Tell me how you got started in photography.
I always liked photography and, during baseball, I was exposed to this interesting lifestyle, minor league baseball. It’s a pretty interesting scene. You have a group of young kids, some with lots of money. For the first time they are living alone. Over half the team is not from the United States and don't speak English for the most part and you are all living together in small towns, and I think that just, for some reason, I wanted to document that, and I didn't know how.
My last year, I started taking pictures of minor league baseball behind the scenes. They are terrible pictures for the most part. It's hard to play baseball and document it at the same time. My mind was in two different places, but I found that I really liked photography, and I already had the access to this particular story and I found that that is the kind of photography that I like. Access is kind of the key to their world and other cultures and I found that the most logical way of documenting it and telling the story of minor league baseball was through photography. I asked for my release from the Atlanta Braves, and I drove home and I woke up and said, “What am I going to do? What's the next project,” you know?
What did you study in school?
Spanish and environmental studies. And it wasn't like I wanted to teach Spanish or really use it. I just liked the idea of speaking another language. That's the beauty of photography, I think. You don't have to go to school, you know? A lot of people do. A lot of people get a degree or whatever but anyone can wake up tomorrow and be a photographer. You know, making a living is harder.
Really? You think anyone can do it?
Well, they can wake up and be a photographer. I’m not saying that I was immediately supporting myself off of photography, but I didn't have to go through school and I didn't have to go through training. I had to teach myself, but I woke up and was a professional photographer the next day. I just had to figure out how to make a living.
How did you teach yourself?
I just started looking at tons of pictures. I started noticing what pictures appealed to me and that was mostly in the documentary photojournalism and travel magazine world and I would spend hours at the bookstore and look at magazines and then I'd look online and find people's work I liked. You know, Oh my gosh I like those pictures I’m going to try to do something like that, and inevitably you do something different but you still find inspiration from other work.
Who were some of the first people that inspired you?
I like Randy Olson’s work and Melissa Farlow, his wife, I like Jonas Bendiksen's work, Joel Sartore has become a mentor. Ed Kashi, and then Andrew Querner, among others.
You do a lot of personal projects. Do you feel like that has been an important way for you to develop your voice?
Yeah. I try to do a good amount every year. I think for a couple of reasons. One, it's good practice to keep shooting the way I want to shoot. Second, it keeps me sane. There are plenty of assignments that I do and like to do that aren't necessarily right in line with a story that I would choose on my own. And sometimes it's good to just ... it keeps the passion for photography alive if you get to do it for yourself and you have to figure out the story yourself and stay motivated to shoot it. Maybe you aren't getting paid or maybe you are going to try to sell it in the end but there's more freedom in it and it's why I started.
And I noticed, at the end of 2011 you know, the emails go around to everybody, to photographers, for contests and awards and I looked through my work, and I really didn't have any set of images that I was super proud of. Or even a handful of images that I was proud of from that year. And I realized that while it was a very successful year as far as, I was busy and I shot a lot, and I traveled a bunch, but it was weird. I really didn't add that many pictures to my portfolio. I didn't do any personal stories. I started the one on Dominican baseball last year and I did a small one in Florida but I kind of told myself that I need to do more in 2012 even if that means turning down paid jobs just to keep that interest going.