The Aggie Photographer from Austin

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by Bill Hedrick

When you’re a kid growing up on a cotton farm near Abilene, Texas, there’s just not much to do in your spare time… that’s if you have any spare time at all. After all, a farm is a family business and each member has a job to do. But whenever Roy Nierdieck could find some time, he was always drawing something. Any scrap piece of paper was his pallet and even the margins on his homework assignments served as an outlet for his (imagination). It was obvious to everyone around him that his mind was not on cotton farming for the rest of his life.

Roy’s “big break” came one day when he decided to enter one of those “Draw Me!” contests in a magazine. When a representative from the Art Instruction School in Minnesota knocked on their door one day and announced that young Roy was a winner and was offered a correspondence course for $600, everyone was speechless but not really surprised. In 1965, that was a lot of money, especially for poor cotton farmers, but how could good parents deny such an opportunity to their talented son?

It is true that most high school students have no clue as to their future careers. Many are only focused on graduation day and not much more after that. Others have ambitions for one thing or another, only to discover that they end up taking a different path during college. Roy was no different. But, along with his other classes, he continued his art correspondence course and finished it by graduation. By that time, other opportunities began to surface, including an appointment to the Air Force Academy. But his final decision would be to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and attend Texas A&M University instead.

The year was 1969 and Texas A&M was a much smaller university than it is today and the closest curriculum they offered for a young artist wanna-be was architecture. “I soon learned that, coming from a small country high school with a graduating class of 76, it was difficult keeping up with students that had already had 2 years of drafting classes in large high schools,” says Roy. So, after one year, he transferred to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, enrolling in Commercial Art.

It was a happy and carefree time when life was good and everything seemed to be right on track. However, during his senior year, Roy began thinking about life after graduation and discovered that many of his fellow art students who had already graduated were unemployed. The lucky ones who found jobs were now living in New York, Chicago, or California… a long way from those cotton fields back home. So Roy quit school and accepted a position at Best Products, a national department store, in their management training program in 1973. Soon, he was promoted to manager of the Sporting Goods Department and eventually transferred to South Houston to open a new store. It was a steady job.

One day the store lost their Camera/Electronics Department Manager and the decision was made that Roy should fill that position. “It was then that I fell in love with the media that would sate my appetite for creative expression,” he explains. “Having almost every kind of camera model in front of me every day, not to mention the employee discount, I went through a progression of models, taking advantage of every class and article and book to learn all I could about photography.” Before long, he was promoted to Assistant Store Manager of a new location in North Houston where Roy met his wife, a former fashion model. By 1980, however, the couple decided that retail was not the future they wanted and Roy once again enrolled at Texas A&M University to pursue a degree in Accounting. “Once an Aggie, always an Aggie.”

Ever since high school, Roy Nierdieck had worked to pay his way through school. Fortunately, his experience and training in photography came in handy at Texas A&M when he was offered a job with the College of Business Administration as a photographer. It was a much larger school now with some 30,000 students and the Dean of CBA was actively promoting the university and Roy was kept busy photographing guest speakers, fund-raising events, building dedications, and photos for other media publications. Some of his work was used from 1984 to 1991 for the CBA exhibit in the Visitor Center at Rudder Tower and Roy picked up some extra cash teaching photography classes for the College Station Community Education Program.

“The highlight of my A&M photography experience was shooting Texas gubernatorial candidate and A&M alumni, Clayton Williams, as he taught an MBA class in entrepreneurship,” says Roy. “At the end of the semester, he took the class on a bus tour of his oil and gas facilities, had a pickup follow the group around with a keg of beer on the back, served barbecue and had his two Lear jets perform acrobatics over the gas processing plant in Giddings, Texas.”

Roy graduated in 1985 and went to work for Tenneco Oil E&P as an accountant to support a family and a new house but he still had the bug for photography, so he took a part-time job managing a Camera America store in Humble, Texas. While working there, Roy noticed the demand for a camera repair facility on the north side of Houston so he found a correspondence course to learn camera repair. After completing only about half the course but feeling comfortable and confident with the process, he established Precision Camera Repair, LLC in 1988 and was soon overwhelmed with repair requests. “It proved to be a lucrative business for about twelve years until circuit boards and other electronic parts replaced mechanical parts, making it more economical for consumers to buy new cameras instead of repairing their old ones,” he explains.

After dissolving that business in the year 2000, Roy’s creative instincts would lie dormant for a couple of years until he once again “got the itch” and decided to update his equipment. “I had always wanted Nikon, mainly because of the quality of their glass, but could never afford one, so I was astonished that I could buy a used Nikon F4 with a 50mm lens for only $450,” he explains. Little did Roy realize that digital was now the new phase of photography so he made an additional purchase of a Nikon D70 digital camera. “Man, was I hooked!”

With a renewed sense of enthusiasm, Roy began attending seminars and workshops to learn more about digital photography. At one of those Nikon seminars, he began hearing talk about something called “Texas School” (the Texas School of Professional Photography) and decided to check it out some day as well.

The D70 turned out to be a great camera for Roy to make the transition to digital and, after awhile, he upgraded to the Nikon D300. It was time to put his new skills to work and earn some money! In no time, Roy began picking up some commercial real estate clients and even became the official photographer for the Justice for Children, a non-profit advocacy group for abused children. Next, he paired up with a couple of high-end home remodeling firms, taking “before” and “after” photographs of projects. “I would put together and print a hard cover coffee table book and the contractor would present it to the client as a gift and the completion of the project.” Soon, Roy’s images would be published in magazines and other publications throughout the Houston area and beyond.

By 2011, things were going well for Roy Nierdieck and he was working for Alpine Production, LLC, an independent oil and gas company when he was asked what he thought about moving to Austin. His first reaction was, “You want me to go to Aggie Hell?” But he needed the job and moved to Lakeway, Texas, on the west side of Austin. It would mean leaving some Houston clients behind and establishing new interests in the Austin area. That’s when Roy decided to turn his attention to more nature photography, something that had always been a passion.

“Over the next few years, I did a lot of photo expeditions to various locations like Yellowstone, Glacier, Big Bend, and Southwest Colorado and got some really cool mountain lion shots. I used those photos to do some free-lance speculation and was published in Cowboys and Indians Magazine and had a few selected by the National Wildlife Federation for use in their product sales,” says Nierdieck.

It was around that time that Roy began noticing the many distilleries and breweries (wineries?) in the Texas Hill Country and produced a number of speculation images with themes keyed to their products. One of them with Rebecca Creek Distillers’ Texas Ranger Whiskey was accepted by their distributor, Blue Spirits and Wines, and was used as an advertising promotion. “I did another western theme for Garrison Brothers Distillers
that impressed them enough to contract me to do the photos for their summer cocktail recipe book to be distributed to area bartenders,” he adds.

Even with the new work, Roy was still not producing the amount of business he had in Houston. But something else was just around the corner. He was attending classes and workshops at Precision Camera & Video in Austin when a guy named Tim Babiak began hounding him about joining some organizations called the Professional Photographers of America, Texas Professional Photographers Association, and Austin Professional Photographers Association. “So I changed the name of my business to Red Dragon Photography, LLC, and joined each of them in 2016.”

Why Red Dragon Photography? “First of all,” says Roy, “I wanted something with a cool logo. Secondly, the Chinese symbolism of the red dragon is for good fortune, good omen and passion, all of which I have for photography.” Thus began his new professional photography career in Austin, Texas.

Since that time, Roy Nierdieck has made quite a name for himself in professional circles. Image competition became both a learning experience and a place for others to notice his work. In 2021, Roy had the top scoring image in Pennsylvania and Colorado PPA state competitions with one image scoring 100 in the Colorado competition. Merits, trophies and PPA Loan Images began coming more frequently. Even so, Roy kept attending more classes to learn more and he enrolled in the Texas School of Professional Photography each year taking classes under Gary and Kathy Meek, Rob Hull and Tony Corbell, Kristi Elias, and Joe Glyda. Roy is now a Certified Professional Photographer and received his Master of Photography degree in 2021 and is currently working on his Master Artist and Photographic Craftsman degrees.

Roy realizes all too well that a great deal of his success is due to others who have shared their skills with him. In return, he is now paying it forward and taught a TPPA Texas 10 seminar this year at Pedernales Falls State park. It has been quite a ride! “The only regret I have in my decision to join these three professional organizations is that I did not do it ten years ago or sooner. I’ve made a lot of friends, learned a great deal more about my craft, and have been heavily influenced by such greats as Richard Sturdevant, Sandra Pearce, Kristi Elias, and Joe Glyda,” says Roy.

In 2020, Roy Nierdieck was elected as an officer of the Austin Professional Photographers Association and currently does a considerable amount of photography for organizations at Texas A&M University and various brewers and distillers around the Austin area as well as publishing a book about hand-forged knives. He has also given notice to his employers at Alpine Production that he will be retiring soon and plans to spend all his time on his first love… photography.