Not everyone likes to have their picture taken. Some people — grumpy brewers, in particular — would rather toil away in peace and solitude than be a photographer's subject. Others enjoy the spotlight, even trying to pose for pictures instead of being themselves in front of the camera. After four years of work taking pictures at more than 130 breweries across Colorado, Dustin Hall has seen just about every personality type, and he usually handles them all the same way — by spending hour after hour at each location until the subjects of his photos forget he’s even there.
“I love being there all day,” he says. “I spent twelve hours at New Belgium, nine at Avery. Sometimes it's five to six hours, but I do my best to get a day in the life of each one.”
For the handling of grumpy folks, he says, “I feel like [when] doing these longer sessions, people warm up to you over time. They realize I’m there because I want to be, not because I have to be.” The posers, meanwhile, stop paying attention, which is when Hall gets his best candid shots.
The results of all that time will come to fruition on Saturday, January 20, at Falling Rock Tap House, when Hall and his wife, Marcia, release Discovering Colorado Breweries, a five-pound, 232-page coffee table book packed with stunning, vivid photographs taken at more than seventy breweries. Self-published and partially financed by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the book is the definition of a passion project.
“One of the things that really struck me when I first started this project and got into this scene was that even though there are so many breweries, they are all really different," says Hall. "I realized that there is a whole different culture for each one. It makes them fun in a different way.".
Hall, who operates as The Brewtography Project, began by photographing the metal and wood and glass that make breweries so visually interesting, but he quickly realized that the people were even more fascinating. “It can be a fun job, and people do it because they love it. But it’s also a hard job, and I want people to take note of that. It’s not a rock-star lifestyle where you're just drinking all the time.”
So there aren't a lot of pictures of the actual beer. Instead, you’ll find brewers lifting heavy bags of grain, cleaning out tanks and wearing respirators to protect them from gain dust and chemical fumes. In fact, these photos are some of the most compelling. Other highlights include Hall’s knack for taking familiar brewery faces and places and presenting them in a new light.
The photos are arranged on the page without captions or explanations, so there is some guesswork involved, but Hall says his and Marcia’s goal was to minimize text so that it didn’t become a distraction (an index in the back identifies each spot). The photos are also organized somewhat randomly, although pairs of photos on facing pages often share an idea or theme. “Originally, the idea was to arrange the photos together, alphabetically, or by brewery, but as we started putting it together, it didn’t make sense,” Hall says.
A computer scientist by day, Hall is a self-taught photographer who has been shooting a wide variety of subjects for the past fifteen years. He began by taking pictures of skateboarders in Las Vegas, where he grew up, and then moved on to abandoned missile silos in Florida. He later got into astrophotography, taking pictures of the night sky before moving to Colorado and understanding the beauty and diversity of this state’s breweries.
In addition to gathering material for Discovering Colorado Breweries, Hall also gave his photos away to each brewery he shot, allowing them to use the images for their own purposes. All he asked in return was credit. But he's certainly been paid back with support. Dozens of brewery owners and representatives, including Adam Avery of Avery Brewing and Dave Thibodeau of Ska Brewing, turned out earlier this week at a private party for Hall. And more than a dozen breweries have agreed to buy multiple copies to sell in their taprooms.
“A lot of breweries gave me a chance early on when no one knew who I was. I never had a single one say no,” he says. Hall has begun charging — mostly for expenses — to cover beer-related events and for special projects, but he still doesn’t charge to shoot a new brewery, despite having built up a following. “Getting something captured is more important than the money,” he explains.
Still, he and Marcia have thought about what it might take for him to go full-time and make a living as a photographer. If the book sales go well, they might even consider traveling the country to do similar, smaller projects in other cities.
The book itself costs $50, and since Hall only printed 1,000 copies, he’s not selling it in bookstores. Right now, the only way to get it is at Falling Rock (the party runs from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 20) or at the breweries that have agreed to sell it in their taprooms (that list will be released soon); Hall also plans on making Discovering Colorado Breweries available on Amazon.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.