Seth Avant: Photographer of Things Often Unseen

Seth Avant in the middle of Matisse

Seth Avant in the middle of Matisse

Today my guest on the blog is Seth Avant.  Seth is a photographer and sometimes art teacher in Laredo, Texas. He also likes to ride his motorcycle to search out hidden places.  He has an online gallery at  www.sethavant.com.

Photo by Seth Avant

Photo by Seth Avant

1. How did you begin taking pictures, Seth?

I started shooting in the sixth grade with my mother’s old Argoflex Seventy Five which used 620 film. You hung it around your neck and looked down into it. I still have it. I was raised on on the road and was born to roam. My father was a geologist I began to travel with him as a pre-schooler. He showed me how much there was to see along the road. Dad was an aviator in WWII and great vision. He could spot a horned toad or a ground squirrel way down the road. “You’ve got to be alert!”, he would always say if I missed something.

I have always had a camera. I bought my first SLR while in college, studying art. The camera was a tool for me, photography wasn’t my medium. Late in my education I began to use the camera in conjunction with screen printing.

I didn’t really become serious about photography until much later in life. I was travelling around quite a bit and looking at things that interest me and realized others people might be interested in those things too.

Photo by Seth Avant

Photo by Seth Avant

2. What are some of your favorite subjects or sites for photography? Why do you like them?

I recently began photographing the cartoneros here in Laredo. They are the people who go out each evening and collectcardboard boxes from the downtown merchants to sell to recyclers in Mexico. I’ve also been shooting rusty boxcars quite a bit lately. I like the textures and the shadows under the peeling paint. The deep gouges in the metal from years of rough use fascinates me.

I’ve always been interested in ruins and abandoned places. Probably some of that comes from visiting old ghost towns and gold mine in Colorado as a young boy. Real de Catorce in Mexico is one my favorite places to explore and shoot. It’s an old mining town in the state of San Luis Potosi that was abandoned but made a comeback due to tourism. It’s also where the Huichol people make their annual pilgrimage to collect peyote and have ceremonies on nearby Cerro Quemado. I’ve been there twice and I want to return. There is still a lot in those mountains that I haven’t seen.

Photo by Seth Avant

Photo by Seth Avant

My love of railroads comes from my Uncle Bubba, who was a brakeman on the Cotton Belt and lived in Commerce, Texas. When I stayed with my grandparents, He would come pick me up on Saturday morning and we would go down to the depot and he’d go get a big ring of keys off the wall and then we would go climb up on the locomotives and the cabooses, which were his second home. There was a roundhouse and repair shops in Commerce, also. All of that is gone now.

I shoot things that most people wouldn’t take a second glance at. I believe that everything is interesting, how it is presented is what is important. Doors have been a favorite subject of mine for years. I’m especially interested in the heavy Spanish Colonial type doors that are common in my part of the world. My grandparent’s home in Commerce had doors with transoms and skeleton key locks. Old door hardware and hinges interest me. It’s not hard to find door hardware made by blacksmiths along the border.

Last spring, I shot an abandoned house that I had driven by countless times. I was intrigued by it and returned another time to shoot it inside and out in different light. Two weeks later it was demolished, leaving not a trace behind. Many of the subjects of my photographs come about only once, so now I feel like I have to get out and shoot every day or I’m going to miss something.

3. What sort of camera do you use? Any fancy lenses, settings, etc?

I use a Nikon D3200 and have a couple of lenses. Nothing fancy. I like using a polarizing filter out doors to bring out the

Photo by Seth Avant

Photo by Seth Avant

clouds. I was taught, “f8 and be there.” The most important thing is to be there. I believe there is no substitute for the light of the early morning. I also use an iPhone 5 so that I can share images while out on the road. I’ve only recently begun to manipulate  my photographs with the computer. I wanted to keep my photographs as they came out of the camera, but a few of my peers took some of my photos and made a few changes and sent them to me and it changed my mind. I’ve spent the last couple of months experimenting with the possibilities which are infinite.

4. I know you’ve taken many, many pictures of the sun rising. What inspires you to do that?

Thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was in denial until I had a horrible seizure that landed me in the emergency room. The rising of the sun marks the beginning of a new day. I see each day as a gift and full of possibilities. Sunrises are colorful and in a state of constant change. The sunrise brings the hope of a new beginning. Crepuscular rays are especially exciting to me. I like to shoot sunsets also, but I find it harder to get out at that time of day. Sunsets are often more intense.

5. Where can people see your art?

Photo by Seth Avant

Photo by Seth Avant

I have an on-line gallery at www.sethavant.com that I try to update often and also at https://www.facebook.com/savant237. I’m also in instagram at: #sethavant. There are also some gallery shows in the works , but no dates at present.

Thanks for being with us today!

It has been my pleasure! Thank you for your interest in my art.

Donna Zapalac Mueller and the Wildflowers

Sunset on the Ranch by Donna Zapalac Mueller

Sunset on the Ranch by Donna Zapalac Mueller


My guest today is Donna Zapalac Mueller, rancher and photographer. The ranch is located in Fayette County, on the banks of the Colorado River near the communities of La Grange, Ellinger & Fayetteville. Located in two of Texas’ ecological regions, Blackland Prairies & the Oak Woodlands, the land is rich in Native Texas natural resources. The Zapalac family immigrated to Texas in the 1840s from Moravia, and have been in Texas for seven generations. The Zapalac Ranch lands have been in the family since the 1800s, established by Vinc & Anna Andreas Zapalac, 2nd generation Texans. Vinc started with small parcels of land, building the ranch to several thousand acres. Vinc & Anna were entrepreneurs, referring to the ranch as a “land of milk & honey”. In the
Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

1860s, Vinc drove cattle up the Chisholm trail, later (1880s) evolving to shipping cattle on the “Zapalac Switch” by rail. The “Switch”, as the family referred to the rail site, shipped cattle, lumber, sorghum molasses and native pecans. The ranch had sugar cane fields that supplied the Zapalac Molasses Mill, as well as native pecan orchards and the Zapalac Sawmill. Donna just recently inherited the sawmill and donated it to the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in LaGrange to be restored as a living history museum, to mill lumber again.

You take great pictures of plants and wildflowers on your ranch, Donna. What motivates you to make these photographs?

The sheer beauty of nature inspires me to take these photos. Just taking a step back for a really good look at the small things in nature. The magnificent colors, the intricate details of these living organisms. So awesome! I was raised on this ranch. My Grandparents, Fred T. Zapalac & Pearl Koehl Zapalac, my teachers & mentors, taught me to ride a horse, hunt, fish, cook, work and become a “good steward of the land”. Grandpa’s words of wisdom, “Nature is beautiful. Take care of the land and it will take care of you.” As a youth, one does not comprehend those words of wisdom. Alas, as we mature, then comes wisdom and appreciation of nature. She (Nature) has so much to offer. All we have to do, is take the time to appreciate her.

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

In 2013, I became a Texas Master Naturalist. The TNM program and certification was my
“Aha Moment!”. The TMN classes, seminars, instructors/professors and the importance of the program to promote the education and teaching of conservation on water issues and promoting the instructions to be “good stewards of the land” and to become a part in educating our future Texas generations on native flora and fauna, reinvigorated me.

What kind of camera do you use? Do you have to use special lenses or settings to get close-ups of insects or flowers?

About 90% of my photos for close-ups are taken with my cell phone camera, Samsung Galaxy S4. Great resolution for enlargements, not so great for long range photos. For that I go to my number 2 camera. A Nikon Coolpix P510. I go simple now. I don’t like lugging around heavy things. So I gave my big lenses & macro lenses to my daughter for her Rock Art work along with my Cannon, which was out-dated when it came to pixel number.There are so many great cameras & cell phone cameras with unbelievable resolutions. Choose what is right for you.

How did you start taking pictures?

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

I have always enjoyed taking pictures. I just started photographing flowers recently because of Texas Master Naturalist to create a journal of wildflowers and native grasses on our ranch. My favorite subject would be native Texas plants especially the wildflowers. I love to photograph butterflies, dragonflies, birds, spectacular sunsets-anything to do with nature.

Where can people see your photographs? Have you had any shows or publications?

At present they only place to see my photographs is on Facebook as I post them and I don’t post all of them. I have been asked to do some prints on canvas. So this is a work in progress. I will keep you posted.

What are your top three tips for taking great shots of flowers?
Picture taking…
We humans are so out of tune with nature. This is what works for me.

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

Photo by Donna Zapalac Mueller

*Try to use your five senses; sight, hearing, touch, smell & taste.
*Choose your favorite season in the year. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter or All those listed.
*Find a safe natural area to escape to. Maybe your own back yard.
*Tap into your senses. Close your eyes and try to hone-in on nature.
1st sense that kicks in, hearing
2nd sense is awareness of hot or cold, touch.
3rd sense is smell, the air around you
4th sense is taste.
Now open your eyes.
5th sense is sight. Hopefully this will provide a new perspective on the small things that were insignificant previously. Look for those bright colors, shapes amid designs and Photograph away.

HAPPY SHOOTING!

Thanks for being with us today. You inspire me to go out and take pictures!