WELD Artist of the Week: Austin Mann
Career: Founder of WELD | Visual Storyteller
Mantra: 2 + 2 = 5
Interview by: Kristin Read
Describe your morning routine.
That’s dangerous … I don’t have one. I’m a night owl often up until three or five in the morning, and constantly traveling through different time zones. Routine is very rare. If I did have one while in the states, I’d say I normally wake up around 9:30 or 10:00a.m., and leave my house within ten minutes of getting up. In that time, I check email, my day’s to-do list, throw on some clothes, and spend some time in prayer.
Southern Celestial Pole, New Zealand, 2011
What was the first big influence in your photography career and why?
My story is really two-fold. The first part begins with my father who has been in the visual media realm for the last 35 years. In ’93, he put Photoshop and a scanner in front of me. I was eight years old and working in Photoshop before most people had computers. I have to tip my hat to my dad for sharing his equipment with me at such a young age.
But in all honesty, the story of my faith best shares the story of how I became a photographer. Back in 2005—a sophomore in college—I was in a place where I was doing nothing with my life and wasting away my days partying. And on October 30th of that year, a pastor in my community by the name of Kyle Lake was unexpectedly killed in a tragic accident. It was actually at his funeral on November 1st, when God convicted me of the life I was living.
As people got up to talk about Kyle and his life, his contagious joy and passion, love for people, and the man of God that he was, I began to grasp what it meant to live life with purpose. I can remember that very moment when I realized the foolishness of the life I was living. It was then that I decided to, at the very least, honor Christ with my life. After I committed to giving up the party scene, I found myself with a bunch of time on my hands … and that’s how I started shooting.
I spent night after night creating new images and finding rejuvenation in solitude with my Creator. I found myself on campus at midnight photographing puddles, in my bedroom shooting self-portrait silhouettes through a bed sheet, and scaling buildings to get shots.
I never planned to start shooting—I simply made the decision to cut something out of my life I felt convicted about, and He rewarded that decision beyond what I would have ever dreamed.
What is key to any successful client-photographer relationship?
Realizing we’re teammates, and making sure that both parties understand that from the beginning. We are mutually working toward the same goal: creating something awesome. I ask a lot of questions—who is this client really, what are they doing, why are they focused on their specific mission, why is their money allocated to specific things, etcetera. It is critical to understand the WHY behind their purpose … when I truly grasp the why, I’m capable of thinking on my feet and bringing my own vision to the project instead of just playing the role of executing technical tasks assigned by the client. I paint the picture that I’m not just here to obey commands, or do this or that, but to dream together with the client and help cast a vision, and then execute. I make sure to challenge them in what they need versus what they think they need—it’s healthy to gracefully challenge clients with new ideas that could strengthen their mission and purpose.
What recent developments have had the most significant impact on your photography today?
Working to get WELD off the ground has really limited my ability to photograph for the first time, but it hasn’t impacted my creative abilities. I think it’s important for any artist in the midst of their work not to not lose sight of themselves as being creators, or else they box themselves in and dream too small. We have to see ourselves in the image of our Creator, and when we see ourselves as creators there’s no telling what might be invented next … it could be a beautiful photograph, a new business, or a radical solution to a problem outside the norm. Focus more on your ability to create, and don’t limit your vision to the things you do to pay the bills.
Seljalandsfoss, Iceland, 2012
What do you enjoy most about collaborating with other artists?
At our core, we were made to be together, not alone. I started dreaming about WELD because I see thousands of freelance artists that are satisfied with being alone only because there are no any good alternatives. And, I’m a firm believer in the mentality that 2 + 2 = 5. People brought together are far more than what an artist can come up with on their own. WELD is my grandest effort in enabling others and facilitating people to do what they love in an environment that not only eliminates resistance in their creative workflow, but also connects them to people to create and dream with.