What do the Louvre, National Geographic, the Travel Channel, Samaritan’s Purse and the Global Poverty Project have in common?
They have all featured the work of 2008 Baylor graduate Austin Mann.
It was while Mann was at Baylor that his passion for photography and storytelling began, although it wasn’t through academics that he found his passion. When he came to Baylor, he was part of a program called Performance Improvement Technology (PIT), but he eventually switched his major to telecommunications (now known as film and digital media).
“I did a complete 180 my sophomore year of college,” Mann said. “I was the typical selfish, party boy college kid, and that’s when I met Jesus. I didn’t know what to do with all this extra time on my hands when I would normally be out partying and making bad decisions, so I picked up a camera.”
Mann’s father was a photographer, and though he had grown up around photography his whole life, he had never really discovered it for himself. He began really exploring photography walking around Baylor’s campus, often late at night, taking pictures of anything and everything.
While he was at Baylor, Mann was highly influenced by a chaplain who became his mentor, but when his mentor encouraged him to go on a missions trip to Africa Mann was extremely opposed.
“He told me he wanted me to go to Africa on a mission trip, and I said ‘no way, I’m not going; I’m not a traveler,’” Mann said.
It wasn’t until Mann was telling his roommates this crazy idea that they pointed out he could take pictures in Africa if he went. Mann went, and that is where his love for travel, overseas work and photography was born.
Shortly after graduating from Baylor, Mann got the idea for an orphanage project. He pitched the idea to several companies until someone saw the vision he had and hired him to travel to nine countries and take pictures of orphanages. Mann did humanitarian storytelling and development work overseas for the next four years.
“I love telling dignifying stories. I want to help others, and telling their stories is the best way that I know how,” Mann said.
Mann has developed a reputation for getting into places no one else can and getting shots no one else is able to get.
“I love to talk to people. I’m very good at making friends with everyone I meet, and sometimes they help me out and I can get that impossible shot,” Mann said.
Mann was able to get one shot in particular because he struck up a conversation with his taxi driver in India on his way to the Taj Mahal. His driver told him about a garden behind the Taj Mahal that most people don’t know about. Mann went back there and found security guarding the premise, but he would not be turned away so quickly.
“I just started talking to the security guards, and the next thing I know they’re letting me through the gate,” Mann said.
Mann did have to convince a fisherman to let him get in his boat to take the picture he wanted. As far as Mann knows, only one other photographer in the world has a picture from the same angle.
In his photography Mann has worked closely with Apple and their “Shot on an iPhone 6” ad campaign, which is how he got his photo on the outside wall of the Louvre.
In addition to being a photographer, Mann is also a filmmaker.
In 2011, Mann filmed a documentary called Paradigm Project: San Diego > LA. The film documented a 16 day hike from San Diego to Los Angeles. The hikers walked the 125 miles with approximately 50 pounds of wood on their backs to raise awareness about the hundreds of millions of women that cook meals over open fires and walk up to 10 or 15 miles to collect the wood.
“I do not define myself as a photographer. I define myself as a creator, and my purpose is to bring God’s wonder into the world,” Mann said. “God is a creator, and we are made in His image. Therefore, we are creators.”
Another one of Mann’s creations is WELD. WELD is, “a coworking community of designers, photographers, illustrators, filmmakers, writers, musicians, and more who believe that we create better together,” according to its website.
Currently, there is a WELD space in Dallas and Nashville. In Dallas, there is a community of about 60 people, and in Nashville, about 100. Creators of all types can apply to join WELD by sending in work, sharing what they’re passionate about and showing their belief in community. WELD does not advertise or recruit members. All of its information goes out by word of mouth, with its goal being to create a tight-knit, motivated community.
“With WELD, I want to bring people together to do what they love and make a difference in this world,” Mann said. “Artists influence culture, and together I believe we can be a powerful agent of change.”
Mann hopes to continue to live a nimble and fluid lifestyle that allows him to change his path as he moves along.
“My main goal is to illuminate darkness by bringing glory to God. I have a light and power and the ability to create,” Mann said. “Darkness hides at the speed of light. My purpose is to spread light to the darkness and create something beautiful. As long as I am doing that, I am happy.”