

it’s really about your eye and not so much about all the production

How long did you assist Bruce Davidson?
[My time with Bruce] was fairly short. I took a class from him at the Jewish Community Center. That’s where we were introduced. He was recommended to me by an instructor at ICP. They saw some similarity to my work and approach to street photography and documentary work and thought that we would gel. So I searched him out and that’s how I found that he was giving this class at the Jewish Community Center. So I went there and started out by being his class assistant and then that led into assisting him on a few jobs. He’s a very special guy. No pretense, no attitude, just a kind, helpful guy, straightforward and giving. He shared a lot with me. It didn’t last long before I landed a full-time job with Ben Fink. I assisted a lot of other people, a lot of fashion and still life and architectural photographers and all kinds of people but not one of them I think back to and look at my own work and say that they had some sort of influence. It’s really only those two.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Tougaloo, Mississippi, just outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

How has being from a small town in Mississippi affected your work?
I’m not sure. I think that where I grew up and how I grew up was probably pretty different from most people. It was a college campus and it was a closed environment. I didn’t venture out much to see beyond that. It was a little biosphere environment of it’s own. When I did leave there, I think I had so much to discover and everything was so new that I think that just coming from a small town where your exposure to things is so limited that it’s very easy to find wonder all around you. I think that really helped me as far as going out and exploring finding all these things that to other people are run of the mill or everyday and might pass up. I think I’ve seen quite a bit since then, but I still try and keep that. At my core I think I’m still that person where I’m still amazed by things.

At my core I think I’m still that person where I’m still amazed by things

What was your first big break?
That’s hard to say. I’ve had a lot of little breaks that have led into where I am. One thing I haven’t talked about is how I got into all this to begin with or how I left Mississippi which is probably my biggest break was when I was 16, I was studying ballet. I got a scholarship to leave Mississippi and come to Houston and dance with the Houston Ballet’s academy. Then that eventually took me into being a professional dancer with Houston Ballet. That allowed me to escape that little world I was in and see all this new potential for my life and discover all these new things. That was probably my first big break. Though it had nothing to do with photography, that was the thing that set me on this path to new things.

That didn’t last long – I was  a professional dancer for about two seconds before I injured myself and then that was that. But, it got me out and got me exposure to new things and allowed me to discover photography and put me on this path.

Since then I’ve had lots of small breaks. One of them, when I moved back from New York to Houston, I immediately got picked up by Houston Magazine and they’ve been incredibly generous and loyal. I’ve shot for them now for at least five years. I don’t think I’ve missed an issue. They’ve hired me consistently and allowed me to build my portfolio and get all this access to things. I don’t think I would have had that same break in New York to where I’d have been able to get sort of loyalty and shoot that much for one person.

If I see an opportunity, I’ve learned that you have to grab it

That has led to so many other things. I’ve shot cookbooks as a result of that where I’ve been able to travel to Finland and France. I’ve landed this amazing opportunity with Midway Corporation and City Centre to be their designated photographer which has given me a lot of consistency which, when you’re a freelancer, is hard to come by. It just continues to open up things constantly come my way and fall in my lap to a certain degree.

To a certain degree I’m an opportunist. If I see an opportunity, I’ve learned that you have to grab it. Maybe it’s not necessarily the perfect opportunity but it is an opportunity and you take it and you run with it and you make it something bigger and better. If I’ve had any success, the secret to my success is I take those opportunities and I run with them.

How did you establish your personal vision?
Being in ballet, in theatre, really gave me an appreciation for drama and the theatrics and a love of the dramatic image. I may not always be successful, but I always go for a dramatic, impactful image the same way when I was dancing that was the sort of performance I’d try to put out there – something that had power and resonated. It’s a goal, I don’t know if I ever really accomplished that.

What was your best career decision?
My best career decision was to stop assisting and get out there and work on my own work. I had assisted for nearly four years and it was turning into a situation where I could have been a career assistant. That’s totally great for some people – there are a lot of full-time assistants I really respect – but for myself it just wasn’t satisfying, it wasn’t where I needed to go. So it was just taking that leap and deciding that I was going to be broke for many years and struggle and just get out there and do my own thing. Had I not done that I’d either still be assisting or doing something entirely different.

My best career decision was to stop assisting and get out there and work on my own work

How do you define success in your own career?
It’s cliché, but to me it’s being happy everyday with what you’re doing. I’m not the type to worry too much about finances or getting rich or anything else like that. I didn’t grow up with money.  I don’t feel much need to have it. As long as I’m working and people appreciate what I’m doing, I find what I’m doing fascinating and I’m happy, I feel successful.

How do you stay motivated?
I think a big part of it is my family, my daughter. Her and my wife, they’re both inspiring to me. I want to do well for them. I just want to do something they’d be proud of. That’s a certain motivation there, but I think that I have this innate desire to explore and see things and the idea that I’d ever have to stop and get an office job and at best, I wouldn’t be able to handle that. It’s that desire to be constantly moving and out there and discovering that keeps me motivated, keeps me going.

Do you have a favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
I think I enjoy the access. I think that a lot of places, they’re so many photographers, they’re so jaded towards that it’s a real process into a place with a camera. When I was in New York, there’s all these permits you need to do something on the street. You need permits here, too, but there’s just as intense…you know I could probably call any institution I wanted to and say I want to come in and take pictures and they would be open to that. There’s just a friendlier environment I feel like towards photography and photographers.

Do you have a dream assignment?
I think my dream assignment is more of a travel/documentary assignment. I’ve always been a huge fan of Saveur magazine. I just love their approach. They’re like the National Geographic of food. It’s more about the culture as opposed to…like what I do now is I shoot a lot of restaurant “stuff” – restaurant reviews and things for their website and hotels…it’s all great but it’s missing the culture behind the food as opposed to what a lot of these things are. It’s more surface and selling something. I would really love to get back to what attracted me to photography in the first place which is connecting with people and discovering cultures I wasn’t familiar with before.

What’s the weirdest thing in your camera bag?
Yesterday the weirdest thing in my camera bag, I discovered I had a hammer in there. When I was cleaning up my gallery, I was moving things around and somehow this hammer had fell into my bag. I didn’t even realize because I was in such a hurry, I went off to my shoot and it was so incredibly heavy I was like, “wow, why is my bag so heavy today?” And at the end of the day I’m exhausted and I open up the side back pocket, the one I don’t use that much and I open it up and there’s this big hammer in there and I’m like “oh there you go, that would explain it.”

Do you have a latest gear obsession?
That’s the funny thing about me is that I don’t care much about gear, I’m not that gear-oriented. I’ve had the same three lenses for seven years: a 50mm, a 16-35mm, and a 100mm macro. Those seem to do fine for me, and if I ever need something else, I’ll rent it.

the funny thing about me is that I don’t care much about gear

What are some of your all time favorite photo books?
One that has influenced me quite a bit is Nick Waplington who did “The Wedding.”. That book spoke a lot to me because there’s something very familiar about that whole environment there that is… if you see it, you’ll wonder how I grew up when you look at how strange it’s subjects are there, but there’s something very comfortable and familiar to me about that. It opened my eyes that as unsophisticated I am and my circle is probably that my demographic, my vision has worth and value and I can go out there and shoot the people I love and it’s valuable. It’s weird to say probably if you look at my portfolio because I shoot a lot for Houston Magazine which is very the wealthy and upper class and probably not like anything like where I’m from. That is the thing that impacted me. This is real, this is something familiar to me. I can see the beauty in this even if most people don’t.

What projects are you working on in 2012?
I’m very freelance, so from one day to the next I never know what I’m going to be doing. The big major thing I’m working on that has nothing to do with my own photography, but I’m excited about is this art gallery I’m opening with my partner Luqman Kaka. All these years we’ve wanted to do something together, some project that allowed us to explore some of our ideas that we’ve had. We’re a couple of daydreamers.

We’re constantly coming up with crazy ideas that have no ability or venue to make it actually happen. This opportunity suddenly popped open out of nowhere where I discovered this gallery space was becoming available and I thought this might be an opportunity here. So we’re going to do this gallery that’s focused on photography, but we’ll venture into other mediums occasionally and that’s going to get started July 2. I’m really excited about it. Who knows what will happen or where it’ll go.

What’s the gallery called?
It’s called Be Human Gallery. I’m definitely motivated to get Texas photographers in there.

What’s your favorite barbecue?
I’m a traditionalist. I still really love Goode Company Barbecue. I haven’t found a place I like better than that.

Do you have a favorite breakfast taco?
Cochinita pibil taco at a place called The Bullet in Katy, Texas.

Do you have any hobbies outside of photography?
Yeah, I really like gardening. I’ve always had a secret desire to be a landscape designer. So I mess around with a little bit of that at home. Not that great but I enjoy it. I also enjoy mechanics. I like to work on my car. My wife’s got a Mini Cooper. If you have a Mini Cooper, you know they break down constantly and they’re garbage but I love it because it keeps me busy. I’m always doing something with that car and right now it’s in a million pieces in my garage.

Do you have a favorite Texas getaway?
I really love going to Austin. We have friends out there we visit occasionally.

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2 Responses to “Shannon O’Hara”

  1. [...] space adjacent to Eddie V’s.  The gallery’s founders, a trio of commercial artists, including Houston-based Shannon O’Hara, who regularly shoots for the pages of Houston Modern Luxury magazine, will focus on message-driven [...]

    Reply

  2. Hi Shannon!
    My name is Lucy Nolan, and I work for a sports marketing company- Advantage International Marketing. We are planning a corporate style event for LG executives and their guests for the Final Four this coming April in Houston, TX. We love the work that you have shown on your site, and we were wondering if this sort of event is something you think you would like to talk further about. Thank you and I look forward to hearing back from you!

    Best,
    Lucy

    Reply

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