Photographer Murray Riss says that, in some ways, he would be the last person to shoot a book about duck hunting.
"I'm a vegetarian," he explains. "But I wound up loving it, and I think it has been very successful."
First Shooting Light: A Photographic Journal Reveals the Legacy and Lures of Hunting Clubs in the Mississippi Flyway, a collection of interviews with hunters and more than 200 photographs by Riss, was released October 23rd. The book was published by ArtsMemphis and documents both the passion and dedication of duck hunters and the land where the sport takes place.
Riss' love affair with photography began at an early age. When he was 11 years old and living in Brooklyn, he delivered prescriptions via bicycle to earn money. One day, the pharmacist noticed Riss admiring a camera on a shelf and gave it to him.
"I taught myself how to take pictures and how to process them, and it was a blast," Riss says. Soon after, neighbors invited him to take pictures for them at parties.
"I literally began making money as a photographer when I was 12," he says.
Riss found photography fascinating, especially processing and developing his own prints.
"When the print comes out in the dark room, it's magic ... something appearing from nothing," Riss says. "When I was a teenager, that and girls were the most fascinating things in the world."
In college, Riss studied to be a painter. In his last year of school, however, he took his first photography course. After two classes, the professor got sick, and Riss taught the rest of the course.
"I gave myself a very good grade," he says.
In the late '60s, Ted Rust, then-director of Memphis College of Art (MCA), asked Riss to come to Memphis and start the school's photography department.
"He told me, 'Here's the space. You do what you have to do with it. Set up the program and the curriculum,'" Riss says. "For a 20-some-odd-year-old, it was way too seductive.
"I had the best students, and I thought I had gone to heaven. It was absolutely the best time."
Riss worked at MCA for about 20 years before starting his own studio in an abandoned bordello at 516 S. Main.
"Earnestine & Hazel's was still a functioning [brothel] — there were women standing on every corner — so the old property around here was next to nothing," Riss says.
Riss still works from that studio, mostly doing advertising and commercial photography. Over the years, he has worked on several Memphis-related books, including ones on Elmwood Cemetery, Mud Island, and 19th-century Memphis architecture.
"Day to day, I have no idea what's next," Riss says, "and I find that truly invigorating."