My real introduction to Photography came in 2004, when I took my first Photography course at Williston-Northampton School in Easthampton, MA. This was pure fate. My instructor, Edward Hing, had been a very successful commercial photographer for a major Madison Avenue advertising firm in New York City, and had decided to “retire” as an instructor at the boarding school he had attended in the late 1970’s. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The relationship I developed with Mr. Hing over a four-year period, both in and out of the classroom and laboratory, formed the basis, the real foundation, for everything I have done since. In my first year, I learned about the history of photography and explored the basics of image content. I also learned about the mechanics of the analog camera, and how to make, develop and print black and white photos. Most important, I learned to start thinking about composition and design. In my second year, I learned to use Adobe Photoshop and other imaging software as foundations of the digital darkroom, and studied file types and sizes, printer utilities, calibration, electronic flash and paper options. In my third year, I focused on “pre-visualization” of the photograph and refined the skills needed to effectuate the concepts through extensive digital and darkroom lab work, as well as exercises in studio and outdoor lighting.
Mr. Hing loves to travel and photograph, and I joined him on several documentary photographic expeditions that he organized while I was at Williston. I took separate trips to Ireland (2005), Honduras (2006), Italy (2006), Mainland China (2007), Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany (Spring 2008) and Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos (Summer 2008, after I graduated from Williston). These trips were photographic incubators. I learned so much from Mr. Hing, who was a passionate artist and teacher, and I took some of my favorite documentary photographs during this period.
During the Summer of 2007, I studied Photography in Paris under Baptiste Lignel, an acclaimed, free-lance documentary photographer who lives there and publishes his work in international periodicals. The course was a four-week, intensive advanced Photography course conducted by Parsons School of Design as part of its college curriculum, and although I was only a Junior in high school, I received four college credits.
That summer in Paris I was asked to develop a personal vision of urban landscape, portraiture and reportage. We explored Paris, including many off-beat areas, attended lectures and visited museums. We shot constantly, and also did a significant amount of darkroom work. The course was described as “an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Henri Cartier-Bresson,” and as an homage to M. Cartier-Bresson and M. Robert Doisneau, we were required to use a fixed-lens analog camera and black and white film—I used a Nikon F3 with a small fixed lens. Because of the founding principles of the course, I was forced to learn how to compose images on the fly before I shot, using my head and my feet. We were not allowed to engage in lazy and indiscriminate practices, such as auto-fire moto-shooting, in which a digital photographer takes hundreds of photographs and hopes to discover one or two that can be burnished in Photoshop. This training was invaluable—and very few digital-age photographers ever do it—because it required me to think and compose before pulling the trigger.
In my last year at Williston, Mr. Hing’s Advanced Photography course introduced me to processes that are taught in only the top, most advanced college Photography programs in the country. I learned to use alternative photographic methods with a variety of camera types, including medium, alternative and large format cameras. I also learned highly non-traditional ways to create a photographic image on Ink Aid substrates, metals and plastics, “Purrell” transfers, the use of studio “flash lighting,” 4x5 view camera techniques and Cyanotype and Kallitype printing. This course met twice a week in the evenings so that we could maximize our lab time. I had just turned 18 years old.
During the Spring of 2008, I produced my Senior Photography project. I had always loved fashion and was beginning to lean more and more to Fashion Photography as a career path. My Senior Project was a collection of poster-size photographs of students I selected who had never modeled, and was displayed for a public showing in the Reed Campus Center. I was intrigued with the process of creating and setting a mood using ordinary people—students—who were mostly shy and inexperienced, plain and selfless, and transforming the scene into something luxurious and unexpected. I did the models’ hair and makeup, in some cases even made their clothes. I photographed them in a junkyard and a horse barn, among other venues. I’m sure I was channeling Steven Meisel because I have always admired his work, or maybe Richard Avedon’s “Dovima with Elephants,” where the focus is on the Dior gown.
At the end of 2007, I began thinking about college. My parents both graduated from The University of Texas at Austin (my father and grandfather also the Law School), so I traveled to Austin and sat down with the Dean of UT’s Fine Arts Department. After looking at my resume, he told me that the level of my experience was far beyond a college Freshman. He explained that Photography studies at UT were a small part of the Studio Art Program, with only a handful of courses, and that it would be my Junior year before I would be able to take courses that would advance my skill set. He encouraged me to apply to UT, but suggested that, as a serious and committed photographer, my career might be better advantaged by attending a college with a more focused and vigorous Photography program. When I returned to school, Mr. Hing recommended a college that he thought had the best photography program in the country—the Lesley University College of Art and Design—and he wrote Lesley a letter of introduction and recommendation on my behalf.
In the Spring, I was accepted by both Lesley and UT-Austin, and I was forced to make an important decision—whether to attend a great University in my home state, where I could have a broad-based liberal arts education, or go all-in in Photography and attend a college with the best Photography program in the country. I chose to commit to Photography, and in the Fall of 2008 I enrolled in Lesley’s undergraduate Photography program.
Lesley University is located in Cambridge, MA, and has about 10,000 enrolled students. The University’s College of Art and Design, which is dedicated to the visual arts, was founded over 100 years ago with the mission of training students to become professional artists in rewarding creative fields. In 1967, the College was first in the country to add a program leading specifically to the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography, and in 1998, the College added the Masters of Fine Arts degree in Photography program. The College is the only institution in the country that offers both BFA and MFA degrees specifically in Photography.
The Photography Department, which is comprised of about thirty photography professors, is world-renowned. The Chair of the Department is Christopher James, an internationally known artist and photographer whose photographs, paintings and alternative process images have been exhibited in galleries and museums all over the country and abroad. He is a published artist who has exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the George Eastman House and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After serving for 13 years as Professor of Photography at Harvard University, he became Chair of the College’s Photography Department. Mr. James was one of several outstanding teachers I had at Lesley.
My four years of courses in Photography in Cambridge were the most intensive and critical study in which I have ever been engaged. Out of an offering of over 80 Photography courses, I took courses and instruction in subjects such as Honors Studio II, Large Format, Documentary Photography, Color Digital, Commercial Photography, Portrait Photography, Commercial Lighting, Photojournalism, Printmaking, Photo Noir, Digital Media, Digital Printing, Contemporary Trends in Photography, Advanced Digital Printing II, Conceptual Editorial Photography, Photographic Concepts, The Critical Eye, and Alternative Processes.
I received my BFA in Photography from the Lesley University College of Art and Design after four years of studies. Cambridge was a wonderful college town, and a mecca for the arts. However, I woke up every day to the expectation that my Photographic work would be blown up, dissected, scrutinized and criticized in the most detailed and ruthless way by students and teachers alike. I constantly had to defend my work, and although it was not a particularly comfortable feeling, I believe I owe a lot to the Lesley Photography program for pushing me to levels of excellence I could never have achieved otherwise.
During my last years of college, I spent a great deal of time in New York City. I became a photographic assistant to a very successful fashion photographer, Caitlin Mitchell. http://www.caitlinmitchell.com/ After college, I moved to the City and began working for Caitlin full-time. As Caitlin’s assistant, I did pretty much everything. I helped set up studio lighting and laptop computers, and assisted with the preparation of models for the shoots. Caitlin is inspirational, and my work with her was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The pull of Texas was too strong, however, and, after having been away for nine years, I moved back to Houston in 2013 and started my commercial photography business.