George & Barbara for Garden & Gun

Feb 7, 2012
Photographer Spotlight

Last November, Garden & Gun hired Jody Horton to photograph a “portrait” of Houston. The assignment ended up being quite more interesting than just a run-of-the-mill city shoot. Since Jody tells the story so well himself, I thought I’d let him tell it in his own words. Take it away Jody:

I was shooting Houston for Garden & Gun and took my assistant, Sean Johnson, with me to help navigate the hellish traffic and get to where we needed in a totally packed schedule. We had four full days planned ahead of us.

Garden & Gun is based in Charleston, SC, so they had no real sense of the logistical challenges (traffic, large distances) involved with getting to several locations (like 8-9) in Houston in one day. We drove and shot fast and even added to the list when we came across something interesting (like a school bus serving gourmet hamburgers). In the end, we hit so many spots that they ran less than a third of the locations we shot.

In the middle of day three—a Friday—I received a call from Maggie Kennedy, the PE at G&G. She told me that they’d dropped a line to George and Barbara Bush earlier in the week and had just heard back. If I was available, I would need to drive back to Houston the following Monday at 1:15 to take their portrait. They were to be the highlight of “The Locals” section of the article.

I was committed on Monday to photograph a wild pig being field dressed for the book I’m doing with local chef Jesse Griffiths. We were coming up against a deadline for the book and I wasn’t sure we would be able to reschedule. I told Maggie I would call her back, hung up and called my friend—and fellow Wonderful Machiner—Adam Voorhes to get his advice. The conversation went like this:

“I’m supposed to be taking pictures of a hog being gutted, but I can’t pass George and Barabra up can I?”
“No, no you can’t. You’re doing the portrait.”

I called Jesse to reschedule then called Maggie back and told her I was in, gave her our social security numbers so the Secret Service could start a background check on us—and crossed my fingers.

The following Monday we arrived at the Bush’s home in an exclusive gated Houston neighborhood. We were shown to the living room. Lighting was dim and the couches had busy floral patterns and cluttered backdrops with windows. Nothing looked workable. Luckily, I’d seen a loveseat in the hallway. We were allowed to move it into a position by a window. Not a moment later the president arrived with his aid, and Barbara quickly followed.

We had been told we had 10 minutes. So we quickly tied back the drapes with the strap from my camera bag, opened up the pocket doors that led to the dining room and asked the aid to open the door behind us to the garden to allow more light in. Sean held a large reflector to get some fill on the left side of the frame. I set up on a tripod shooting at 1600 ASA at and around 2.8 w a 40mm lens on my 5D MKII. I tried two camera positions (horizontal and vertical) and fired around 500 frames in less than 5 minutes.

After we were done, the president headed back to work with his aid, but Barbara stayed to chat a few minutes and to give Sean a hard time about his tattoos:

Barbara: “Are you married?”
Sean: “No, Ma’am”
Barbara: “We’ll, you aren’t ever going to be with those…. Let’s see,” she said, reaching out her hand to hold his and get a better look. “What does your mom think about these?”
Sean: “She doesn’t care for them, but my grandmother loves them; thinks they’re beautiful.”

Barbara raises an eyebrow and stares at Sean a few moments, “Well, do you think she’s maybe a little…? (twirls her finger by her head in the gesture for “crazy”)

View more of Jody’s work on his website, jodyhorton.com.

– Maria Luci

Tags: barbara bush garden & gun jody horton president george bush