World War II-era planes against the purple-mountains majesty of angry cumulonimbus clouds. An overhead shot of a basketball player, held aloft by a victory crowd, his eyes closed and face smiling in joy and relief. An angled close-up of Barack Obama, shot from below, his face half-hidden in shadow, inscrutable. And a puzzled-looking Weimaraner and Doberman Pinscher, their heads cocked curiously for the camera and their soon-to-divorce owners behind them, at opposite ends of a couch.
From Midwestern politicians to Minnesota Twins pitchers, all this and more is the work of Darren J. Hauck – whose photos, filled with personality and punch, grace the world-class likes of The New York Times and the Associated Press. So what’s he doing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?
“I’m not sure!” Hauck says, laughing. “I never left – I don’t know why. I guess family,” the 31-year-old photojournalist suggests. “I’m centrally located – an hour-and-a-half by car from Chicago, a 2-hour flight from New York. And yet the cost of living is nowhere near the cost of living in Chicago or New York.”
He’s not home much anyway. A traveler both for work and for wanderlust, he has worked in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Central America and elsewhere. “Lots of times I go on my own and pitch the photos myself or through agencies afterward,” Hauck says.
Sometimes, too, he’s found, the world comes to you. “I’ve photographed Hmong refugees in Wisconsin,” he tells you, referring to the embattled Southeast Asian ethnic group, many of whom emigrated to the U.S. following the Communist takeover of Laos in 1975. “They’re great people.” Visiting Thailand in 2004, Hauck came across the Hmong refugee camp in the town of Saraburi “and saw the connection. I knew it would turn out to be a good story.” It’s also one that’s continued to reverberate: Hauck’s work with the Hmong had led him to document the case of Cha Vang, a Hmong hunter from Green Bay who in January 2007 was stabbed to death by a Caucasian hunter in the Wisconsin woods, either as a homicide or in self-defense.
“I take pictures to do my job and tell the story,” Hauck says simply. “If I can get paid to do my job and produce good work, and my clients know and like me, that’s enough. If I can live a good life, do what I love to do, and see the world – I’m happy.”
Hauck got his first camera at 19 – a little $25 point-and-shoot for his birthday. There had always been photos around the house, in magazines like Life and Time and his grandparents’ copies of National Geographic. ” I think the only reason I’m a working photographer is that growing up I’ve always loved photojournalism,” he says.
Hauck started off at the University of Wisconsin Waukesha as an illustration major, but found he didn’t like the program and switched to the small but well-regarded Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). He got a friendly if curmudgeonly nudge toward his present direction when one of his art teachers noticed that “all I was doing was taking pictures for my illustration class, and so he told me, ‘Look, become a photography major!”
During his junior year Hauck was awarded an internship at the in-house photo department of Sussex, Wisconsin’s Quad/Graphics, one of the nation’s largest printing companies. He later worked there part-time while going to school, “shooting a lot of catalog photography, like NAPA auto parts — here’s a bolt! Shooting for catalogs taught me to light well, which was good.” His coworkers included two former newspaper photographers who introduced him to people at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where Hauck started freelancing and “learned the ins and outs of photojournalism.” After getting his BFA, Hauck landed a staff job at a weekly paper in suburban Oconomowoc, spending a year as its sole photographer. “They paid well, but I was worked to death,” Hauck says. “I think that whole year I had three days off. The paper covered so many counties that all weekend long I would cover sporting events and county fairs.”
He was also freelancing for the Journal Sentinel, and began doing more of that when he left the weekly to become an assistant at the photo studio Ferderbar, in nearby New Berlin. After a year there, and having picked up additional freelancing from the local Associated Press branch, Hauck quit to freelance fulltime. Today, in addition to having his own major-media clients, he places his work internationally through Getty Images. He also shoots editorial portraits, annual reports, and the occasional wedding “to travel and produce personal work.”
He’s used the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1 and the point-and-shoot DMC-TZ3, “I like the L1 for black-and-white a lot – it reminds me of the old Tri-X film, the way the digital ‘noise’ looks like film grain. The point-and-shoot is great — it’s sharp, it works well.”
Hauck is now setting off to cover the 2008 presidential campaigns, and then “go to China for a bit.”
And after that? “Moving from Milwaukee!” he says jovially. “I hate the cold – which makes it ironic that I live here!”
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