American Photographic Artists Awards 2021
PORTRAITS - 1st PLACE
My portrait of James White, founder and guiding spirit of The Broken Spoke in Austin, was recently awarded first place in the Portrait category of this year's APA awards. The image was part of a story that I shot for National Geographic Traveller UK. The shoot was memorable for a number of reasons, though what will likely stick with me is the recollection of Mr. White's kindness.
The Broken Spoke has been around since 1964, and its walls are lined with photographs of Mr. White posing with country music's biggest stars at his honky-tonk saloon - Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, and of course, Willie Nelson. George Strait featured the venue on one of his album covers. All of which is to say that many photographers have blown through the doors of a venue that advertises itself as 'The Last True Texas Dancehall,' and yet Mr White treated me as if I were the first photographer to show-up there. Nothing was too much trouble.
The portrait itself captures a stolen moment. I was walking between rooms when I saw Mr. White standing at the bar, lost in thought. A moment after I pressed the camera shutter he noticed me and grinned wryly at being 'caught.' I pressed the shutter a second time, and you could argue that that image is more a true portrait, since it captures his natural warm spirit. Even then, however, I knew that the first capture was the more memorable image.
There's an added poignancy to the picture now; Mr. White passed away earlier this year at age 81.
DOCUMENTARY/PHOTOJOURNALISM - 2nd Place
I placed a second time in this year's awards (and if I might toot my own horn a minute here, I was the only photographer honored in two categories). My portrait of (former-) Austin Police Chief Bryan Manley finished second in the Photojournalism/Documentary category.
The image was made in a small, blacked-out room used for press conferences. There was a 'Austin Police' sign on the wall, and a lectern for the police chief to speak from. Beyond that, the room was bare and offered little in the way of possibility.
Looking around, I thought that the blinds offered some visual potential, and I liked that the US flag was visible in the background. Given that policing has been a subject of national conversation for a couple of years now, I felt that the flag alluded to that conversation. It was a bright, sunny say, but my assistant ran a strobe outside, and we used that to heighten the sense of drama.
Soon after this image was made, Austin's Police Chief came under pressure due to his handling of an incident in which police shot a black man, and again later, due to the force's strong-arm tactics with Black Lives Matter protestors. He retired several months later.