• Carlos Barron ‘10 with his sculpture at his senior art exhibition.

In a time when our Southwestern community must be apart, we adjust to new ways of connecting, celebrating, and saying goodbye during the final days of the spring semester. One comfort we can all turn to is reminiscing about our favorite memories on campus. Remember the roaring cheers of potential new friends as you pulled off your boldest limbo move at Pirate Training? The rush of pride as you approached the stage to accept your King Creativity award? The delightfully funny sight of your classmates doing the “Cha-Cha Slide” at the homecoming silent disco? Fortunately for us, the keen creative eye of photographer Carlos Barrón ’10 allows these moments to live on not only in our memories but also in beautiful images we can look back on and share. 

A studio art alum, Barrón has been photographing Southwestern events and building his career in Austin since his time as a student. Ten years after graduation, he now reflects on his Southwestern Experience and how it helped lead him to success as a professional photographer and working artist.

Adjusting as a first-generation student

The oldest of his siblings and a first-generation college student, Barrón arrived at Southwestern with a mixture of hope, determination, and uncertainty about the path ahead of him. On top of feeling the pressure to succeed at college for his family, he faced the complex challenge of adjusting to a new environment while being one of the only Hispanic students in his dorm. “The first few weeks were rough—like, I don’t belong here, I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he recalls.

Living away from home was not a new experience for Barrón, who had previously spent six years at a Houston boarding school, but starting at Southwestern felt like restarting the journey of learning how to live with others. “It’s rough or weird at the beginning, it’s uncomfortable, … but then it’s fine,” Barrón says. “You realize that everyone’s in the same boat: everybody’s learning the same thing and trying to figure out what they are there for.” 

He soon connected with his suitemates by exploring the music they were passionate about—songs and genres he had never heard before and was curious to discover. His innate interest in creating common ground through learning about different art forms would play a major part in Barrón’s education and career. 

Composing an artistic vision

Barrón has enjoyed photography since he was a kid, snapping photos of scenery and family moments with his parents’ film camera for fun. However, he was not considering it as a profession when he first came to Southwestern. He instead imagined he would study physics and computer science. Eventually, his curious nature guided him to pursue the things that he felt inspired by, and his plans shifted. “I wasn’t thinking I was going to learn how to paint, how to draw, ceramics, and sculpture, … [but] I ended up being a sculpture art major. I had no idea,” he laughs.

Much like his appreciation of different music styles through his suitemates, Barrón found a new respect for other artists and art forms through the close-knit and collaborative atmosphere his classes offered. “Having smaller groups, smaller classes, a smaller environment—it really allowed me to appreciate what other people are doing,” he says. “You get a little insight into the craft and skill and the knowledge that other people have, the way they see the world, the way they are artists.” 

Carlos Barron ’10 with his sculpture at his senior art exhibition.Carlos Barron ’10 with his sculpture at his senior art exhibition.His artistic approach was additionally influenced by the one-on-one interactions he had with encouraging professors. He recalls Professor of Art Mary Visser’s gift of allowing him room to problem-solve on his own when crafting complicated sculptures. “At the time you think, I need your help. I need advice. What am I doing? But that’s the thing: [the professors] know when to push you and when to give you that creative freedom,” he explains. Barrón also enjoyed casual conversations with Patrick Veerkamp (now a part-time professor emeritus of studio art) on his way to the sculpture studio, discussing art that other students were creating as well as other shared interests, such as baseball. “He was always very relatable … just having someone to listen and give little bits of advice was helpful,” Barrón shares. 

Photography was not an available focus within the studio art degree plan, but Barrón found himself framing much of his Southwestern Experience through the medium. “I was going with my gut—the things that were interesting to me, the things I was kind of obsessed about—and most of the time, that ended up being photography in some way,” he says. He incorporated photography into architecture and art history class projects, including a project with art history professor Thomas Howe in which students redesigned World Trade Center skyscrapers. Unaware of architectural rendering software at the time, Barrón used his self-taught Photoshop and image-editing skills to create a building design with photos he shot of glass and other reflective objects. It became clear that the ways he processed the world and created art were best expressed through a camera lens. 

Exposure to professional opportunity

The experiences that shaped his career path the most were working as a student photographer for the marketing department and a graphic designer for the Megaphone, the student newspaper. Collaborating with writers and other photographers opened his eyes to what the professional world of an artist might look like. “Just observing the events on campus that I never knew about, the people I met and worked with—that really allowed me to get a grasp on how photography is used in the real world: for marketing, business, advertisements, all kinds of things,” Barrón says. He is grateful for the mentorship and opportunities that then communications director Ellen Davis provided him, and they remain friends today.

Barrón’s career scope expanded further when he was offered an internship with a local architect who had seen his skyscraper model on display while visiting campus. “I reached out to him, and he gave me the opportunity to learn some of the drafting programs they were using at the time,” Barrón remembers. A couple months after graduation, he had another chance run-in with the architect, which led to his first professional job: luckily, their team was looking for someone who knew a little about photography, a little about graphic and web design, and a little about architecture—the exact mix of experience and education Barrón had received at Southwestern. Similar to the structure of his college projects, Barrón was given the creative freedom to define the work he would do. He spent four years with the team performing a variety of roles, including marketing director, videographer, photographer, and graphic designer. At the same time, he worked as a freelance photographer for weddings, sports, events, and architectural projects on the side. “At some point during that journey, I realized that I needed to go do photography full-time,” he says.

Six years after leaving the architecture firm, Barrón has established himself as a successful professional architecture, portrait, and commercial photographer in the Austin area. In his opinion, the most difficult part of freelancing is balancing the business with the artistry. “That’s a whole other thing I didn’t think about as a student: that I need to be a business person,” he admits. Keeping up with invoices and emails takes time and energy away from the creative work, but he believes it is a balance you have to figure out as you go. He finds renewed energy in the meaningfulness that a photo can carry. “When I see that people need a photograph, or they use it in a certain way that benefits a program or helps put out a message … when you see value in a work, that’s why you keep doing it,” he says. 

Zooming out on a decade of experience

Like capturing the perfect shot, Barrón believes success comes from a mix of passion, readiness, and a little luck. “When I was a senior, I didn’t have a job lined up, but I wasn’t stressed about it,” he recalls. “I think a lot of it was because I was having fun with the current projects that I had … and again, those projects would not have happened if I wasn’t at Southwestern, if I hadn’t run into certain people or certain people hadn’t seen my work.” 

He encourages other aspiring artists to continue creating, even if it is not a full-time job, and to always keep an eye out for opportunity. “We all get lucky; you just have to be open about it. What is that lucky moment? Who are those people who are helping you out? That’s all it is.”

A recent image Barron photographed of Southwestern's new arch and Fondren-Jones Science Center.A recent image Barron photographed of Southwestern's new arch and Fondren-Jones Science Center.

Barrón’s artistry continues to bring incredible value to the Southwestern community as he documents the beauty of campus life in its many facets. Whether it is a game-changing tackle on the football field, the warmth in a staff member’s smile, or that monumental walk across the stage at graduation, he has been there to snap Southwestern’s shining moments. He still enjoys learning about the various kinds of art that students are creating on campus, too. Theatre production photoshoots have revealed to him a whole creative department that he was not aware of as a student, one in which he wishes he could have participated. “What’s crazy is that, 10 years later, through photography again, I’m connecting with people at Southwestern and learning about what other students and artists are passionate about and appreciating that,” he reflects.

Outside of Southwestern, Barrón shoots gorgeous photography around the Austin area. You can explore his online portfolio and follow him on Instagram at @cbarronjr to see more!