We had the good fortune of connecting with Renee Dominguez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Renee, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born in El Paso, TX on February 22, 1996 to a husband and wife with a 4-year-old daughter. Growing up in El Paso, as one could imagine, was not the most exciting experience. Besides the towering sight of the Franklin Mountains, there isn’t much nature going on. I’m a girl who loves her tall, oxygen-bearing trees. The first time I traveled to Oregon I fell in love with the trees there that I even got one tattooed on my arm. Besides going to the mall, the movies or Adventure Zone with my friends on the weekends, I spent most of my time with my family. I only have one older sister, but we have always been best friends, even when we feel like murdering each other. My family means the world to me. Both my parents are extremely hard working and I have always seen them provide for me and my sister. My family is also Mexican, which means they work hard and play hard, but I don’t mean in the typical sense of partying and drinking. I mean that as much as they worked, my parents loved taking us on vacations and especially to concerts. My first concert ever was N’SYNC and I think I fell asleep halfway through because it was way past my bedtime. My whole life, my parents made sure that music and traveling were huge parts of our upbringing. We would travel out of state to attend a concert and my dad still always quizzes me on music history whenever he hears a song on the radio. I always knew I wanted to leave El Paso. It’s a great city and I will always consider it my home, but I knew there was so much more of the world I wanted to see and experience. So when my mom got a job teaching cosmetology in Austin, I knew I had found my next adventure. Moving to Austin was a bit of an adjustment, but after learning about SXSW and ACL, I soon realized I had a home here too. Austin bleeds music and so do I. I loved that so many artists came to Austin and that there was live music every night. During my last year of college, I was feeling a bit lost about my next steps. I was getting a degree in Digital Media Innovation and I was learning skills that I was trying to convince myself I liked. Social media analytics, web design, SEO, and writing for broadcast. One thing that I had stumbled upon, mostly as a hobby, was photography. I bought a camera to take photos of the night sky, but again, it was just a hobby and something I didn’t think I would turn into a career. I just knew that I loved music and that somehow deep down I wanted to pursue a career in the industry. Well, really just find a way to always be around live music. When I started taking photos at concerts and I wasn’t terrible at it, I looked for jobs in that field. On Vinyl Media was my first internship out of college and it not only helped me build my portfolio tremendously, it also gave me the confidence to go after my dream job. The music industry by no means is an easy ride. It requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears and being a music photographer takes just as much time, practice and dedication as being a musician. I have shot so many local bands for no money, sent a lot of cold emails, or cold direct messages, to get to where I am now. Majority of shows are at night, which means long drives back home after standing on my feet for one, two, three, or even 16 hours (hey SXSW), carrying heavy gear everywhere, endless editing until 2 or 3am then getting up early and going to my day job. But hard work ethic was something I saw in my parents growing up. That same grind I saw in my mom everyday at the hair salon she owned with her two sisters paired with the 12-hour-days my dad worked at UPS only to come home and do my mom’s bookkeeping, was something I definitely inherited from my parents. Something that brought us all joy, however, was rocking out at a concert to our favorite artists. My parents have always encouraged my sister and I, whether it was a career path or a crazy hair choice. They know that the journey is hard and that it takes a lot of hustling to get to the end goal. Knowing that they believe in me and are proud of the work that I create makes all the hard work worth it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I started out as a photographer. I’ve done everything under the moon, including weddings, events, product, portraits, landscape, sports, corporate, lifestyle and astrophotographer. However, my main passion and favorite subject is music. I’ve been doing music photography for about three years now. I started back in college while working for the student-run radio station at Texas State University. The first time I ever shot a concert was the most nerve-racking experience because I had never shot anything that moved so quickly before. I was used to shooting landscapes, stars and people standing still at that point. I didn’t even own a lens that was optimal for low-light situations, so I borrowed the camera and lens from the radio station. I owned a Nikon camera, but the camera I was borrowing was Canon. So not only was it my first time shooting with a different lens, I also had to teach myself the design of a different camera body. Looking back now, it really wasn’t that big of a learning curve. Now a days, someone can hand me a camera and I can figure out how to take a picture on it. The concept is all the same, just the buttons are rearranged. After college, I interned at On Vinyl Media for about 6 months then went on to intern at KUT/X for the remainder of the year. Both of those experiences taught me so much about the music industry, photography and opened my eyes and mind up to the world of video. During my time at KUTX, I was able to help film some of the live performances in their home studio, Studio 1A. I then went on to work at a whiskey company, where I was the content manager and ran their social media. I was in charge of coming up with all their social media content and I got to flex my photography skills with some cocktail product shots. I spent some time at Do512 as an intern, but soon was asked to shoot a concert for them. I had found my home again. Shooting concerts was something that I felt comfortable doing, it was something that I looked forward to every week. I was lucky enough to be included in a SXSW student capture team during my senior year of college, and having somehow made an impression, I continued to ask to come back and they somehow agreed to it! SXSW is one of my absolute favorite festivals. I often referred to it as my Christmas, because, to me, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Music all day, every day? Yes please! Some of the challenges I’ve had to overcome over these years have been mostly my own self-doubt. I often struggle with imposter syndrome, but it makes sense to me because I was someone who got into photography as a hobbyist. Now that this is my career is mind blowing to me. I’m extremely proud of everything I’ve done and all the hard work I have put into my journey, but every now and then I wonder if I’m really any good at all. In the age of social media, it is ridiculously easy to being lounging on the couch, strolling through photos and see some amazing photo that another artist took. It’s not long after that the negative thoughts start spiraling. The “you aren’t doing enough,” “look at how amazing they are,” “you should be out there, I’m not sure where that is happening or if it’s even currently happening, but you should be there” thoughts. Whenever I catch myself falling down the comparison spiral, I like to get off social media. Sometimes I even delete the apps all together. Taking a break from social media, I think, is very important to your mental health and I find it so beneficial to just reconnect to nature. I will either fill my time with going on a run or a hike with my dog. I love meditating and journaling to clear my head when I feel overwhelmed. I want the world to know that it was not an easy ride to get to where I am. It was extremely fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but it required a lot of hard work and passion. I don’t do this work because it’s just a job I thought was cool, I chose this career because it is an art form I am passionate about. I don’t always have successful shoots or days, but I always remind myself that nothing in life should be taken too seriously. There will be other shoots, new days and new opportunities to shine.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Considering I live in Austin, I would take my best friend to eat tacos! Veracruz All Natural is my favorite food truck with the most amazing breakfast tacos. I’ve eaten there so much that they know my name. Next, I would take them for either a walk or run along Lady Bird Lake. I love running on the trail during sunset because the lighting is so beautiful and sometimes you can see the bats flying above you. After having a stroll along the lake, I would insist on shopping at Waterloo Records. I was so obsessed with buying records a few years ago that as soon as I got a payment half of it would go to buying records. I love Waterloo Records because they have a huge selection and they are such down-to-earth people. For lunch or dinner, I would recommend The Beer Plant, which is a vegan gastropub. I was vegan for 4 years and The Beer Plant was my favorite place in town. They are still one of my go-to spots because their Impossible Burger is something to drool over. Lastly, it would not be a complete day with me if we did not end up at a concert somewhere. Luckily in Austin, every night is live music night. I almost always know a band that is playing, but I’m also always down to discover new music.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This is such a cliche answer, but all the organizations I’ve been a part of have helped me grow in my career so much. From On Vinyl Media, who instilled in me the confidence to become a concert photographer, to Kids in a New Groove, who were the first to hang my photos up on a wall, to KUTX, who trusted me enough to represent them on assignments and whose friendships I hold dearly, to SXSW, who has continued to have me back on their photo team and who continue to push me and encourage me on this journey. Without my community, my peers, my friends and the opportunities I’ve had, there is no way I would have made it to the spot that I’m in. So thank you to anyone who has ever cheered me on, hired me, brought me on a team knowing nothing other than my work, shared one of my photos, said my name in a meeting, or even smiled at one of my photos. Your encouragement means the world to me.
all photos by me