Doing it with Justin Clemons
A Q&A with one of Dallas’ coolest photographers
We sit down with photographer Justin Clemons for an up-close-and-personal talk about life, work, art and why he watches too much television.
Hometown: Grew up in the McKinney, TX area
Years in Dallas: 11 years
Current Dallas neighborhood: My wife and I bought 2 1/2 acres in South Oak Cliff and are about to start building our house over there in the next couple months
First photography job: First editorial photo job was for Dallas Modern Luxury. They actually didn’t care for my images and had that job re-shot by another photographer. Haha, that was my first introduction into the business. It’s a long story but I soon shot for them again and continued to for about 6 years.
How did you get your start in photography?
I graduated from The University of North Texas with my Bachelors of Fine Art in Photographer in 2003. I then started assisting professional photographers in Dallas for about three years. Then I slowly started shooting for local magazines and businesses until I built up a decent clientele.
Dallas isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think “creativity,” how do you feel about that? What are artists doing to prove that stigma wrong? Conversely, What do you like about Dallas’ creative community?
Dallas has a ton of creative people in it. Unfortunately, I feel like a large part of Dallas is still very conservative and safe when it comes to artistic expressions. I know that I struggle with just being crazy creative and staying safe with my craft so the majority of people like it.
I am blown away by the creativity in musicals. I love watching dancers, ballet, contemporary, whatever, I am amazed how they express the music through their bodies.
On the community side, I know quite a bit of the good photographers in Dallas, and they are all very cool and open. At times we will grab a beer and talk about the business. I don’t feel there is competitive spirit there, we all help each other however we can.
What are your favorite spaces to photograph in? What makes a good space?
I hate shooting in the studio! I am very much inspired by the location I am shooting at. Sure, there are times I walk into a space and think “Oh my, I’m going to have to make this cool through lighting or getting the subject to do something interesting.” But then there are times I walk into a space and think, “Wow, this is going to be easy.” Even if the subject is bad, visually this will be an amazing shot. That’s one of my favorite parts of my job is seeing and experiencing new places. Whether I’m shooting at a whiskey distillery or wading through the red river in Oklahoma photographing a catfish noodler, I’m inspired by my surroundings as how to shoot a subject.
Where do you find inspiration?
Ah man, I find inspiration through all sorts of creative expression. I actually nowadays find more inspiration by things that aren’t photography centered. A lot of times I find myself not having the best attitude when looking at photography magazines, I get jealous. But with other forms of artistic expression I am inspired and can’t be jealous, haha.
I am constantly listening to music wherever I am. On my playlist right now is range of styles (Duke Ellington, Ibrahim Ferrer, NF, Chance the Rapper, Shakey Graves). I am blown away by the creativity in musicals. I love watching dancers, ballet, contemporary, whatever, I am amazed how they express the music through their bodies.
Movies and TV right now is just on another level. I probably watch way too much, but am really inspired by the way stories that are told in this medium.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Don’t be in a rush. It will come if you just work at it slowly and consistently. Don’t get too distracted with what everyone else is doing. Find what you enjoy and explore every facet of it. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t blow up in the first couple years. It took me 5 years until I was shooting for national magazines, shooting what I really enjoy and making a good living at it, and I still have a ways to go in my opinion. It’s just a slow process getting people to know who you are and what type of artistic expression you do. It is absolutely worth the wait, though. Don’t give up. Keep pushing.