If you’ve been to your fair share of beer events in Austin over the last year and a half, chances are you’ve had your mug captured by Tyler Malone.
Known as The Second Shooter, Malone has been chronicling the Austin craft beer community as the go-to photographer for numerous brewery anniversary parties, beer festivals and other special events across town.
In the Q&A below, Malone tells us how he got his start in photography, what he seeks to capture in his subjects, and shares some of his favorite shots.
Bitch Beer: How did you get into photography?
Tyler Malone: Even before I snapped my first photograph I was entranced by books on street photography. Robert Frank’s The Americas, Henri Cartier Bresson’s The Man, the Image, and the World, everything Bruce Gilden published, as well as piles of thick Pantheon books littered with lewd pictures and foreign languages. I’d draw the images, study them, and try to figure out why they were so damn captivating. But other than drawing, I never thought of them until I was an undergraduate and Tim Hetherington’s Infidel showed me that there are some things—gruesome or beautiful—you really can’t experience without a simple image, so I wanted to start seeking things out and capturing them. I’ve always had more than a passing interest in taking pictures, from disposable cameras in the ’90s to cell phone photos just a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I was writing my first book that I felt the need to wander around poor areas of Texas and find stories and imagery to use. With pictures, though, there is no story: it’s just a moment with no narrative, and I dig that ambiguity because then it’s my job to give them a story. When graduate school did its best to do me in, I started going on longer, more absurd walks. After a few months I got the idea to invest in a bundle of equipment and do my best to take a few scenes back home with me, edit them, study them, and try to soak them into my bones. Before I knew it, the hobby became a way to express myself and share little moments. Before I knew it, The Second Shooter was born.
BB: What was the first Austin beer event you photographed?
TM: The Austin Specialty Beer Festival! I walked onto the grounds with some gear in a backpack to meet some friends, and before I knew it I was the festival’s photographer for the day. That was about the time I was heading out for photo strolls every other weekend or so, and I wanted more—more ways to switch off but at the same time challenge and enjoy myself no matter how much I was sweating. When I noticed that no one else was at the event shooting all these people as well as all this majestic flowing beer, I had some sort of light-through-the-clouds-moment, I guess.
BB: What kind of people/things/energy do you try to capture with your photography?
TM: Anything I find interesting, which is a capricious way to photograph events, but it’s compelling because the people and what they bring changes all the time, every time. Since I shot by myself for such a long time it was always up me to bring life into a lifeless town or to find a captivating subject to justify the time I should have spent writing or reading or getting ready for a mature, well-rounded life. When you walk into a brewery and you see a mess of sloppy humans, I try to find the smallest moments and make them seem like big moments, and then I go for the big picture. In the end, I think my goal becomes to capture the day at each brewery from the bottom to the top.
BB: What kind of camera do you shoot on?
TM: Canon’s 6D, which is the perfect machine for me because it takes pictures and takes them well. Photography is more than just the body of the camera; those long, wide, or stubby lenses that you attach are what make a moment intense or massive. I carry a cumbersome trash bag-like backpack to all the breweries just so I can switch up what I shoot, because shooting a brewery bottom to the top is more than slapping one lens onto a camera and standing in one spot and waiting for the action and beauty to come to you. I try to unpack as many moments in as many locations as I can, and the only way to do that is by using my feet and experimenting with as many locations as I can, all the while holding a beer.
BB: What’s your favorite thing about photographing beer events?
TM: Let’s see, those two words, photographing and beer—yeah, that’s what I’m in it for. It’s just something totally different that I haven’t seen anyone, anywhere, do and do it well. I’ve always had a thing for drunk talk, so the conversations are always extravagantly colorful and on occasion challenging in a few different ways. I guess that’s the most esoteric question you’ve asked, and the only real answer I can give is this: Everything about beer and what it does to people—lost inhibitions and discovered attractions—makes me want to capture it.
BB: Where are some of your favorite places to drink beer in Austin?
TM: When I’m out, all I want is anywhere that has a patio. Specifically, though, even though I’m their photographer, Banger’s was always right up with there with Draught House. Both places maintain a tack-sharp staff who experience nothing less than euphoria when they give you the beer that you love, no matter if they have to explain its attributes. I can’t say this enough, though: Go to breweries! Go to the source of bliss and happiness, always. If a place brews beer, I love it. The taste, the smell, the intimacy, the conversation, the peek into where you’re investing your money; all that is a relationship that you carry into bars, and restaurants, and liquor stores. Drinking at a brewery is like seeing your favorite band live as opposed to simply listening to them on an iPod: it’s life-changing.
BB: Once you’ve gotten a few drinks in you at an event, do you tend take more frequent or less frequent photos? (I ask because we usually tend to forget to take photos after we have a few beers in us)
TM: It all seems about the same, to be totally honest. I’ve tried two or three times to stay dry and the result was what I shoot and how I shoot stays about the same, only I trip a bit less. One thing that I’ve found is that there’s a lull in the first hour of an event, but that’s always a golden time for brewer/employee and beer shots, then things pick up steadily until the last hour or two when I start to notice that people laugh with wider mouths and try to yank as much fun out of what little time they have left, embracing limited life to the fullest. But if I’d lean and try to give my liver and legs a break, I’d miss more than I can imagine.
BB: What’s your dream beer event/subject to photograph?
TM: Off the hip I’d say The Great American Beer Festival, but then my imagination goes wild with locations with better lighting and I think about wandering around the chesty curves and streets of Munich during Oktoberfest. I bet the National Homebrewers Conference and National Homebrew Competition is quite a scene, and I’m sure the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston is a beast to behold. All those places seem to have the photography thing covered, mostly because they need to. Those places issue credentials and don’t let you climb on stuff. My dream is more Austin-area breweries to photograph. A new local brewery every month is my dream, the market be damned.
BB: What’s been the most challenging event you’ve photographed?
TM: Real Ale’s anniversary party, easily. You can get lost just snapping photographs of mobs of people without getting close and capturing individual joys or conversation about new brews because there are thousands of people doing the exact same thing. So even if you’re capturing a moment, you’re still missing moments—debates, kissing couples, rock bands, and thousands of sweating beers. A place that big, you walk around for hours and when you go back to a similar slab of concrete that you’ve take dozens of pictures from already, there are hundreds of new faces all around, doing hundreds of new things. It’s a great thing to complain about, and I feel oddly lucky to have to deal with weird things like that, too. Like all the Austin breweries I’ve shot, Real Ale showed me some magnificent love, so the challenge was more than worth the effort and soggy socks and soaked boxers.
BB: Has anyone ever asked you to remove a particularly unflattering drunk photo of them from your Flickr, Facebook, etc.?
TM: Never when I’ve already posted them, actually. By the time the images are online I think people have given up on maintaining their dignity. It’s strange that no matter how many drinkers I photograph, more than a few of them always surprise me by having enough sense of self to ask me face-to-face if I could delete the undignified photo, which I almost certainly do. Unless it’s good. I mean really good. If it’s nice and perverse, then I keep it for myself. Most of the time if someone is enjoying the booze, they want their photo taken. They yearn for it. Then I have a loquacious list of things I ask, like do something you wouldn’t want your mom to see on Facebook, or pose perversely with a stranger. After I’ve gotten my kicks I give them my business card so they can send me an email and I’ll send them the photo, gladly. It’s rare, but on occasion they do send an email early the next day asking if I cataloged their downfall, and I always do and they always seem grateful.
Check out the photo gallery below for some of Malone’s favorite moments…