Atlanta photographer’s U-Haul exhibit hauls in $20K

Kevin Dowling gets major show of support from celebrity photographer Tyler Shields


  • Kenneth Owens
  • Kevin Dowling sits inside his makeshift U-Haul gallery.

Kevin Dowling had pretty modest expectations for his first photo exhibit last month, especially since it was staged in the back of a U-Haul truck. He really just hoped to “sell enough prints to catch up on some bills,” as he wrote in a Zimbio recounting of the show.

The commercial photographer had already sold all his equipment and picked up an overnight labor gig to better provide for his family. So after being denied by three galleries in town, and unable to afford the price to rent his own space for a night, he rented a U-Haul instead, rigged the inside of the truck with some lights, and parked it in front of his favorite bar for public viewing.

? ? ?

“Most of the places that I wanted to park the truck were too dangerous or in places so uppity they would call the cops immediately. I only had a day before the show and still did not have a location. I woke up and remembered Elliott Street Pub.”

With permission, Dowling and a friend parked in front of Elliott Street Pub in Castleberry Hill on a weeknight and proceeded to hang his 18 photos of Atlanta architecture, including MARTA stations and hotels like the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Although LA-based celebrity photographer Tyler Shields was not among the patrons who peeked in on Dowling’s DIY show, he eventually heard about it. Shields, who is best known for his photos of a blood-stained Lindsay Lohan and a $100,000 Birkin bag going up in flames, remembered Dowling from their mutual time spent as skaters years ago when Shields came to Atlanta from his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

After seeing Dowling’s collection online, Shields decided to purchase all 18 of Dowling’s photos for a cool $20,000. According to Shields, it was his way of validating an emerging photographer’s talent and hard work.

“The first time somebody bought a photo from me it was like a life-changing experience,” Shields says. The photographer still recalls selling his first photograph, a 5-by-7-inch of two pairs of shoes in an empty closet, for $75 in 2005. “And now people buy my photos for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s still an amazing feeling,” he says.

Shields’ priciest photo last year, a 16-by-9-foot photograph of a couple flying toward one another in the middle of the desert, sold for $500,000.

“I hear so many people that say, ‘Well, if I had a gallery, or if I had money, or if I had this, I would do it.’ It’s always these excuses,” he says. “And here’s a guy who had no excuses; he just did it. And I felt like I wanted to reward that. I wanted to collect his work and now I have people who have come to me and want to buy his work.”

Shields also sent Dowling a camera to replace the one he’d sold and has started mentoring him. All of which has been incredibly encouraging for Dowling.

“Tyler is one of the most influential photographers of our time so for him to support what I am doing
is incredibly motivating,” Dowling wrote. “I made this series during one of the hardest years of my life. It means everything to me to have the support of such a prolific artist.”





View more of Kevin Dowling’s work on his Tumblr page.