I’m starting a new monthly series where I profile a local entrepreneur who I either work with or respect, and I’m kicking it off with friend and collaborator Annie Ray.
Annie Ray is probably the only person I know who’s never had a typical “nine to five.” She started her photography business pretty much right out of college. Her catchphrase, to our chagrin, was “kind of a big deal.” We met as students and apartment-neighbors while going to the University of North Texas, but didn’t become friends until we both moved to Austin after graduating school in 2006. When we weren’t working as hostesses at a restaurant, we dabbled in freelance and collaborated on projects for the now defunct Austinist. (According to my mom, I was in the midst of my “bohemian” years.) I was the Style Editor for the hipster blog, and since I’m terrible at photography, I’d bring Annie along with me to take photos for my fashion stories. Eventually, Annie—who always comes up with interesting passion projects—said she wanted to do something like “Annie Leibovitz meets Richard Avedon” photo booths. Photo booths were a thing in New York and LA, but nobody was doing them in the South. So, she set up a photo booth for an Austinist party… and when the photos came out everybody raved about them. I remember hearing strangers in line at a show talking about the photos, and in a short period of time photo-booths became what Annie was known for. In late 2007, I pitched a profile story about her to the Austin American-Statesman’s XL (now austin360.com) and her photo ended up on the front page. I’ll never forget how she told me how her elementary school teacher put a clipping of that article on the wall to inspire the other students.
Flash-forward a few years: “kind of a big deal” grew up, started taking editorial and commercial photos, and went on to win The Austin Chronicle’s Best of Photographer category… again, and again and again. Annie’s passion and dedication to her craft is a constant source of motivation for me. When I started my business, I was happy to know someone who could tell me point-blank how it was going to be. Now Annie and I share some of the same clients and still continue to collaborate. We talk almost every day—usually about business stuff while she’s picking up an iced tea or iced coffee to go. She’s my water fountain, so to speak.
Annie, when was the moment you know you wanted to become a photographer?
I was lucky enough to have a high school that still had a darkroom and offered photography as an elective. My photojournalism class in high school was an inspiring experience where I could experiment and create.
What are the two things you use in your business that you couldn't live without?
First: coffee, for drinking and adding magic to business meetings. Second: a clock. It's so important to show up to a job or meeting at least 15 minutes early. This business always throws you surprises, so my car clock is 15 minutes fast.
Tell me something about yourself that most people don't know.
I love reading and collecting first-edition romance novels. I also love eating gummy bears while drinking hot tea.
What are some of your favorite things about living and working in Austin?
I love the accessibility you have living in Austin compared to the other cities in Texas. Weather is also a plus. I can't imagine working full-time in New York during a snowstorm and trying to travel with my equipment, find shoot locations, and make deadlines. It’s not like that in Austin.
What would you be doing if you weren't a photographer?
I would definitely be a historical and sci-fi romance novel writer. Too bad I am really bad at writing. Hopefully, in the near future I will become a romance novel cover photographer!
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
Be yourself and do not sweat the small stuff. The best advice I ever got was from a DJ. I asked him what was the key to his success, since there are a billion other DJs out there. He said, "The reason people hire me is because of my attitude." That's so true!