Kansas City Stars

Kansas City Stars

I’ve been to Kansas City before, er, on the Kansas side — and it wasn’t so pretty. So as I touched down into the KC Airport after multiple flight delays, the only thing I was thinking about was dinner. But Michelle and I were in town for a two day workshop that was co-produced by Brud Jones and our good friends at Digital Labrador.

Over 100 people assembled in the very large studio of Kansas City commercial photographer, Austin Walsh, which is situated in the former Firestone building in downtown KC. And what can I say that you don’t already know? People in the midwest are awfully nice, and the people in this crowd had a real genuine interest in photography that I found refreshing and inspiring.

The theme of the event was “passion,” and after I spoke, Austin showed a bunch of passion projects that he had completed. Many of these projects ended up turning into commercial work down the line, so as Tim Mantoani explained in his webinar, passion projects not only stoke the creative juices, but they can be real spring boards for paying jobs.

The final piece that Austin showed was a multimedia piece that he created specifically for the workshop about a local tattoo artist named “Whispering Danny” of Exile Tattoo. I was quite frankly blown away. We didn’t explicitly ask Austin to create new work for the event, and certainly not a multimedia piece. But he took it upon himself to assemble a team of very talented people to record sound, colorize, edit and even create a custom soundtrack. You really need to see this:

If that doesn’t inspire you to create passion pieces, I don’t know what will. Austin is incredibly talented and gracious, and I think he’s going to have many great years of commercial success ahead of him.


Our time in KC was short, so I had to try to make the most of it. On the morning of Day 2, I walked a mile to try out Kansas City Bikram Yoga, which was the nicest and cleanest facility I’ve ever seen (Bikram is my new thang, you see). Then Michelle and I met up with Austin and his business manager, Katy Hagan to hit one of the definitive Kansas City BBQ joints, Arthur Bryant’s.  When I stepped out of the car, the smell of smoked BBQ hit my nose, and I knew I was in the right place. I had a pulled pork sandwich and burnt tips sandwich, and shared some fries and baked beans. Oh, and the medium coke was 32 ounces.

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After lunch we headed over to the studio of photographer Nick Vedros, one of the heavy weights of photography who has been doing his thing in his hometown of Kansas City for the past 30 years. Nick once participated in a workshop in NY, and someone asked him why the heck he was living in KC instead of someplace like LA or New York. His classic response? “To get away from condescending assholes.”

I love it.

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Nick’s business formerly occupied a firehouse in downtown KC for two decades, but he recently built a studio and home side by side. The space is amazing, and the walls are covered with photographs from other incredible photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Howard Schatz, Greg Gorman and more. His work is a real testament to his durability as a photographer since visual tastes change so much over time. And yet, for over 30 years, he has been at the top of his game.

After the tour, we headed back to Austin’s studio where I met up with Brud. Now I don’t want you to think that I’m a glutton, but I did acquiesce to eating even more BBQ from Oklahoma Joe’s — a relative new comer which is situated inside a gas station. Brud and I split a Z-man sandwich and a pulled pork sandwich, and I got a rib for good measure. Since I was going into insulin shock, I decided to forgo the soda and stuck with water.

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Verdict? Delicious. Who has two thumbs and likes BBQ? This guy!

We headed back to the studio and I presented some information about Social Media and photographers. Then Nick Vedros talked about passion projects in his work, followed by an incredible lighting demo with a biker named “Little Bill” and his wife. You know, it can be a pain to drag yourself out to a workshop, especially when you feel like you’ve got all the bases covered. But seeing the quality of Austin and Nick’s work really inspired me to start experimenting more in my own photography.

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When I was at yoga earlier in the morning, I was chatting with a new student who turned out to be the Chief Economist for a city agency, and he told me about a 24 hour piano-thon that the Mutual Musicians Foundation was holding to pay for a new piano. Since I had all the BBQ I could possibly consume in a 12 hour period, we decided some KC jazz would be the perfect end to the stay, so off we went to the 18th & Vine district for some live jazz. 

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and I was sad to leave the next morning. But hopefully we’ll be back next year!

Congratulations to the winners of our KC photo contest:

  • Sarah Winston who won an Agency Access regional membership
  • Mark Dunlap who won a one-year PhotoShelter Standard account

A huge thanks to our sponsors Digital Labrador, Agency Access, Profoto, Nick Vedros, Austin Walsh and Exile Tattoo without whom this event would not have been possible.

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Clint at 4:10 pm

    There’s a lot to like about KC, even on the KS side. And good on you for going to the real Arthur Bryants and not that Disneyfied version in the casino. Everything tastes better in the hood.

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