Valdosta Daily Times

December 30, 2013

Photographer pictures diverse life

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — When Dwayne Culpepper was a child, he took photos of anything and everything. Today, he brings that same enthusiasm to his work as a professional photographer who shoots everything from models to motorsports.

Culpepper has amassed a portfolio of thousands of photographs taken during 20 years, but it all started after seeing his first Polaroid photo as a child.

“I was just amazed by them,” said Culpepper. “When I started taking photos, I took photos of anything in the yard. I would get more nature shots than anything else.”

Culpepper lived in Stockton as a child, and that made getting prints of his photos considerably more difficult than it is now. Instead of emailing the photos to a store and picking them up within an hour, he had to drive to Valdosta.

“Every week or so, we would go into town and drop them off at the little old photo-drop booth in the Five Points Shopping Center,” said Culpepper. “There was no one-hour-photo back then. It would be a two- or three-week

 ordeal.”

He continued taking photographs throughout his childhood, and his passion for the art led him to make the obvious choice of joining the photo club at Lanier County High School in 1983 when he learned advanced skills of the trade.

“The school had a darkroom between the chemistry and biology classes to develop film,” said Culpepper. “I joined and learned how to develop black-and-white film.”

The lessons he learned in high school of how to compose shots and develop traditional film continue to serve him well in the age of digital photography.

“I always shoot manually. You learn how to control white through manual photography,” said Culpepper. “When I was shooting in college, my camera didn’t even have an automatic setting.”

Culpepper earned a public-relations degree at Valdosta State and worked as a timber broker for 10 years. He’s a second-generation timber man and currently operates a saw mill that sells custom cut wood and commercial firewood.

Even while working timber, Culpepper never stopped taking photos, but it wasn’t until he started drag racing that he stumbled upon what would become his second career.

“I wanted to do straight timber, but then I started drag racing,” said Culpepper. “I had a camera and took a few shots of my friends at the Southern Dragway in Douglas. They showed them to the owner, and he offered me a job.”

Culpepper was the the track’s official photographer for five years, a position that gave him the opportunity to make a name for himself in the motor-sports community.

“I’ve got several professional drivers who have used my photos, and I’ve been published several times in a couple different magazines,” said Culpepper.

In the late 1990s, Culpepper got married and took a five-year hiatus from professional photography, but his sister encouraged him to pick up his camera and start shooting again. He ended up bolstering his portfolio with nature photos, including a series called “Old Times, They’re Not Forgotten.” Several photos from that collection have been sold and used as guides for artists to paint pastoral scenes with old barns.

Culpepper still takes drag-racing photos, but he has successfully diversified his business, taking photos of models, bands and rodeos and even working with non-profit groups and schools.

“Georgia Christian started a football team this year, and I’ve been shooting the games,” said Culpepper. “And I’ve worked with the Monique Burr Foundation in Jacksonville, a national campaign against bullying in schools.”

Culpepper loves what he does, and his career continues moving forward. His photo of model Meagan Smith was recently published in the November issue of Surreal Beauty Magazine, and he was named one of the publication’s regional photographers.

Portions of his portfolio can be seen at dcphotos.zenfolio.com

Culpepper says he photographs everything from babies to bands, but he still has one subject he cherishes more than all the others.

“Drag racing. That’s a no-brainer,” said Culpepper. “I love the sport.”