Billy Bob Boot Camp

Seven Assistants, Eight Cities, Nine Hundred Attorneys

My assistants are fierce.

One covered wars in Iraq and the Balkans, has been shot at by snipers and brought back the unimaginable stories of human suffering that — without the courage of men and women like her — would be lost in the dust of history. I thought she would be perfect to help me handle attorneys.

Harvard Neiman Fellow, war photographer, and my assistant and friend in Dallas, Kael Alford

Another is a former roller derby queen, fearless in another way, recklessly slinging her body around on eight tiny wheels and obliterating anything in her path. A good assistant choice when dealing with the Beltway attorneys in DC.

Former Roller Derby Queen and Washington DC photographer Erika Nizborski

My assistant in Atlanta is not only a photographer, but a personal fitness trainer. She is lovely, loyal, and slightly lethal. She calls assisting me “Billy Bob Boot Camp,” which I take a certain amount of pride in as she claims schlepping my gear all over kingdom come is a component of her own workout regimen.

Workout maven, trainer, and photographer Beka Carson standing in for attorneys in Atlanta

I am a journeyman photographer and make my living shooting all types of assignments, but there is one assignment that brings fear into the core of my being: weddings. And so, I place my Charlotte assistant alongside all the others, as a courageous purveyor of her art, willing to go head-to-head with mothers of the brides, wedding planners, and caterers — as dangerous a cabal of treachery as you will know — to bring back beauty from the frontlines. If she can deal with them, she can deal with lawyers.

Photography instructor and wedding photographer Rebecca Hutton testing light in Charlotte.

Epicurean, traveler, and first generation American with Cuban roots, my LA assistant has another fierce skill: his smile can knock you out. It was not lost on my sometimes oblivious nature that the women of law are not immune to dark-haired, blue-eyed photographers who have a sense of humor and I detected a slightly more enthusiastic smile in their photos.

LA photographer, traveler, epicurean, dude—Austin Sosa

Twenty-five years ago when I leapt into the abyss without a net to become a freelance photographer, a young woman I had mentored at the request of her high school teacher called and asked if I could help her find work. She became my first assistant. She soon left to start her own photography career in New York City, becoming wildly successful but kind enough to once again assist her first boss on his quest to photograph the Alston & Bird attorneys in The Big Apple.

I’ve known Liz Hartzman for over 25 years and watched as she grew into not only a great photographer, but a wonderful person. I’m lucky to have her as my New York assistant.

Some of the assistants I found in online photo sites, so it’s been a little bit like internet dating. I’ve never tried that modern romance technique but my success with finding assistants online has been like batting a thousand in the World Series. The last one, for a shoot in Silicon Valley, I have yet to meet, but based on everyone else, I think we’ll be a good match.

I have never considered my work to be the sole province of my own creativity, but rather, the result of a collaborative adventure. When I create a portrait, it is a collaboration between me and the subject and we are both responsible, good or bad, for the result. Similarly, my assistants are my collaborators in creating an atmosphere and a spirit that makes it possible to produce natural photographs where the focus is solely on the subject, and, when it all works, allows the viewer an intimate peek into their humanity.

This little missive is a small thank you to them, and all of the assistants who have worked alongside me—Rachel, Pambo, Kelbi, Deanna, Lauren, Kaylinn, Rebecca, Peggy, Holly, Sara, Scott, Michael, Meredith, Michelle, Davis, Jesse, Jessica, Samantha, Julie, Kate, and Katie—making me look good for two-and-a-half decades, sharing their friendship and hard work, becoming a family that allows me to know, wherever I am and whatever I am shooting, someone has my back.