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Hackney turns hobby into successful career

06 December 2018

“I shoot people for a living.”

A hitman Darrin Hackney is not, however he does take the phrase quite literally.

Hackney began his passion for photography when he wanted better pictures of his dogs. His desire to photograph his beagle he owned at the time and Steve, his ‘bagel’ (basset hound and beagle mix) was nothing more than a frustrating dream. Every time he would try to take photos of his dogs, the slow cameras produced something less than stellar. Then, everything changed.

“I had a roommate at the time that received a Canon 20D. I played with it and was like ‘Wow! This thing is fast,’” said Hackney. “At the time, I thought to myself, ‘You know, I am getting some tax money soon. I would like to get some better pictures of my dogs.’”

It was then Hackney decided to get himself a new DSLR camera.

Photography became a hobby for Hackney. It remained only that – a hobby – until both he and his roommate were asked to shoot a wedding.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” said Hackney. “I then realized I could make money off of this and it just blossomed from there. I enjoyed seeing things differently, and that’s what the camera did. I saw things differently and my passion grew from that. It just kept going and going and going. Next thing I knew, I was shooting for magazines, doing fashion shoots, and traveling around shooting weddings all over the United States.”

Before becoming a well-known local photographer, however, Hackney attended Pratt Community College on a track scholarship. His first day in the fall of 1984 did not get off to a strong start.

“I go into the cafeteria to eat breakfast and I dropped my tray – on the very first day! Cereal spilled everywhere,” said Hackney.

Along with running in track, Hackney recalls going to events that Jack Ewing had put together. He also remembers going to athletic games with his group of friends.

“Shaving cream fights – that happened every now and then. My roommate was ornery,” said Hackney. The memory he recollects the most involves the library and an electrical snafu that sent everyone into a
panic.

“Everyone was writing their term papers in the library on the Apple 2C’s,” said Hackney. “It was before you knew you needed to back things up as you go.”

The power went out in the library.

“There was lots of screaming,” said Hackney. “Who knew how many pages were written! Now the computers will autosave, but back then, it was not even thought of. That’s how you learn!”

Hackney graduated from Pratt Community College in 1986 with an Associates of Science degree, with an emphasis in computer science. He transferred to Emporia State after graduation where he realized computer science might not be what he wanted to do. At the time, he worked for a bar and realized his career may live within that.

“I was supposed to continue my computer science degree at Emporia State, but I started finding I had a love for talking to people at a bar versus trying to debug a computer program and yelling at a monitor for eight hours at a time in a computer lab,” said Hackney. “I switched from computer science to business management at Emporia State.”

Eventually, Hackney ended up dropping out due to an opportunity to be sent to management school by the Ramada Inn.

“I thought well, why am I paying for school when the Ramada is sending me to school?” said Hackney. “I thought I would go back. Well the crazy thing is, I never went back.”

Hackney continued learning through street smarts and working in actual businesses. He was able to understand businesses enough to see the process from the ground up by becoming a General Manager
at Mort’s Cigar and Martini Bar in Wichita in 1996, then at Heroes Sports Bar in 2003. He left the latter in 2011 to pursue his own brand. His photography business was established full time in 2009 and was becoming big enough to focus on just that. His previous hospitality endeavors, however, led him to his favorite photography subject – people.

“Working at bars, I had to develop a feeling for people,” said Hackney. “When I was standing behind the bar, I watched guys walk up to girls all the time. I could tell 9 out of 10 times how bad the guys line was by the expression on her face. It’s all a feel. When two guys are squared at a bar, I can tell if they are going to fight or if they were just mad at each other. It’s a feel. Do I need to jump over the bar and stop them or do I need to throw a doorman at them and tell them to shut up? That feel is something I developed every Friday and Saturday for years.”

The feel became intuitive and innate to Hackney, who compares shooting his camera to driving a car. The changing of the settings, the focus on the shot, and the click of the button became as natural to him as changing his foot from the gas pedal to the brake. He doesn’t stare at his camera pondering which setting to use – he just knows what he needs to put it on without even looking.

“When I crossed that, when the ‘feel’ started sliding in, I was able to catch emotions between people,” said Hackney. “That’s what became really fun for me. I became giddy as emotions are hard to get, but it was easy for me because I could feel it. I could feel the hugs, the tears, the love and the anger. I could feel it all on a wedding day or during a shoot.”

Those feelings have led Hackney to become one of the most notable photographers in the Wichita area. Along with weddings, headshots, and senior portraits, he also shoots for a local magazine, Splurge, as well as the former Women’s Focus Magazine and Naked City, which are no longer in publication.

He credits some of his success to his time spent at Pratt Community College due to the small nature of the school and the opportunity to get to know everyone, which helped him develop his love for people.

The advice he would like to give current students which has led to his success relies on the concepts of work ethic.

“You’ve got to do the work if you want anything. A lot of people want the easy button,” said Hackney. “They will watch a YouTube video and then all of a sudden think, ‘Hey! I’ve got this!’ and I’m like no, you don’t. You need to put in the work to be successful.”

He also stresses the need to be different.

“In life, like in photography, you have to develop an eye. You have to develop your feel for what is in front of you if you want to be different. If you don’t, you are just a commodity like a dollar cheeseburger at Burger King or McDonalds. Which place do you go to? It doesn’t matter. They are both a dollar,” said Hackney. “I’ve always thought about that as far as how I need to be different. How do I present something in a way that people go, ‘I want that guy’ versus ‘Eh. It’s a dollar. Let’s go with that.’? Being a commodity doesn’t make you hirable. When you do something different, you will see the world differently than everybody else. There needs to be more people like that. It’s too easy to copy. It’s hard to be original.”

Hackney currently resides in Wichita, KS, where he continues to focus on his photography business. His work can be viewed on his website, darrinhackney.com. Just recently, he has also decided to dip his feet back into the business world and is the general manager of Wichita’s newest downtown brewery, PourHouse, which is set to open later this year.

September 6, 1938, Pratt Junior College opened its doors as the 14th junior college created in Kansas. Pratt “Juco” welcomed 150 new students to its original campus located on 401 S Hamilton St. Eighty years later, Pratt Community College, is proud to have helped build the futures of thousands of students on-campus, online, at our Winfield and Wichita learning centers and through high school concurrent enrollment.

The mission of Pratt Community College is maximum student learning, individual and workforce development, high quality instruction and service, and community enrichment. PCC is proud to be a part of the community in Pratt, Kansas. With more than 80 years of history, PCC remains humbled to serve our community and students who come to build a foundation for their lives.

This year we celebrate this grand anniversary and remember those who’ve walked through these halls. Each month during 2018 PCC is proud to feature stories and memories from alumnae, community members and faculty who have helped see our institution and mission grow.