When you grow up in your family’s photo studio there are a couple of inevitabilities: You will end up in a photo. You will get into trouble. And you will learn to appreciate your family.
During my childhood my toys were backdrops, strobe lights and 2x4s left over from building a studio set. I was surrounded by cameras and two very intense photographers my Dad, Hugh Beebower, and my Uncle, Gordon Beebower. They started off in the 1970s as struggling photographers in Dallas, Texas looking to make it in the commercial advertising industry.
My first memory of Beebower Brothers Photography was a small apartment they’d converted to a photo studio. The best thing about the place was the candy vending machine that dispensed Zero bars as frequently as I could convince my Dad to buy one.
The modeling gigs started pretty early for me. I was about four years old when my Uncle snagged me for a photo shoot. I was captivated by the puppy I was supposed to hold, so I didn’t mind too much—at first.
Apparently after several shots, neither the puppy nor I wanted to stand still or look at the camera. The puppy peed on the set too. That didn’t go over very well. I’m not sure which one of us my Uncle wanted to strangle more, the puppy or me. At least I didn’t pee on the set.
Truthfully I don’t feel too bad about my modeling gig. I think I was paid with one of those Zero bars and a can of soda. You get what you pay for according to my Dad. Perhaps my Uncle should have upped the pay to a Barbie doll or at the least an ice cream cone.
Our family dog also got sucked into photos. Monster, who was supposed to be a giant dog and thus we thought was aptly named, often visited the studio with me. (Our vet was clearly misinformed. Monster turned out to be about 45 pounds.)
Putting two bored photographers in a studio with props and a dog produces some interesting photos. Monster didn’t seem to mind too much. At least he got a car ride out of the deal and a spot on our website (check out the kid at the mailbox with a dog).
For kids, a photography studio is loaded with trouble. On many occasions my Dad and Uncle shot food illustrations for companies like Frito Lay or Dr. Pepper. There were all kinds of exotic things like jalapenos and lemons lying around to tempt unsuspecting children. (Remember jalapenos and lemons really are exotic in a five-year-old mind.)
On this occasion, I noticed mushrooms next to the peppers. I loved mushrooms, but I was curious about the jalapenos. No one should have been surprised when I licked the knife that had been used to cut the peppers just to see what the stuff tasted like.
What was surprising to the adults were the hours of wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed. None of the typical remedies worked, not honey, not milk and certainly not gallons of water. I still can’t look at a jalapeno without distrust.
Trouble wasn’t limited to the photo kitchen. The model room held a plethora of temptations. The make-up table, the lockers and all of those props were alluring. My favorite spot, for some odd reason, was the lockers.
One time I finally got permission to bring a friend to the studio to keep me company while Dad worked. We thought it would be fun to have locker races, in and out, the fastest one wins.
It happened in slow motion. I’d escaped the locker, but my friend was having a bit of trouble getting out of her locker. In her quest to escape, the whole unit began to rock back and forth the harder she pulled on the door. And then it crashed. With my friend still in it.
While she screamed, I tried to explain the situation to Dad. In front of his client. Not a happy moment. I never did have anyone over to the studio after the locker incident.
I learned a lot about my Dad and Uncle growing up at Beebower Brothers. Dad was a bit scary when I got into mischief. He and my Uncle were photo perfectionists. Sometimes they drove each other crazy. But they always got the job done. Oh, and they were very good photographers.
I also discovered, in the midst of all of that serious stuff, they both knew how to have fun. I loved hanging out with them while they spun crazy business promotions like my Uncle as the Red Baron delivering
images in a zippy little plane or my Dad’s Western portfolio stuffed into handmade saddlebags. How cool is that?
But most of all, I learned that both my Dad and my Uncle would do anything to help out the family. When I finally decided to pursue photojournalism, both of the guys tried to talk me out of it. I must say I appreciate that now more than I did then. It really is true that photojournalists are paid in peanuts, the cheap kind without the roasting and salt.
Once they saw I was undeterred, both Dad and Uncle Gordon made sure I not only went to the top ranked journalism school (Mizzou!), they donated camera gear to the cause. Immediately intense photo lessons began. I was locked in the darkroom until I learned how to roll film properly. We roved about town doing drive-by shootings (with a camera, yo) to practice speed focusing with my manual lens. I went to studio-lighting boot camp. And they dreamed up strange shooting locations like the city dump to sharpen my story finding skills. (Believe it or not, the dump is a photo rich environment.)
It worked. Not only did I graduate from college, I actually found a job doing what I loved. I’ve worked at a number of places over the years and now I’ve come full circle. Although Dad closed the studio a couple of years ago, I’m back to working with him on the next chapter in his journey, this website. I learned those childhood lessons well. We’ve got each other’s back. And at Beebower Productions, we really do like to keep it all in the family.