Rebel plants a second bullet in the head of a gator that kept moving after being hauled into the boat. Each gator is then tagged before being piled in the bottom of the boat.
A baited hook hangs low to the water of Shell Island, Louisiana where commercial gator hunters Julius and Rebel are part way through the annual alligator hunting season. The state of Louisiana is home to the largest alligator population in the United States, estimated to be almost 2 million. Alligators are North America's largest reptiles and are considered a renewable resource in an industry that has thrived in America's deep south for centuries. The first large alligator harvests occurred during the early 1800s. The alligator farming industry in Louisiana alone annually harvests 140,000-170,000 gators which are valued at over $12,000,000.
Immune Media's Questions for Matt Eich:
1. How did the Trouble in the Water story come to be? How did you “get in” with Julius and Rebel? You seem to be able to achieve unique access to interesting persons and cultures (for example, your A Place to Die story, and Mamou Mardi Gras). How?
Trouble the Water, as happens with some of the best things in life, fell right into my lap. A friend from school named Kevin Martin is now a picture editor in Baton Rouge and he got wind of the story through a photographer at the paper named Mark Saltz who has hunted alligators recreationally for years. Kevin went with him one time and afterwards called me up saying, "You have got to come check this out."
I had just moved to Virginia a few months prior and was itching to start a new project and to get some time in the Deep South. It was a rare moment when there was some spare change lying around so I just went. Julius and Rebel were acquaintances of Saltz's, though it wasn't until later that I found out that it wasn't really a cordial relationship between them. Most of my favorite projects have been accidents, things that I don't over-think or research to death (in the beginning at least).
I've found that across the board people will eventually respond to me if I am open, honest and persistent. I try to be very aware of how I project myself when meeting people but I'm not very good at barreling into a place and making images. I prefer to watch and wait. By being open I mean to base your interactions on the same principals that apply to normal human relationships. It is a two-way street - be willing to share as much with someone about your life as you want them to share about theirs.
A Place to Die is another example of a story springing from a happy accident. I photographed a kid at a dirt bike race and was later contacted by his mother who worked at a prison. We talked, struck it off and eventually the question of access to the prison arose and she was willing and able to help out. I guess the moral is to always be looking, always be open - every person has a story or is linked to one.
2. What's the first time you ever got paid for doing photography?
When I was probably 13, I was paid around $50 to license some nature photographs I had taken by a really small nature magazine called Creation Illustrated. It probably only had a circulation of a couple thousand. I'm sure my mom still has a copy of that somewhere.
I wrote a "how-to" article for Birds and Blooms Magazine when I was 14 and was paid for that...It was about how to photograph your backyard garden.
I shot my first wedding when I was 17, got paid $450, and had a miserable time.
Despite these experiences in my mind my first "real assignment" wasn't until May 2006 when I got a call from The FADER to shoot a couple gigs in Los Angeles while I was interning at The Orange County-Register.
3. How much Photoshop is too much?
To me if it alters the content or meaning of a photograph it is too much. The longer I shoot the less I find myself using Photoshop and the more subtle I want it to be. Looking back on the way I toned pictures early in college is frightening at times. It's not necessarily that's too heavy-handed, it just feels like it calls attention to itself. I'd prefer for the image to speak louder than the process or techniques used.
4. Now that everyone's a photographer, will professionals survive?
For a long time now it has been possible for amateur photographers to make really fantastic images. Technology is great that way. I'd have to guess it has always been easier to make pictures than to make a living at it. We just have to adapt and survive.
The question is- How can you take the vision that is uniquely yours and apply it to different markets? That way ad jobs, editorial assignments, art commissions and weddings all become a way of funding whatever it is you care about. LUCEO is actively working to support our members through a Project Fund where we all contribute a percentage of our earnings to support significant bodies of work. The idea being very simple- in tough times we learn to band together in order to keep working on projects that mean something to us.
At this point in my life I can't imagine doing anything else and I don't have a fallback plan. I have a wife and daughter depending on me to make ends meet so that is enough motivation to make me feel that failure isn't an option.
5. Would you rather have your favorite arm bitten off by an alligator, or be forced to go alligator hunting 3 days a week for the rest of your life?
Well sh#t, if we're talking limbs I'd be inclined to go alligator hunting 3 days a week for the rest of my life. I suppose if that got monotonous after a few years, I could just let an alligator chew off my arm then and get it over with.
6. One thing that seems to differentiate you from other photographers is that you have a number of ongoing, long-term projects for which there is often no discernable “client.” How come?
I like the creative freedom that comes from choosing a topic interests me and adapting my approach to suit the subject matter...for my own work, the stories I will put myself into for years at a time, I relish not having too many cooks in the kitchen. This gives me more room to fail, learn and grow. While this approach certainly hasn't made me any richer, it keeps me from wasting too much time waiting for people to bite on my ideas.
As a project, Trouble the Water is still really fresh, I've only had 4 total days of shooting so far. While some clients keep saying they are interested in the story none have offered to pony up the cash. The only money made from the story thus far is one image from the project was recently licensed by a small German magazine (and I could really use that check so I can go back to Louisiana!)
(At this point, the interviewer, Lee Emmert, is compelled to confess that he, personally, is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Born and raised, parents still live there, goes back every Christmas, etc, and that the sight of alligators is strangely comforting to him. (Well, live alligators, anyway)).
Blood mixes with mud stirred up from the bottom by the boat motor and fighting alligator.