This month we put the focus on a few of the area’s finest photographers.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
The ancient art of hunting consists of two things. First, finding the right prey. Second, getting the best shot. It’s as true today as it has always been.
Although armed with a camera rather than a gun, the photographer also must follow these dual tenets. Getting the best shot is crucial and reflective of both natural talent and hard-earned skill. But finding the right prey is infinitely harder for the photographer, as their target is the always elusive and often subjective bounty that is beauty. A deer may be drawn by a few stray apples, but beauty cannot be baited. It can only be discovered through patience.
Thankfully, when your prey is beauty, the Lowcountry represents a singularly target-rich environment. As such, it has attracted some of the world’s most talented photographers as they attempt to capture its beauty one millisecond at a time.
Defining the visual record of our region
For Eric Horan, it began with the call of the wild.
Since 1981 his nature photos have documented some of the Lowcountry’s most stunning scenes. The spray of salt water from a dolphin’s fin capturing the kinetic movement of strand feeding. The sunset’s gentle glow reflected on the under wing of a heron alighting on a branch. From his vantage point aboard his famed 21-foot Carolina skiff, he has defined the visual record of our region.
Capturing these outdoor images started with a lifetime spent outside. “I was raised outdoors ranching, fishing and hunting and recreating one way or another,” Horan said.
One of six kids growing up on small ranches in Arizona, Colorado and Montana, Horan’s upbringing was one of endless starry nights and days out in the field.
After earning a degree in commercial art and photography at Colorado Mountain College, he found work as an intern for ailing wildlife photographer Don Dominick at the Colorado Fish, Game & Parks Department. He found himself as the de facto official photographer.
“I was 21 and had Don’s expense account,” Horan remembers. “I was expected to continue his work for as long as it took him to recover from a heart condition.”
This included flying in helicopters recording big-horn sheep and mountain-goat movements and joining department biologists for two-week-long horseback camping trips designed to count the elk herds.
“This job left me with an appetite for photographing the natural world. I was left with figuring out how to do it,” he said with a laugh.
Because college taught nuts and bolts photography and how to express yourself with a camera but not how to make a living, when Horan arrived on Hilton Head Island in 1981, he was working part time at editorial magazine assignments and also for a construction company from Aspen. Some of the magazines he did work for included Fortune, Smithsonian, Outside, Business Week, Cruising World, New York Times Sunday Travel, Orion, Sail, Southern Living and Tennis & Time. The editor at Smithsonian magazine called Eric and asked if they could use his image of a bottlenose dolphin surfing in the stern wake of the trawler he and a friend were on. “By all means, yes!,” Horan said.
In 1990 Horan sold his interest in the construction business and moved to New York to assist some of the nation’s top commercial advertising photographers. He spent a year in the city working for 16 different professionals before heeding the advice of a close confidant and highly respected photographer, David Langley, who said, “It’s time for you to go home and build your own commercial photography business.”
From 1991 to 2009, Horan and his wife, Jan, established Eric Horan Photography — first on Hilton Head and, since 1996, in Beaufort.
“Jan is a great writer and business manager, so we collaborated on editorial magazine and commercial advertising assignments mostly in the resort marketing field,” Eric said.
In 2009 he scaled back the commercial work and began a new venture: Lowcountry Photo Safaris. Eric leads wildlife tours throughout the region in his skiff. In addition to his photo teaching and nature-guide work, he and Jan operate a photo gallery of Eric’s work. It’s open to the public by appointment at their home in Beaufort, and customers can purchase his prints or photo product copies of his latest coffee table book “Beholding Nature,” published by Starbooks.
These days, he’s supposed to be semi-retired, but he’s busier now than ever. But then, when your office is the great outdoors, do you ever really want to retire?
Eric Horan’s favorite shots
(click on gallery thumbnail for larger photo)
Exploring the Lowcountry in black and white
The photography was already in full swing when Andrew Branning strode out onto an oyster bed that fateful day six years ago. More than a hobby but less than a calling, his craft was simply missing that one key ingredient. The son of celebrated “Shrimp Collards and Grits” author Pat Branning, Andrew had been shooting food and lifestyle photography to accompany his mother’s work, working with a $300 Best Buy camera, but it wasn’t yet an art for him.
And then on that oyster bed, he found Vince.
“Vince embodied something so special. All he did was work, and he had no idea what he represented – something we’re losing in this culture,” he said. “In all of my experiences the thing I’ve had joy in is putting the spotlight on him.”
Andrew took a few photos of Vince hard at work pulling oysters from the earth, and somewhere in that session the photographic muses found him. “From there I started taking pictures of the working South: shrimp boats — anything that had a lot of patina or told a story.”
These striking images, captured in bold monochrome and rich with the textures of the Carolina coast, informed a body of work that launched Andrew from semi-pro to a true artist in every sense of the word.
“I wanted to make fine-art pieces that had a different look. I chose black and white because I embody this quote from Clyde Butcher, ‘Black and white is an interpretation, color is duplication,’” said Andrew. “I want my images to evoke a sense of feeling.”
With his pieces gaining a huge following among locals, the time was right to open his own gallery. Located in Habersham, Branning Fine Art doubles as a workspace where Andrew crafts his photos using a unique method that “hacks” traditional photo processing for more layered tonal values. The result is black and white images that can be scaled to massive size and still take your breath away.
“I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to tell stories with my work and to make these large impactful pieces. My goal is to honor our white-boot heroes, those of the working South who are largely invisible to passersby, in order to help preserve our seafood industry for the generations that come after us. We are facing huge competition from foreign markets, and unless we continue to educate newcomers on the importance of buying local, our shrimpers, oystermen and crabbers could become part of the vanishing South. Even as this story is being written, our fleet of shrimp boats is diminishing. We now have a mere fraction of the number of boats we used to have. My images of the large wooden shrimp boats are an effort to preserve their memory because it will not be long before they all will be replaced with more modern vessels.”
His next venture will see his burgeoning career tip back into the culinary world in which it was born, providing large-format photography of area seafood industry workers for TCL’s Foodseum.
“They want to show people the cultivation aspect of (local food),” said Andrew. That means sharing some of his majestic photos of people like Vince, and the story they tell of how that oyster finds its way to your plate. With Vince’s death in 2017, it represents a chance for Andrew to continue telling Vince’s story.
“My goal is that when people see an image of him, they stop and think, ‘Where does my seafood come from, and what family made that possible?’”
Andrew Branning’s favorite shots
(click on gallery thumbnail for larger photo)
Taking great photos for the good of he community
For some, photography is a passion. For others, it’s an obsession.
For Arno Dimmling, it’s a bit of both, but it’s mostly an opportunity to give back.
“Everything that I do in terms of photography, whether it’s for a corporate group or for magazines, any proceeds that I make go to nonprofits that I’m passionate about,” he said.
You read that right. Over the last few years Dimmling has become a fixture on the Lowcountry event scene, ever-present with camera in hand, working tirelessly to document some of the grandest galas and swinging soirees the island has seen. And in all that time, he hasn’t taken so much as a dime for himself. Instead, the money he makes as a hired shooter or by selling prints of his works goes right back into the community, donated to numerous nonprofits including The Boys & Girls Club and Hospice Care of the Lowcountry. He’ll often just cut out the middleman and have his earnings sent right to a charity.
“I don’t want it to be a job. I want it to be a passion and something to give me a different purpose,” he said.
It makes sense that Dimmling wouldn’t want a job. After all, he is technically retired. For 35 years, he worked as an internationally known leader in the ocean transport industry, culminating his career in the executive offices of Sea-Land Services and CSX World Terminals, where he served as chief operating officer. During his career, photography served as a hobby. “Mostly it was on and off. When you’re young you kind of play with photography,” he said. “I traveled a great deal with my job, and I always had at least a little pocket camera with me.”
With retirement came the opportunity to travel and develop his skills as a wildlife photographer. Then a chance encounter with LOCAL Life publisher Lori Goodridge-Cribb led to some magazine work, which led to corporate headshots and ultimately saw him shooting a different kind of wildlife — the island’s biggest party, the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. As his hobby became a de facto full-time job, it not only amplified his ability to give back, but it allowed him to indulge in one of his favorite vices. “I suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome),” he said with a laugh. “I have a ton of equipment, probably more than I need. But that’s the fun part of what I do.”
Arno Dimmling’s favorite shots
(click on gallery thumbnail for larger photo)