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Photojournalist Casey Brooke Lawson

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Casey Brooke Lawson is local photographer/photojournalist in the Tampa Bay area. As a photojournalist, she has worked for several different newspapers, as well as having worked as an intern for Sports Illustrated. As a photographer, she has worked alongside musicians such as Boyce Avenue and Savannah Outen, and enjoys photographing sports events. She currently runs her own photography business, Casey Brooke Photography.

I was recently given the opportunity to interview Ms. Lawson for Teen Ink.

Rachel- Please tell us a little about yourself.

Casey Brooke Lawson- My birthday is April 12, 1985, so I'm 26 and I'm going to be 27 shortly which is a little disconcerning.

I grew up in Sarasota [FL]; I graduated in 2003 and then I went to Gainesville to study at the University of Florida. I graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications, and I specialize in photo-journalism.

It took me so long to graduate because I actually took multiple trips abroad. I wanted to be able to broaden my horizons as a photographer and as a person by experiencing other cultures. In 2006, I went to Egypt and I spent several weeks [there]. We traveled up the Nile and basically stopped at different cities. We looked for stories and interesting subjects to photograph.

Later in 2006, I went backpacking in the South Pacific, through most of South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand for almost five months. I ended up doing a gallery show based on my work a year later in the fall of 2007.

I went to Guatemala in 2008 for a part of a semester. I did a gallery showing on malnutrition. Then I went to England and Spain in the spring of 2008. I definitely travel frequently, when given the opportunity.

After I graduated from UF, I worked for Gator Country—a sports and athletics magazine that focuses on Gator athletics and athletes. I had already been shooting sports for five or six years, [had done] an internship with Sports Illustrated and went to the Kentucky Derby in 2006. (2006 was a really huge, busy year for me!)

But I loved sports and [doing sports journalism] was one of my favorite things about being in news. After that two-year period of time that I worked with Gator Country, I actually took a hiatus from [sports journalism] for a while. This fall, I picked it up for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune [shooting] fall football. It's been nice to get back to sports because that's something that's very much a part of my history. My strongest photographic background is in sports journalism and international work.

I moved back [to Sarasota] because I was pregnant with my first child, and I wanted to be closer to my family.

About a year ago, I started a gallery and studio in Lakewood Ranch. I've been running my own business which is Casey Brooke Photography. That's what I've been doing for about the last year! So I made a huge transition from travel and sports to doing studio-work; working with kids; doing newborns; doing a little bit of random sports and some editorial work for a newspaper. It's definitely been a huge transition, but it was all 100% worth what I gave up to come back here; to be a mom and to just be able to focus on my son and to be able to keep him home in the morning and to be able to spend time with him on the weekends; to not have to work a nine-to-five job.

[My son] is wonderful! His name is Noah! He's fifteen months old. He's walking around and running and trying to talk! He's got beautiful, light blond hair and blue eyes. He looks very much like I did when I was little.

He's probably one of the most difficult subjects I've ever worked with. He doesn't like to have his picture taken anymore; he used to, but he's a little frustrating now. He just wants to grab the camera and push buttons. Or throw it on the ground. But he does quite love my 400mm Q8 football lens. He's always trying to pull it out of the box. He can't 'cause it's really heavy but he tries to grab and pull every time the box is open.

Part of the reason I started working with newborns and with children is because of him. I didn't expect to be a journalist, to be so into news and sports, and then to, all of the sudden, love taking photographs of newborns. That's such a weird jump, as far as a career path. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be something I would wind up doing, and liking doing. But I do enjoy that I have a huge range of things that I do and that I enjoy so much.

So much about photography is about the artist themselves and the unique spin they put on what they're capturing on their camera and then what they're able to do with those photos.

RH- Well, I actually have two questions about something you mentioned earlier: One is what was your favorite place to visit in your travels?

CBL- Well, my favorite country that's not the United States is New Zealand. I've been to New Zealand four times. I have very good friends that live there. I just love the country. I've driven probably every road and I've been to almost every major city in the South Island. It's just such a beautiful, wonderful country and the people are amazing.

There's something about that country. Being there during lambing season when you see all these big, brand-new lambs jumping and walking around. (It's the cutest thing ever.) Or just the vast range of scenic scapes that you see and photograph. It's pretty incredible! I mean, there's a reason they picked New Zealand to film TV shows like Legend of the Seeker and movie series like The Lord of the Rings; literally it is storybook being there.

I really love Thailand! I actually have cousins that live there, and they've grown up and gone to school there. I was able to meet them for the first time when I was there. It was a great experience! I'd never have met them if I hadn't gone backpacking there.

I lived on a little island called Poitou for about a month. It's this perfect little place that is not so much infiltrated with the outside world; it's very simple; there's no air-conditioning; very little hot water. You sleep in a bungalow that's probably five feet away from a beach. You go diving all day. You eat really good food. You walk down to the main beach or to the city or to a restaurant.

Everybody there is so connected to each other and you get so close to the people that you're there with. I have really good friends that I have met in Poitou that I still talk to now; some of my best female friends are from there.

I like places that are very different from the United States. I like to experience a variety of cultures.

I mean, Guatemala was a very hard and emotional trip because most of the kids I photographed were dying, or were starving to death. You have to step back from everything you're doing and look at it as you're looking through a camera; you kind of have to turn yourself off emotionally or else it's way too hard to do.

But doing that work was really important to bring awareness to what's going on down there. Most people don't know that Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world and malnutrition is such a major problem down there; the percentage of kids that die is astronomically high and it shouldn't be that way!

RH- My second question is: What's your favorite sport?

CBL- If I'm gonna watch a sport live, basketball is my favorite; if I'm gonna watch a sport on TV, it's football; college football; I'm not as much into the NFL.

My favorite sport to photograph is probably a tie between track and gymnastics.

RH- How did you become interested in photography?

CBL- My mom had always had a camera around and she was always taking pictures of us; more than a normal parent would. I was interested in her camera. I asked her about it as much as I could. I remember using it, and her giving me a camera when I was very young.

In high school, I dated a baseball player, and I started photographing baseball. I learned through [that] how much I loved photography. I learned so much during that experience and then later learned, when I got to college, how much I didn't know. Through that and also through taking a photography class, I figured out how much I loved photography and how much I wanted to be a photographer.

At UF, I applied to be a fine-arts major. I first went to the fine-arts college; I didn't go to the college of journalism. During registration, I'm sitting down at a computer and they were asking me what classes I wanted to take. I said to them, “I wish I could major in photo-journalism and be a newspaper photographer. I don't really like fine-arts as much as I like news and sports.” And they told me, “Oh! You can actually do that!”

I totally, in one second, changed my major, which completely changed my life. If I had majored in fine-arts photography, I would be a completely different person. I probably wouldn't have been happy with the career direction that would have come out of that.

RH- Who are some of your favorite photographers?

CBL- Honestly, most of my favorites photographers are my colleagues. I don't feel like you hear that a lot, but Chip Litherland is a photographer in Sarasota and he is, by far, one of my favorite photographers. He's photographed me a few times when I've had an event or something special in my life, like when I was pregnant, and when my son was five months old. His wife has photographed me, too. But the two of them are fantastic! They're like this power rockin', duo-couple of awesome photo-journalists. Chip owns his own business; he worked in the newspaper industry for a really long time but he owns Eleven Weddings and Chip Litherland Photography.

[His wife,] Eileen, works for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. When I did my internship there, she was actually one of the first photographers I worked with. So, the two of them are definitely up there on the top of my list.

As far as portrait and newborn photographers, probably Kelley Ryden is one of my absolute favorites. She's one of the people who inspired me to go in the direction I went. I have met her and have done a workshop with her. She is so good at her job. She's one of those people who inspire you to be better; everyday be better; to try things that are new and to try things that are different; to experiment with something that you're not quite sure will work, but to kind of go with the flow and to let it grow organically. That's not something that is necessarily able to be intuitive if you haven't done that type of photography very much.

Scott Kelby, who runs Kelby Media Group, he's also one of my favorite photographers. He is so smart, and he's business smart! He is the editor of Photo-shop User Magazine; he pretty much runs the world of photo-shop. The guy is a genius!

Matt Kozlowski and Archie Conception are two people that work with him fairly regularly, and both of those guys are absolutely amazing.

RH- You said you had gone to a lot of concerts and photographed those; which was your favorite to photograph?

CBL- It's not a concert, but I worked with Boyce Avenue, which is a local Sarasota, Florida, band; which is three brothers, Alejandro, Daniel and Fabian. I worked with them last year filming their music video and doing some studio-work with them. That was my favorite type of music-photography, 'cause I was able to get to know those guys, to design lighting, to do filming and to be a director of photography. That entire experience, and working with the artists they collaborated with Savannah Outen ...that was what I loved about that experience! The close friendships, the professional relationships I developed with them; it was just a really cool experience in general to start getting into video.

RH- I actually interviewed Savannah Outen earlier this year, late last year sometime; what was it like working with her?

CBL- {laughs} Well, that's so funny! I love her! She's so awesome! She's lovely, she's smiley, she's so happy.

I remember we were doing the John Mayer “Half of My Heart” song, and “With or Without You” was the other song we did with her, I think. I remember talking to her about the TV shows we liked so much, and she was telling me I need to start watching a TV show she liked. (I watched it and I wound up liking it a lot.)

I think she is a very smart business woman, being as young as she is, getting to the place she is in music. Being home-schooled, taking her life up and being in California...she basically changed her whole life to pursue music. It seems to be working for her pretty well.

I thought [Boyce Avenue and Savannah Outen's collaboration] was awesome! You can go on iTunes and search Savannah Outen and Boyce Avenue and it comes up as a part of the new acoustic sessions. The CD cover I actually photographed.

RH- What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

CBL- Probably the best advice I could give anybody is to decide what type of photography you really love, and to pursue that type. Perfect your technique in the camera and the basics of taking a good photographs. Then find your style and the way you want to be known and perfecting that. That's what separates the good photographers from the amazing photographers: What your look is. Someone has to be able to identify your photo by the way it looks. All of your photos should look consistent.

If you look at Kelley Ryden, you can tell by looking at her photo that she took it. You can just tell! It's just so different from anyone else. Just finding that style and that voice is going to set a new photographer apart from other people.





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