state of the art: hugh acheson - chef / restaurateur / writer

“Success lies in how good you feel about the job you're doing... real, true satisfaction in your job comes from you and not necessarily from the reviews you get or the awards you win.” 

Hugh Acheson in a renowned celebrity chef residing in Athens, GA, whose day to day is always different and changing.

Not only does Hugh run four successful restaurants and a coffees shop, he is a judge on the TV show "Top Chef", a U.S. delegate for food to countries all around the world, a writer of several books, a speaker, he makes public appearances, and he is a family man.

Hugh got his start in the industry when he was fifteen. Back then it wasn’t all glamorous, he had to work his way up from humble dishwasher beginnings. 

“At first it was an after school job and then turned full time. I came from a very academic family and I was always kind of the black sheep that wasn’t good in academics. So it was always a way of paying the bills and developing a trade I could fall back on.  Then it became the thing that I was best at and brought me enjoyment." 

I figured out at a pretty young age that it (food) was a never ending topic and that I could pretty much learn about it everyday and be happy and be energized by it.  That’s true to this day.”

I asked Hugh if he remembered the age or the moment that he realized this is what he wanted to do with his life and his response was hilariously authentic:

“I don’t think it was that romantic.  It was probably when I dropped out of university and realized that I had to do something. Yeah, but I was also pretty good at it. I had a good concept of leadership and how to get people going. I was driven and still am, to do it and to do it right, so that immediately puts you in a different sphere of a lot of people who do this sort of thing everyday."

“My favorite part of the job is leading people and leading my own crew and having them be on the same page of what we are after. And to really identify what the abstract notion of what hospitality is. I think that’s kind of what I’m best at, is getting my crew on the same page for the job each day.” 

Between work, travel, and being a dad, Hugh’s free time is often few and far between. When he does get a moment his favorite thing to do is just to hang out with his kids and if he gets a moment to himself while traveling he will go find a local museum or a good coffee shop and use the opportunity to read or write. Today most of his inspiration comes from those very things. 

He finds inspiration by, “Reading a lot, reading about cookbooks, reading different people's cookbooks, and reading menus. Traveling and seeing the way the world works with food, what’s current and interesting. So just keeping a grasp of the pulse of America and how they react to food and what they want from hospitality. And that drives me everyday, and looking at a lot of historical cookbooks and stuff like that makes me excited. To look at food from that vantage point. That it’s a really neat subject that goes back a long way but that we can still make current”. 

Hugh has also been encouraged by those around him.

“A mentor of mine, a big southern chef in Birmingham Alabama named Frank Stitt, he once wrote me a letter that said I was one of the futures of southern foods and that kind of resounded with me for a long time.  So there is always analysis from your peers that makes you feel really good and your mentors, and winning awards Is always a nice thing… they are often payback for actual years of working a hundred hours a week. There’s been lots of feedback over the years that has been very resounding with me. It’s good feedback with feeling personally satisfied with what you're doing."

While reviews and awards have been good feedback for Hugh, he stresses the importance to other chefs that it's really not about that at all: 

“Success lies in how good you feel about the job you're doing, winning awards and being on TV have a lot more to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time. The real true satisfaction in your job comes from you and not necessarily from reviews you get or awards you win. Because in my field 1% of us will get what we are due and the other 99% are due a lot of respect and a lot of accolades and just never get noticed." 

Check out more photos from my time with Hugh here.  

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the restaurants: 5&10  ||  empire state south || the national  ||  the florence

state of the art: sye elaine spence

 “I want to add beauty to someone’s life, whatever time of day they are listening, whether its for five minutes or an hour.” 

Sye Spence is an Atlanta based singer song writer who got her start writing poetry when she was just a kid. As an only child with lots of deep emotions poetry was an outlet for Sye, even more so, a friend. She would find herself tinkering with the keyboard and jotting down poems while sitting in class. What began as poetry and writing has lead to Sye marrying the two into the beautiful music she creates today.

“I think I’m staring to come full circle now, a lot of my lyrics are starting to feel much more poetic, a big part of who I am creatively. I see myself as a lyricist first and then a vocalist. Vocals have been a work in progress my whole life, I think I’m finally at a place where I feel like I’ve found my voice. Stripped down simplicity feels more like me, feels really pure. Having a sense of identity for me is the first step.” 

She describes her music as a combination of folk, blues, and soul, with an influence of jazz. Though Sye has found her sound, her voice, she is still always looking within to who she is as an artist and as a person. Her new project is very simple and vocal centric. She describes it as dramatic but still tasteful and sweet. 

“I’m evolving as a human being and the writing is more in depth with story telling and poetry."

"Most of the lyrics are poems I wrote… I like to treat what I do as an art piece, be unique and tell a story about me, always having my identify at the forefront but still becoming something new and something interesting in itself.”

When writing, Sye likes to set aside a specific time in her life. A lot of times she will cut off her social life and isolate herself in her home, get quiet and become in tune with herself. It’s a time she can enjoy away from all of the the distractions. 

“When I write poetry I’m fearless; when I write songs I think about being charming and the format. But I think I got to the place where I wasn’t trying to sound pretty or even think about it. It’s a part of the process to push myself out and to be open to receive it. I feel like it’s from the heavens and I’m just a vessel, its like a gift.”

Sye believes she does her best work when she isn’t thinking about it; when the writing goes straight from her brain to the paper. She says that it is almost like a prayer, taking her deepest and most precious thoughts and feelings and putting them in a place of vulnerability. 

While writing might come from removing herself, other aspects of the music industry have forced Sye to be more intentional. Sye claims the hardest part is to stay as inspired as she was in the beginning.

“(When) people like it, when people are talking about what you're doing, it's so easy to just continue in that. (The hardest part is) stepping back and always still being that person I was two years ago when nobody was talking about me and trying to do something interesting and unplugging myself from it all.” 

Sye believes one of the keys to this is to create without worrying what the outcome is. She strives for inspiration over recognition and is always making sure that she is being true to who she is and letting herself evolve. To choose not to do what is easy but what creates inspiration.

“I’ve even had to end business relations because people see what’s getting you attention and want you to just do that. Even if that means I have to stay where I am now at a recognition stand point. I want to be happy. That’s really what counts.” 

At the end of a long day when Sye becomes discouraged her fans are the ones that keep her going. She recently received a Facebook message from a young man who had seen her work and was inspired to pursue his dreams because of it. 

“When days are tough I can never say I’m not doing this anymore, because this is why I’m doing it. To inspire."

Check out more photos from my time with Sye here.  

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state of the art: nathan bach - dream writers

“I don’t know if anyone can say what drives them to create something, all I know is that for me, I have to do it.... because its how my brain works... I don’t know any other way.”

Nathan Bach, a man of many tiles, calls himself an original content creator. In search of something that hasn’t been done before, Nathan’s dream late one night has lead to the production of an independent television series pilot titled Dream Writers. 

When he first started to develop Dream Writers on his own, he faced many closing doors. No one was listening and he started to doubt if the concept was even something he should pursue. Nathan knew he wouldn’t be able to do it alone and began searching for a group of people to give it a try with him.

A big part of Nathan's success has come from the creative community he surrounded himself with. At the start of the interview Nathan shared with me an inspiring story about the creators of Pixar. In one lunch meeting they developed the ideas and plots for ‘A Bugs Life’, ‘Monsters Inc.’, ‘Finding Nemo’, and ‘WALL-E’. The Pixar team members raved about how they pushed each other's ideas and brought the best out in each other. Nathan believed that a group with these same qualities would help his idea become the success it is today, 

    “Thats what creatives like to do, they like to sit around and create whether that’s in words or in actions and thats why I like to surround myself with these kinds of people.”

The final push to taking on his “dream” came when Nathan realized that the fear of failure was not as strong as his fear of regret. 

“I can’t live with myself if I were to see something like this in 5 years...” 

Nathan got his start in content creation at an early age. “ When I turned 16 my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday and, I don't even know why, but all I wanted was a video camera. So she went and bought me like a $400 camcorder and for 2 years I had that thing by my side all the time.”

It is amazing to see what can happen in someone’s career when they begin to pursue it as early as high school. 

“Yeah it was when I was 16 when I really decided to do it and I kinda realized I had a nack for it as soon as I started, you know you have that eye. I didn't know what that meant but I knew it looked different from the other stuff I was seeing.. And I was really lucky because at 16 I knew that’s what I was going to do with my career. I’m going to go to film school and do something in film... So I started building it in high school. I made sketches with my friends and then this website came out called YouTube. And my friends joined the site, we were one of the first 5,000 people to join YouTube and we started uploading our videos and it just went from there.” 

When Nathan was eighteen he went back to look at his long ago posted videos and they had gone viral. A short BMX video he had posted now had over 60,000 views. Nathan was inspired, “ I decided I wanted to create something from the ground up and that something became Dream Writers.” 

It all started when one night he woke up with a strange question. “I woke up from a dream one night and wondered what if that (the dream) didn’t come from my brain, if it came from someone else...” This is what Nathan had been searching for, something new, something fresh, something that hadn’t been done before. 

Nathan and his team of “Dream Writers” started creating original content as a web series in 2014.  In 2015 they decided to independently produce a pilot for TV, and they crowd-sourced over $75,000.  Production has wrapped, the footage edited, and the pilot screened.  The next chapter in “Dream Writers” takes them on a nationwide tour on the film festival circuit.  Dream Writers was selected into the New York Television Festival, the largest and most prestigious tv festival, as one of 50 finalists out of over 3,000 submissions.

“(Dream Writers) thats a different thought from what people in Hollywood are doing because they are always rehashing old thoughts or making sequels from 20 something years later.  Original content creation is what I want to strive for in my career. So I woke up from a dream and thought about that and said that is something that has really never been done before and thats kind of what has driven me the last few years. 

From one night's sleep to an independent television series, Nathan’s idea has become all he imagined it to be. Though as far as this has come Nathan is not ready to stop creating any time soon. 

“I want this to serve as a launching point for what the next thing is... you have to look at is as a catalyst for your career... that could go in a hundred different directions.”

Check out more photos from my time with Nathan here.  

Please support or just follow along on Nathan's Dream Writers journey:

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state of the art: ryan weaver - kingdom tattoo

this week we're featuring ryan weaver, a tattoo artist and the owner of kingdom tattoo in decatur.  i have been following ryan's work on instagram (@ryanweavertattoo) for a couple of years after he was mentioned to me by a few of my friends.  i was immediately impressed by his tattoo skills, and ryan will be inking my next tattoo.  he has been tattooing for 17 years, and has owned kingdom tattoo for over 3 years.  

jh: why did you decide to start kingdom tattoo?

rw: [working long hours for someone else] "i didn't feel like i could be a very present dad or husband.  i kinda set it up to make it where i could be available to them."  

jh: so now on top of tattooing you are running a business, do you feel like have more time for your family?

rw: "i have a lot more time."

jh: how did you get into tattooing?

rw: "tattooing chose me.  i was in bands growing up, and just kept getting lots of tattoos.  the more i hung out at this one particular tattoo shop the more they seemed interested in me.  historically as apprenticeships go you are asked to apprentice.  it's different now.  the more i got tattooed the more i enjoyed the process."

jh: how would you describe your style?

rw: "american traditional is the broad category that best represents what i like to do.  i drive an old car and live in a mid century house.  i'm real nostalgic about vintage things; it speaks to my soul.  to me old mid century sailors getting hearts, anchors, roses and stuff; just simple readable images; to me that's what tattooing is.  and that's why i do the things i do.  this is the stuff that best represents the feeling i get tattooing."

jh: how do you think tattooing will change over time?

rw: "today everyone kinda shuns flash, but i think it's going to come back around.  most of this stuff in here is originals that i've been collecting from tattooers all around.  'cause i want to have the most unique collection of flash around."

ryan does impressive work, but i am more impressed with the man behind the work.  as a small business owner with a child on the way i hope i can prioritize my life as well as he does.  ryan, thank you for taking the time and sharing.  thanks also for the advice, a good time, and great work.

to see a gallery of images from my time with ryan click here.  you can follow ryan on instagram @ryanweavertattoo or on facebook.

state of the art: kyle brooks - blackcattips

today i'm launching a personal project i have wanted to do for years; it's called state of the art.  every week i will feature one local creative that i find inspiring.  state of the art will feature visual artists, chefs, performance artists, writers, recording artists, directors, photographers, designers, and many more.  i will interview each subject, take pics of them creating, a few portraits, and some shots of a finished work.  the goal of this project is to bring awareness to these creatives and inspire others.  if you would like to nominate a creative please email me jason@hales.photo.

kicking things off is kyle brooks, or better known in atlanta as @blackcattips.  

you never know when you are going to see kyle's art; it's spread all over atlanta.  self described as a street folk artist; you may recognize his art from his bear mural on the belt line or random art hanging on telephone poles.  if you live in atlanta you have seen kyle's work; you just may not have known it. 

i wanted to feature kyle because his work makes me laugh.  i think it is a rare thing to find visual art that is in it's own way comedy.  kyle says he "gravitates toward funny stuff; something about the humor in it that i like".

how did you get started?

"i was always a doodler" kyle started making paintings on canvas with no plan other than to make more paintings.  "when i met my wife she came to my place and said 'what are you going to do with all of these paintings?'  i guess that is how it all started."

why the name blackcattips?

"at one point i had an old black cat, but it had nothin' to do with a cat really.  i just needed some words.  i like mixin' words.  i put those together, and said 'i like how that sounds'."

ask him for yourself; i have a feeling you will get a different answer.  also, ask him about the clown bike in savannah.

taking photos while kyle worked was a blast, but the best part was listening to his stories.  his art is amusing, but it is nothing compared to the man behind the art.  thank you kyle for participating in my project, for taking the time, for making great art, and for all the laughs.  you can see more images from my time with kyle here.  you can follow kyle on instagram @blackcattips and facebook.  buy some of kyle's work at www.blackcattips.com.

featured artist next week: ryan weaver of kingdom tattoo