"In Bed With" is a new Dallas Observer series in which we delve into the homes and personal lives of Dallas music industry professionals.
The doormat outside photographers Cal Quinn and Aly Fae’s place announces, “This must be the place.” It’s a necessary hint for visitors. The apartment numbers in the modern Oak Cliff building don't follow linear logic, so the hallways form an interminable maze. Quinn, in a drunken mental fog after attending a party at the Belmont Hotel across the street, once chose to sleep by the complex's pool rather than attempt the bewildering quest home.
The Place, as they refer to their home, is also their photography studio and a hangout for local artists even when the residents aren't home. Artists’ faces are blown up on the walls: There's an image of Charley Crockett, and the fridge is plastered with Polaroids of musicians and other artists. As Quinn and Fae pose for their photos, they listen to a playlist that includes Leon Bridges. They say Dark Rooms is the most overplayed music at their home.
Quinn is wearing folded cowboy boots so weathered they should be sung about in a country song. He was born in New Mexico and used to be a musician. He says he moved to Dallas after a concussion caused him to forget all of the songs he'd written. An old college best friend, part of the Denton-based band Seryn, invited him to join the group on tour. Quinn learned how to run sound for the band and eventually moved to Denton to join it.
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“I had a total brain reset. I decided I needed a new adventure,” he says.
Quinn is now an honorary member of the Texas Gentlemen and has the custom-inscribed jacket to prove it. The Americana band, with a rotating cast that orbits around de facto bandleader Beau Bedford, counts Quinn as a stable presence. He's serving as the group’s photographer, sound engineer and videographer. He’s preparing to go on tour with the Gents for the remainder of the year, and Fae will join them in California for a shoot.
Between mimosas and cigarettes, the couple talks about meeting two years ago, when Dallas-native Fae was working at a law firm and doing fashion photography — including mentoring other photographers — on the side.
“She was really respected,” Quinn says. “She took the first good picture anyone’s taken of me,” he says of his at-first-sight love of her work.
“We met at an integral part of my life,” Fae says. “I wasn’t in this [Dallas arts] community until he brought me into it, and I’m so grateful for that.
“He’s an intimidating figure,” Fae says of her first impression of Quinn. “He’s really charismatic, and he’s the life of the party.”
Quinn has a different memory of their meeting. “I’m a closet romantic,“ he says. "It was the first time I saw her, and I thought, 'Her, that’s the one.'"
They agree that their initial courtship was masked as a professional collaboration. They'd casually text and discuss hangover cures.
“He texted me a liver care supplement, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet,'” Fae remembers. “We both played hard-to-get at first, like, 'Yeah, I’m really focusing on my career right now."
Quinn chimes in: “For like a week."
They believe that their individual commitments to their crafts have cemented their relationship. “He’s a beautiful person, supremely intelligent and passionate about what he does,“ Fae says. “And I really admire a driven creative who’s gonna actually make some shit happen.”
In May, the couple left a “musician house,” where they were living with Dan Bowman of Fox and the Bird and Jacob Metcalf, and moved to the Oak Cliff building. In true photographer fashion, they chose their new place for its generous lighting. They also liked its close proximity to the Belmont Hotel, a refuge for creatives and a place where the couple shoots frequently. The Belmont is also the spot where they shared their first kiss.
Fae studied marketing at the University of Texas at Dallas. Quinn also studied marketing, and now they have a shared creative vision: a one-stop shop of musician services.
“We style, shoot, creative-direct, and do social media and branding for developing artists,” Quinn says.
Their clients include Texas Gentlemen, Charley Crockett, Medicine Man Revival, The Rustic and The Belmont Hotel. The secret to infiltrating the art scene is "hard fucking work, where luck and opportunity meet," Quinn says. "I earned these bands’ trust by running sound for them, so when I picked up a camera, they trusted me.”
Fae agrees. “It’s about creating and maintaining a connection between us and them; I feel like they know us as much as we know them. We can get shots that no other photographer can capture,” she says.
Their subjects are both their idols and their close friends. It's a similar approach to that of photographer Henry Diltz, who started shooting his Laurel Canyon friends the Doors and the Eagles and eventually became the official Woodstock photographer. Quinn met Diltz at the Kessler last year and says they spoke about bonding with their subjects.
“He said I’m onto the right thing,” Quinn remembers. “I get chills thinking about it.“
Fae and Quinn have found a way to deconflict in their relationship that is paradoxically both juvenile and mature. “As soon as we start arguing, we pull out our Nerf guns and have a Nerf battle, and we settle it,” Quinn says. “It’s fucking ridiculous, but we gotta have some way to bring it back into perspective.”
Fae agrees that the technique works. "Even if you’re super pissed and sitting there, when all of a sudden you get hit in the head with a Nerf gun, then you’re a little less pissed,” she says.
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Nerf gun wars aside, they say they’re rarely at home unless they have visitors. “I think we Netflix like once a month,” Quinn says.
They’re unattached to their possessions and keep small memory boxes in case of a fire. These include “photo passes, set lists, family stuff.” Fae says that they live by their memories and that their goal is to continue avoiding “passionless work,” which is their biggest fear.
“Although,” Fae says confidently, “we know that’s not a possibility because we’re not gonna stop.”
To learn more about Quinn, Fae and their work, follow them on Instagram @calquinn and @aly.fae, respectively.