Photojournalist finds family, niche business in oilpatch

A photojournalist found his way to America’s largest oilpatch about 10 years ago through employment at the Midland Reporter-Telegram. A decade later, the millennial is known as The Oilfield Photographer and has created a unique business, servicing the needs of a historically secretive industry.

James Durbin, 33, said his time in Midland has been an adventure, and he’s built more than just a business here.

“I tell people this is a job that found me,” he said. “I thought of the name, I guess, and jumped on securing the name but even at the time I did that, I wasn’t ready to fully jump into business on my own. It took a lot of effort to get where I can do it full-time. ”


His wife Karina Durbin has helped him make that jump and has been his biggest supporter along the way.

“She does a lot of family work and Airbnb work so I can go out and be ‘The Oilfield Photographer,'” Durbin said. “She keeps us fed and gets the kids to school and where they need to be while also doing three different part-time jobs.”

The Midland Entrepreneurial Challenge also helped him launch the business.

“The challenge is like going back to school,” he said. “There are all these assignments but they are helping you create a business plan. I would not be here as ‘The Oilfield Photographer,’ running and expanding the business without going through that process. ”

Durbin graduated from the journalism program at Southern Illinois University. When he first moved to Midland in 2012, he moved in his car bringing some cameras and clothes. He couldn’t find a place to stay in Midland, so he was commuting from Garden City before he was able to sublease a room in a house.

“I think the situation was very common during that time,” he said. “There weren’t as many apartment buildings back then so people were staying wherever they could.”

Before starting his own business, Durbin was a finalist for the Texas Press Association’s prestigious Star Photojournalist of the Year Award. He also has worked overseas in Africa and Haiti as a contractor.

Still, the oil and gas industry was able to capture Durbin’s curiosity.

“I was totally fascinated by the oil and gas infrastructure around,” he said. “I felt like an outsider to it but I was curious about it. The community I worked in felt a lot like my small community in St. Louis. Midland felt very familiar to me. I think some people come here and they’re looking to get out, and I never felt that way. At the same time, I did not expect to be here as long as I have. ”

Durbin said he came to Midland thinking he would work at the newspaper until he found another photojournalism opportunity wherever it would take him. However, he found more than just a job and business in Midland. He found his future wife and son.

He first met his wife Karina through his social channels at parties. They started taking a romantic interest in each other at a Schlumberger Christmas party at the Horseshoe Arena. Coincidentally, neither of them worked for Schlumberger but had friends who invited them to the event. Durbin added he is thankful he met Karina before dating apps became the predominant way to meet people.

Karina, 33, was born and raised in Midland. Her family has always worked in the oil and gas industry.

“I guess we met the old-fashioned way at a party,” he said. “That was the way things were done or I guess you could have met somebody at church.”

Karina and James had their wedding in 2017. He said they took things slowly. He said they had a great time dating in Midland, between music concerts and festivals like Crude Fest to other events going on, they got to experience all this “oilfield culture.”

“Karina had a son, Isaiah, who was 3 years old when I first met them,” Durbin said. “Once we decided to be serious it was always on my mind being able to adopt him. I wanted both of them in my life. ”

The couple needed to get married in order for Durbin to adopt Isaiah, so they ended up going to the courthouse to get married before their wedding. However, they tried to keep their marriage in 2016 a secret because they still wanted to have a wedding.

“A funny story about my bosses at the newspaper found out I was actually married before our wedding was that one time I needed to take a sick day because Isaiah had broken his arm rollerblading,” he said. “We needed to take him to Lubbock for his final cast. I approached my bosses to tell them I needed a sick day for Isaiah but they technically said I couldn’t take a sick day since Isaiah wasn’t my immediate family at the time, so I ended up telling them actually I got married and adopted Isaiah before the wedding. In the end, I got to use the sick day. ”

The Durbins welcomed their daughter Mila Grace to the family in 2019. Despite their growing family, the duo has continued their hard work ethic.

“We both come from families who had businesses of their own and we brought that hard work ethic into our own businesses,” Karina said. “I’ve always just worked so hard. Ever since we got married, it’s been one thing after another. We haven’t really slowed down. ”

Karina added that it hasn’t always been easy. The couple has worked opposite schedules, which made it hard to see each other but in this new season of life, things have gotten a little easier.

“It’s easier to sacrifice that time for him to go to work knowing that we’re growing something together,” she said. “We have the same morals and ideas mostly. We are different people; still he is very quick to act while I say we need to take things more slowly. ”

Karina added that it’s been amazing how Midlanders have embraced her and her family. She said James knows a lot of people in the community and they have all embraced her as she helped him achieve his dreams.

Midland has continued to change over the years, Durbin said.

“Back then there weren’t as many businesses, restaurants or apartment buildings,” he said. “We would go out like Rockin ‘Rodeo and people would be spending money like crazy. As someone who wasn’t directly connected to the oilfield, I would be like what is going on here. ”

He remembers the first time he went out to a drilling rig to photograph for the newspaper and he had no clue what he was looking for.

“It was like this whole world of new stuff,” he said. “I felt this constant interest but not enough to go work in oil and gas but coming from an area where all I knew about gas was that I would put it in my car at the pump but would not think about it again until I had to fill up. ”

2019 was the year he phased out of the newspaper and started working for himself full-time. The business focuses on the commercial photo and video, event coverage, headshots, rental surveillance and timelapse, inventory and asset management. Check out more about The Oilfield Photographer at https://theoilfieldphotographer.com/. On top of the oilfield photography, Durbin also has a sports photography business and a studio specializing in graduate photos and headshots.

“The best pictures come from the best access,” he said. “If you don’t have good access then you’re not going to get a good picture. That is where journalism really helped me to become the photographer and businessman that I am because it is always to me about earning trust whether it is from the reader and subject or the customer now. ”

Emily Lester, marketing and brand manager at ProPetro Services, can attest to Durbin’s ability with a camera. She said ProPetro Services has been hiring Durbin for a couple of years to photograph and do video work.

“We were looking for an experienced photographer specific to the oil and gas industry,” Lester said. “It is tricky to find someone with the right certifications to go on a well site and do creative work.”

Lester added that he has a documentary style that takes the oil and gas industry to the next level being able to make real-life images of the oilfield beautiful.

“It’s a level of expertise that he has built for himself over time,” Lester said. “He works with so many different companies in the oil and gas industry. He is familiar enough with the industry to protect each of his clients. ”

“Once you’re a client of James he is always looking out for your business,” she said. “He is extremely busy yet he always makes time for whichever client is in front of him.”


Editor’s note: James Durbin is a former employee of the Midland Reporter-Telegram. His company The Oilfield Photographer, Inc. continues to submit photos and receive compensation from the newspaper.

Leave a Comment