We are just going to be honest here; we fell in love with you. We would like to be coy and say it happened on accident but the truth is we fell in love with you years ago and we’ve been in love with you ever since. It started innocently enough we saw some photos on blog, and then read some words that captured our hearts, and by the time we left Texas all we wanted to do was snuggle with you and Addison on the couch and watch madmen. (I’m sorry, is that creepy?!)
From the beginning it was your images that moved us to love you. For instance..
This photo brought me back to my eight grade self, sitting in a movie theatre swooning over Leonardo Dicapro and wanting someone to love me enough that they would let my greedy ass take up an entire raft just to stay warm. Even though the pose reminded me of titanic, it had a modern, real spin that was all Clayton and from there I was hooked.
We love that you gave life to an old piano because you couldn’t bear the thought of it in a land fill. Your eye for finding the story in the details brought you to give this piano a life it could have never imagined. Getting to see the country and being immortalized on mantels from state to state. What hope you find, in your way of seeing the world. Following your ideas because of the possibility not because of the guarantee is nothing short of inspiring.
We also love your studio. And the fact that every single place you look in it, there is something that somebody at one point or another loved intensely. From a jar of broken egg shells, to the desk you made from that piano, continuing its life as something new. We felt so inspired getting to be in your world of organized chaos all pointing to the timelessness of love.
When we read your blog for years it was your voice that made us realized you were a true artist. You’re sense of integrity in the face of opposition, and your unflinching honesty and transparency in your words made us feel like you truly believed in love, because you see it in Addison. The blog that told about your loneliest times showed how human you were, and in a world of “images” you cared more about being honest than being generic. And that is noble.
“When I was younger I did whatever I wanted. I came and went as I pleased. No one to be accountable to but myself… Once, when I was 19 I was arrested for driving with a suspended license. They said all I had to do was have someone bring the fine down to the station and I would be on my way. I just didn’t have anyone to call. It was only $200 but I was broke without a single phone number to dial. It was the loneliest I had ever felt in my life.
And now as I looked down at that old picture between my thumb and forefinger I am so thankful that those days are a distant memory. I have a home with a white picket fence. No really, a white picket fence. I have a dog, a white lab named Cerveza. And I have someone to share my life with. A phone number. Day or night, thick or thin, I can dial those 7 numbers and know without a doubt that I am not alone any more. This is why people get married. Its more than a tradition or ritual. It’s a phone number.
By now you are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about and why I am up at 4 in the morning to write it. My point is this. Tonight, immediately following our “tiff” I had this thought in passing that sometimes I wish I were single again where I could leave dishes in the sink and put empty ice trays back in the freezer. But then I see this picture and like a crashing wave I am reminded of every detail of a night so special, even down to what we ate for dinner, that I know without a doubt that THIS is life I was always meant to have. THIS is where the grass is the greenest. This is the power of the photograph. Its a chance to go back in time. An opportunity to visit a place that would otherwise be lost when days turn to years. The chance to see your life through younger eyes and to hopefully remember. To just remember. “
We felt a connection to your passion, and were encouraged by your devotion to it. How you photographed love in a way that was all your own. In one blog you said “Love is a sigh” and it made Erin cry. Because it was as if you gave us permission to be content in the little moments and to stop looking for all the jumping-ecstatic face-moments, and just… sigh…
“The other night I crawled into bed after a long night of editing. I slipped under the cover and snuggled up to addison and pulled our favorite quilt up to our necks, the cool end wrapped around our toes. God damn, thats my favorite part. And right before we both drifted off I heard addison sigh. The good kind of sigh. Do my couples look happy? I guess you will have decide for yourself what happiness looks like. But to me love is a sigh. You may think I’m full of crap now but you will think differently right around mile marker twenty…”
(to read the entire “love is a sigh blog” which is much beautifully written and heartwarming go here: Love is a sigh… )
We love that you made The Sophia Project- because you made something artistic and cutting edge and beautiful by looking at an argument and finding the perseverance in it, that love is capable of. That you ask the hard questions, take the long looks, and choose the difficult paths because the challenge makes the work that much sweeter when it’s finished.
And after meeting you we got a whole new list of things we love about you.
We love that Addison was there the first time we met you because so often you give the credit all to love and you know Addison makes you better at being you. This is something we admire and hope to achieve in our own relationships. You live a great love story which is such a huge part of the way you see love stories. We love that even with a studio full of people coming from all over to see you; you were just Clayton to addison. And that you were loved enough that when you quit your job and took the risk of following a dream, you never forget that it was both of you who took the risk together.
We love that you told us to pick our battles, because with so many voices in the industry telling you what to do, the best advice you can give is to find out what is important to you. You gave us permission to be who are and to not apologize for it. And that sameness is stale and boring.
We love that you buy a step stool for every wedding and leave it in the rental car and don’t feel the need to charge a “step stool fee” to your couples. That you know making good work is in your hands and that you respect your couples for trusting you enough to make the kind of work you want to make.
We love that you were in the military, and you were a paramedic, and that you said their jobs are the most important in the world, not photographers, And that we think you could charge $7,000 a wedding and be worth every penny but you keep your price at the industry standard and remain so thankful you get to do what you love.
We love craft day at the studio! That you don’t send your work out to be package by someone who has never met your couple, but use your own hands and put your heart and soul (and birds) into every part of their experience with you. And consider that just another extension of your art.
We love that your brand isn’t really brand, it’s a feeling. That you could stop putting a bird on it, and people would still be able to tell your photos apart. And that your work is such an ambient, all-encompassing Clayton Austin emotion. It’s something to be proud of that your work is so closely tied to your eyes and your way of seeing the world, that is a rare gift given only to true visionaries.
And most of all we love that you stay true to who you are no matter what. That you wrote every one of us a hand written note after meeting us. You may say you don’t get to know your couples as much as other photographers but if you are as intuitive to them as you were to meeting us and taking the time to remember us, I am sure your couples walk away feeling known and appreciated.
And as long as we are disagreeing with you, we also disagree when you say you don’t document relationships. You may not document every single couple’s entire relationship but your ideas about what love means shows in your photographs, and adds to the conversation about the diversity, fragility, and endurance of love. And we think the way you chose to capture your couples stays true to your documentation of love.
And when it’s all said and done, we learned so much at your workshop, not only about technical advice, practical applications, and how to trust your vision, but we would have paid the same amount to sit in your studio (without chairs) to listen to your philosophy on love and see the way you work, because that alone was inspiring. And at the end of the day you didn’t spoon feed us formulas on how to be successful and how to do a perfectly executed sun-flare, you gave us a hammer and nails, and told us to build our own world to give to others and that was more than any Photoshop class could have given us.
Thank you. For opening your life to us, for letting us drink sangria and take tequila shots in your studio, for trusting us to not be completely rude and having faith in us to leave and not be clayton Austin clones. Thank you for making us laugh, inspiring us, and most of all for sharing your way of seeing.
We imaged for years what you would have been like after reading your blog, and in meeting you, you proved to be all that we imagined and more.
(Cacao to Texas being so far we can’t come watch mad men with you and Addison. Cacao to not being able to get sushi and hear stories about you and Addison, Cacao to not being able to take every one of your workshops and being able to ask you a million questions, cacao to not being able to watch your shelf fill up. Cacao to cacao. )
Alicia & Erin
* all photos Taken by Clayton Austin