Beertography (just added to Word’s dictionary, blessedly) is a word tossed around like friendsgiving or karma—assemblies of letters that mean nothing to me but are certainly currency for more than a few other people. Beertography is one of those words where culture has absorbed two separate entities to the point where, yeah, of course they’re together; it makes total sense. Beer and photography are two things that for me were always married, though. They didn’t need a word, yet one exists. It’s spoken rarely but tagged almost abundantly online, always with more than hint of branding and an obvious lack of humanity. Beertography is just another hashtag that removes spontaneous aspects of unpredictable mortality. People need language, and I think photography is a language, though I don’t think it needs to tell a story. A pretty image that compels you to give it a story is power enough over the brain, but I’ve been mostly interested in why something as understood as pictures needs a word like beertography to make the act understood.
I guess I answered my own question in that last stanza: spontaneous aspects of unpredictable mortality.
People are what interested me in taking to breweries and attempting to take photos. Never money, just practice. Practicing bad techniques or good ideas on strangers with barriers and inhibitions (both on my side and theirs) nearly drowned. Under bad brewery light or in the implacable blast of an unrelenting sun, I’ve been able to see growth, both in myself and others, revisiting locations and the faces that frequent those spots. Seeing beer and conversation mature and develop all the while maturing and developing along with it allows me to watch myself as I watch others watching me. “It wouldn’t be a party if you didn’t photograph it” is what one of the people I’ve been fortunate enough for work for and become friends with told me at last year’s Real Ale anniversary party. Not to argue with anyone, but parties would carry on, but past sparsely visited iPhone photos, there wouldn’t be a second life for the party, some sort of photographic after party that slides over the net. Of the thousands of The Second Shooter photos on Facebook and Flickr, which images matter? Do any of them matter?
Back in time in Florence, Texas, by the butcher’s counter at Vic’s Grocery, there were sepia images taped to the end of a cereal aisle that featured old images of the city when horse shit on the streets mixed with the dirt that lazy cowboys kicked as they walked out of the bank, broke and hopeless to ever love. The photos didn’t show any narrative, just day-to-day life. Beautiful humans alive in a moment in an afternoon that will never exist ever again, no matter if our world collapses into itself and mountains and oceans rebuild themselves and in millions of years evolved cowboys stroll shit caked streets once more. I want those moments in a very specific environment, at a specific place. In the world of breweries, models are made of the mundane and it shows how beauty is mundane and wonderfully commonplace. (Something I try to convey, anyway.) Perversely and personal, I find everyone I see goddamn stunning. Rarely do I ever think someone living on celluloid commands anything special or above what’s seen breathing among us, drinking next to anyone at any bar. The trick is making people on the other end of the lens know they can make magic.
A brewery with someone who believes they’re a photographer is now as common as a superhero with dead parents. Cameras come cheap, as does talent. The first real photographer I met, when I was an undergraduate harboring my own personal photo projects, was a local named Lucky. All Lucky the local shot were portraits—mostly young bedazzled teenage girls who stank of Rue21 perfume and Coach outlet leather. At the coffee shop I worked, Lucky would sit for hours and rummage through glossy magazines and dog ear poses he would ask teens to recreate over railroad tracks, endangering life as well as art. I hated Lucky, professionally and personally. Seeing his craft, there was no reason to attempt even a part-time crack at photography if all people wanted was to be bent the way models were in magazines pulled off the rack at Walmart. Photography was fucked. Even into graduate school, inspiration to point a lens was rare, much less buy more lenses to point towards what I thought was nothing—the abyss that others claimed to be beautiful that took any sense of purpose from me concerning photography. That is until beer.
Beer is a canvas. Like photography, it can steal souls. Emotions, pleasures, extremes and experiments, anything that comes from the compulsion of creativity that the substance provides almost always arises. It took one beer three summers ago to realize I wanted to spent thousands of hours on not drinking, but capturing the culture of drinking. I knew I was going to latch on to what others created and how others celebrated. Leaving bodies of text behind (how I’ve always chosen to feel most comfortable) I bought camera bodies to attempt to make art out of the craft of others. The idea seemed simple and clean: until I graduated, drink and take photos. Seek out brewery parties, send emails and arrive with clean memory cards and dirty drinking boots.
Putting an end to being drunk and chatty, here’s a story:
The first year I shot at Rogness Brewing Company (their second anniversary party) I asked a couple who were sharing the smallest amount of personal space for a photograph. They sold the passion like they knew one another inside and out, tongues to toes. I thought nothing of it other than gratitude. That day was what experience almost every time I’m asked to attend a party. Most drinkers want a fully realized Saturday, with sunlight and suds, but I’m convinced I see a million wonders that surround emptying glasses and full faces. I carried on believing that until the next year at Rogness, when someone else convinced me. About two brief-assaulting sweaty hours and dozens familiar sun beaten faces wandering into frame into the anniversary party, a lady asked to have her photo taken. Sure, damn sure!
“You photographed me last year,” she said as we walked closer to the cold room, where drinkers brought lawn chairs to catch a breeze from room where bottles and kegs were stored.
“Oh, I’ve had a few beers since then, so I don’t remember.”
“It’s okay. I just want you to know that the photo changed my life.”
“The guy you asked me to pose with, I didn’t know him. That night, I got to know him. A few months ago we had a daughter and now me and the guy you made me pose with are married, all because you asked us for a photograph.”
That was the first and only family portrait I’ve shot.
For all the damage we do with our substances and crippled decisions, something special and unexpected was born. A moment out of nothing other than motivation. If that’s what beer photography—beertography—is, then I’ll drink to that.