Walton Co. Artist of the Year

Photographer Documents Life – At the BeachMichael Granberry shares his love of the Emerald Coast landscapes and the people who live here

Michael Granberry, who for 30 years worked as a commercial art photographer in Atlanta and Los Angeles, is the Walton County Tourist Development Council’s 2010 Artist of the Year. He and his wife, Laura, own The Art of Simple, a live-work space in Ruskin Place, Seaside’s artist community. In the seven-year history of the program, this is the first time a photographer has been selected as Artist of the Year.

After the announcement in October, Granberry sat down with Emerald Coast Magazine writer Joyce Owen to discuss his path to photography and his plans for photographing people and places in Walton County.

EC: Did you always want to be a photographer?
MG: While growing up in Dothan, Ala., I thought I’d be an architect, maybe join the family construction business. In high school, I worked with an architect, but I wasn’t very good in math, which meant architecture was out. There was a camera store next to his office, and I bought my first camera.

EC: So you started shooting?
MG: On visits to Florida, I pretended I was on a photo assignment on the beach. It was a great way to meet girls. I decided to study photography at an art school in Atlanta. After graduation, I interned with a commercial photographer for a year. Then I opened my own studio.

EC: How did you get started?
MG: My dad and his employees renovated a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Atlanta. After I used all the money my dad gave me to pay the rent, I asked him for another $1,000. He gave it to me but said that was the end of the money.
I bought $750 worth of alcohol, used $250 for invitations and threw a party. About 150 people showed up. I found several clients that stayed with me throughout my career in commercial work.

EC: And then?
MG: Twelve years later, I was at the top of my game when I got married, and we moved to California for my wife’s acting career. After the marriage failed, I went back to Atlanta. About then, one of my L.A. clients hit it big and retained me to shoot for a health magazine. For the next 10 years, I traveled back and forth, spending one week a month in L.A.

EC: Then you moved to Florida. Did you continue shooting?
MG: By the time we bought a house in South Walton, I was tired of commercial artwork. In 2002, we moved here and I started renovating houses, something I had success with before. It was a great idea, but the timing was wrong. I completed two houses before the market slowed. I had to do something else.
I realized I could go back to photography if I stuck to what I did best — shooting models. I didn’t want to do typical ‘on the dunes’ beach portraits; I wanted to provide an alternative. It was the black and white portraits taken here, but not on the beach, that caught the attention of (the Walton County Tourist Development Council).

EC: How will being the Artist of the Year help you?
MG: When we moved here, no one ever asked what I did for a living. Now they will know that I am a photographer.
Over the next year, I’m looking to create heartfelt images that show the connection between the unique landscape and the people. In the first image for (the Tourist Development Council), I worked with South Walton lifeguards. It was a gray, ominous day, there was little time left to take the shot. Then God helped me. The sky started to break, there were interesting clouds — all I did was document it.