Kevin Vandivier, a National Geographic photographer and former photo editor of Texas Highways, might have one of the strangest business plans for his newly opened Cottonwood Shores fine art photography gallery.
“Our biggest goal is I want people to come in here, look at these photos, and not feel obligated to buy any,” he said. “We really enjoy meeting people.”
To Vandivier, it’s about relationships. After almost four decades as a high-level photographer, he’s learned that important lesson.
“Relationships are bigger than anything else,” he said. “That’s what I want to collect in my life: good relationships.”
While his photography career has taken him to exotic and far-flung places, he and his wife, Leslie, have called the Highland Lakes home for about seven years. They moved here so Kevin could renovate a home on Main Street in Marble Falls.
“We stayed because we fell in love with the place,” he said.
Now that he’s stepped away from assignment work for magazines and other clients, Vandivier found it was the perfect time to open a gallery, one where he could showcase his art, share stories about photography, and host events.
Vandivier Fine Art, 4315 FM 2147 in Cottonwood Shores, is open most days from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. He also will make special arrangements for people or open on busy nights. His wife operates a real estate business out of the gallery.
Despite being welcoming of people who just want to browse his gallery, Vandivier does love to sell his photographs. In fact, among all the awards and accolades he’s won as a photographer, none really mean as much to him as when someone spends their own money on one of his photographs. It’s the ultimate compliment.
“When they buy one of my photographs, they’re hanging it on their wall, and it may be there for fifteen to twenty years,” Vandivier said. “That means a lot to me. It says they really felt some emotional connection with the photograph.”
His art is about connections, but it wasn’t always that way. Vandivier admitted that for most of his young life, it was all about him.
“I was in it for me,” said the 62-year-old. “If I was talking to you about something, I was thinking, ‘What am I getting out of this?’”
An avowed non-believer for a good part of his life, Vandivier looked with a bit of disdain upon Christians, even though the love of his life, Leslie, was a woman of faith. She never pressured him but just took him as he was.
In 1988, Vandivier landed a lucrative assignment of photographing a corporate report.
During his job interview, one of the corporate folks asked, out of the blue, if Vandivier was a Christian. He replied, “Sure.” When the man asked which church he attended, Vandivier pulled out the only one he knew: his wife’s.
“New Covenant,” he said.
To which the man replied that he, too, went there and didn’t recall ever seeing Vandivier.
“‘Well, you know, it’s a big church,’” Vandivier told him.
As a cover, Vandivier decided to attend church the following Sunday. As far as he and Leslie can remember, it was only the second time he had ever set foot in a church, the other time being their wedding.
It turned out, to Vandivier’s dismay, that New Covenant was not a big church, and instead of hundreds of congregants, there were dozens. Sitting up front was the gentleman who Vandivier met during the corporate report interview. He motioned for Vandivier to sit with him.
Instead of a lecture, Vandivier found a genuinely caring person. He returned to church, often full of questions.
“This was a good group of people, and I peppered them with questions,” he said. “And they would answer them. I think they knew I was seeking the truth.”
Vandivier gave his life to the Lord.
“It was a huge transformation for him,” Leslie said.
“Before, I loved me, and afterwards, I love others,” he said. “Before I gave my life to Jesus, you were my stepping stone. Now, I want to help as many people as I can.”
The change also led to Vandivier truly putting his family first. Not long after his faithful transformation, the editor of National Geographic told him he was likely a few short years away from becoming a staff photographer, the most coveted position in the photography world.
But Vandivier realized it could mean losing his marriage and the closeness he had to his five children. He pointed out that National Geographic staff photographers, at the time, had a divorce rate of 100 percent.
Family first, he decided.
“I pretty much put my focus on my family, put them first, and, little by little, I began shooting less for the big magazines,” Vandivier said. “I wanted to see my kids grow up.”
Life as a Christian isn’t easy, or without pain. The Vandiviers experienced the biggest heartache a parent can feel in 1996 when one of their children drowned.
Vandivier fell into depression.
But, he said, two things pulled him back: Jesus and photography.
As a father, he’s watched his children — now adults — find a vision in photography and faith. They’d often make family trips with cameras in hand.
Vandivier’s son Shannon has grown into an accomplished filmmaker and photographer. He has shows on the Outdoor Channel.
At Vandivier Fine Art, Kevin and Leslie plan to host Art Nights several times a year. During the evening event, Kevin will speak about photography or invite others, possibly Shannon, to share their insights on the artform.
The first one is Thursday, December 19, from 6-9 p.m. Vandivier will talk about his evolution as a photographer.
While Vandivier has pretty much stepped away from assignment work, he still lives and breathes photography. He’s more focused on fine art and shooting other subjects he loves, though he’ll pick up commission work for ranches.
“I think they’d rather have a photo of their ranch hanging on the wall than some other ranch or state land,” said Vandivier about the ranchers who hire him.
He also leads a photo workshop, National Photographic Adventures, three to four times a year. He limits each workshop to about seven people so they get individual attention.
Or, people can simply stop by the studio and enjoy the photographs. His printer uses an innovative process that infuses the photo onto a metallic canvas, enhancing the artwork.
Vandivier might even give you an in-depth story behind a photo.
“I love sharing my photos and talking about them,” Vandivier said. “But really, to me, it’s about meeting new people and getting to know them. That’s really what I love about having a gallery.”