The Nomad Behind the Lens
Garrett King, a Colorado transplant from Texas, goes by the moniker “@shortstache” on Instagram. The name originates from a company he and a friend started after college, and while the company is no longer a part of King’s life, the tongue-in-cheek name remains and leads 119,000 followers to King’s photography.
King, more comfortable with anonymity than self-promotion or marketing, worked his way from a “weekend warrior” to a full-time photographer and shares his thoughts on the longevity of the field, as well as the community he’s creating through his work in collaboration with others. King’s work emphasizes perspective and playfulness of natural landscapes, while not sacrificing composition and contrast.
A conversation with Garrett King
What got you into photography?
I was born in Amarillo, Texas, and studied design and fine arts at Texas Tech and West Texas A&M. I mainly focused on videography, though, not photography. My friend and I started a company called “Shortstache” where we made short films about people in Texas who inspired us, like the oldest letter-presser in the state and a woman who made bicycles out of recycled materials.
Hence the name: @shortstache?
Right. At the time, we were competing in a mustache-growing contest, and it kind of stuck. Now it’s just me.
And then Instagram came along…
I joined Instagram about two years ago and never had the intention of using it as a platform to turn my photography into my career. I never intended to “make a name” for myself on Instagram. I would just respond back to everyone. They would respond; I would respond. It just kept going.
So it became a platform for community for you?
Exactly. I’ve met some of my best friends in the world through Instagram because we connected over a common goal or interest. I love that I can travel almost anywhere in the world and link up with someone through Instagram. It’s great because you can ask a question about a new place and get feedback almost immediately. Once, a few friends and I went to Portland, Oregon, and I posted that we didn’t have a car but would love to go around the city. Quickly, I got a message from a guy saying that he could be there in an hour, and I’ve been close friends with him ever since.
"I love that I can travel almost anywhere in the world and link up with someone through Instagram."
Instagram has this great way of building up trust between people, making the world smaller and traveling much easier. I’ve found a mutual respect pervades the community, and it’s been fun to see that come into fruition in my life and work.
"Instagram has this great way of building up trust between people, making the world smaller and traveling much easier."
How did you find yourself transitioning from videography and design to photography?
I’ve spent most of my working life designing. Photography was always an offshoot, a side hobby. It was interesting how things shifted: When I moved to Colorado two years ago, I quickly became a weekend warrior. I was leaving work at 5 p.m. on a Friday, driving until 2 a.m., camping and exploring and shooting wherever I could. I started posting my photos from these trips on Instagram, and, I guess, it sparked people’s interest.
Why camping and natural spaces in particular and not classic city shots or portraits?
I could only do the city thing for so long. You can get nightlife and restaurants in a lot of places, but, when I moved to Colorado, the mountains were in my backyard, and there was just so much to see and do. I found myself always escaping to the mountains to build stories or create memories. I will say, though, some of the photographers I respect the most are those who can be in the mountains, city, or middle of nowhere and produce beautiful and engaging work.
"Some of the photographers I respect the most are those who can be in the mountains, city, or middle of nowhere and produce beautiful and engaging work."
What has your focus been in developing your work?
For me, it’s always been about storytelling. You could consider me an adventure photographer, but the goal is always about capturing a moment. I want to continually get to the bare essentials and strip things down to the core. When I look at the bigger picture, I hope my work is inspiring and propelling me to see more and do more, while growing as a person. It is an extension of myself, after all. As it gets better, I want to get better. People are always asking me about what gear I use but it’s not really about gear; it’s about a developed style and whether you’re producing consistent and engaging work. I think you have to have the eyes and passion to discover good shots and you have to practice, practice, practice.
"It’s always been about storytelling."
Now that you’re a full time photographer, there must be a necessary separation between Instagram and work for you…
There definitely has to be. Anyone who asks me about their photography and how to make it big on the platform, I try to remind them that it’s a launching pad and business tool. I’ve had companies see my work through Instagram and invite me to shoot for them. It always goes back to the work. Instagram will die at some point, as much as I love it, and you can’t let it make or break your creativity. If you’re good and passionate, people will find you.
"Instagram will die at some point, as much as I love it, and you can’t let it make or break your creativity."
Any current projects?
Something I’ve been really excited about is a collaborative effort with other photographers I know, called @collectivenomads. We wanted to take creative people in different mediums and build each other up.
What do you want people to think when they stumble across your photography?
I hope they ultimately see that I’m a real person. Yeah, I want to have a consistent and built-up style, but I want people to see who I am, as a person who does the same stuff as them, and engage.
I never want my work to be dependent on a platform. I’m all about being on Instagram for the right reason: to know people and build relationships. It was never about free gear or “blowing up.” The dream was always to make my lifestyle I love into a paid job. I love design and want to continue to do that while also exploring my work as a photographer. △