Like lots of photographers, Houston Vandergriff has developed on a purely natural gift by researching his art. Additional than 200 several hours of courses at the Heart for Professional Instruction and Lifelong Mastering at the College of Tennessee, Knoxville, aided him improve the specialized and creative procedures he takes advantage of on portraits, landscapes, and motion shots.
Vandergriff was born with Down syndrome and a hole in his coronary heart. Physicians thought he would not endure, but his parents experienced other tips. “When Houston was born,” states his father, David, a 1979 graduate of UT’s Tickle University of Engineering, “my spouse Katie and I made a decision we had been heading to give him every possibility to do every little thing that our daughters, Maranda and Elisa, did.” Partly since of her individual fascination in the arts, Katie experienced encouraged their daughters to go after drama, portray, and other artistic activities. Maranda is now inventive director of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Centre, and Elisa is a freelance net developer and electronic media professional.
Now, at 24, Houston has currently constructed a successful occupation as a photographer. He sells scenic shots from his extensive travels with his family members, donating the proceeds to charities. A recent calendar sold out twice. His operate has made him a TikTok star, with 400,000 followers and a lot more than 23 million views.
Vandergriff’s website, DownsandTowns.com, exactly where he sells his get the job done, incorporates a succinct summary: “He has traveled far and extensive and hopes his pictures will encourage some others to reside life to the fullest and to reside daily life with compassion. Houston has a very simple eyesight with his pictures: Make the environment a far better place.”
Bringing Passion into Aim
Vandergriff began getting pics as a preschooler when his mom and dad gave him a disposable digital camera, and he grew extra critical in a middle school 4-H image application. Then, with his Nikon D7100 and his mother by his facet, he completed extra than 200 several hours of research by UT’s Center for Professional Education and learning and Lifelong Studying, earning a certificate of images in 2019 and an state-of-the-art certification in 2020.
“All his images classmates promptly fell in appreciate with Houston and had been totally supportive of his development as a photographer, as ended up his noncredit photography instructors,” says Darrin Devault, director of both the middle and its images certificate packages. “He has a keen eye for capturing amazing photos that inspire others—particularly his landscape photographs that have been snapped throughout his repeated household visits overseas.”
David Vandergriff agrees: “Houston is excellent at capturing that diverse point of view. He’ll go off to the aspect and come across a wiser way of searching at something. It arrives throughout as magnificent in so a lot of techniques.”
David is a mechanical engineer who often travels for operate, notably to the south of France as a subcontractor supporting Oak Ridge Nationwide Laboratory’s portion in setting up the ITER Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor. “When I journey, Houston can go with me,” he claims.
Vandergriff has captured attractive photos of the French countryside on those people outings, as effectively as pictures from a family take a look at to Maranda in Italy and other travels. He has been to all 95 counties in Tennessee, 49 of the 50 United States, 5 Canadian provinces, and 26 nations. When requested his most loved state, he smiles and suggests, “All of ’em.”
When the household went on a mission excursion with Initial Baptist Church of Powell to rebuild a church in Guatemala, they figured out about the issues of particular needs young children there. Vandergriff fixed to donate proceeds from image revenue to a Guatemalan nonprofit.
Sharing the Gift of Hope
“Downsandtowns.com is about awareness and advocacy for distinctive desires,” claims David. “Yes, Houston has Down syndrome. But that has not minimal what he’s ready to do or where by he’s in a position to do it.”
Houston interned as a photographer at ORNL as a result of the Very best Knoxville (Bridge to Employment in Company and Tourism) program. Every week, he delivers Mobile Foods with his grandmother, Marilyn Umstead. He will work one day a 7 days at the Lucky Day Resale and Gift Shop on Western Avenue. He competes as a result of Knoxville Challenger Sporting activities, an corporation that offers kids and youthful grownups with exclusive demands with opportunities in soccer, basketball, golf, swimming, and bowling. He also serves as crew main for his father’s 1992 BMW endurance racing workforce.
“For getting portraits, he is so authentic,” suggests David. “He is a vibrant star. He has the most magnetic character of any individual I know. He has a way of drawing men and women in. He makes all people truly feel snug. He makes them truly feel at relieve.”
Asked how he came to be so outgoing, Houston answers speedily and surely, “I was born that way.”