A photojournalist finds his family, a niche business in an oil field

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About 10 years ago, a photojournalist found his way to America’s biggest oil field through a job at the Midland Reporter-Telegram. A decade later, the millennial is known as The Oilfield Photographer and has created a unique business, catering to the needs of a historically secretive industry.

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

“I tell people it was a job that found me,” he said. “I thought about the name I guess and jumped on getting the name, but even when I did that I wasn’t ready to go into business completely by myself. It took a lot of effort to get to where I can do it full time.


His wife Karina Durbin helped him take this leap 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 feeds us and takes the kids to school and where they need to be while 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 missions, but they help you create a business plan. I wouldn’t be here as ‘The Oilfield Photographer’ running and growing the business without going through this process.

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

“I think this situation was very common at that time,” he said. “There weren’t as many apartment buildings back then, so people stayed where they could.”

Prior to starting her own business, Durbin was a finalist for the Texas Press Association’s prestigious Star Photojournalist of the Year Award. He has also worked abroad in Africa and Haiti as an entrepreneur.

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

“I was totally fascinated by oil and gas infrastructure,” he said. “I felt like an outsider, but I was curious about it. The community I worked in was very much like my little community in St. Louis. Midland felt very familiar to me. I think some people come here and are looking to hang out, and I’ve never felt that. At the same time, I didn’t expect to be here for so long.

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

He first met his wife Karina through his social media at parties. They became interested 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 that he was grateful to have met Karina before dating apps became the predominant way to meet people.

Karina, 33, was born and raised in Midland. His 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 it was or I guess you could have met someone at church.”

Karina and James got married in 2017. He said they took it slow. He said they had a great time hanging out in Midland, between music gigs and festivals like Crude Fest and other ongoing events, they got to experience all that “oilfield culture.”

“Karina had a son, Isaiah, who was 3 when I first met them,” Durbin said. “Once we decided to get serious, I always thought I could adopt him. I wanted both in my life.

The couple had 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 2016 marriage a secret as they still wanted to get married.

“A funny story about my bosses at the newspaper finding out I was actually married before we got married is that once I had to take a sick day because Isaiah broke his arm while rollerblading,” he said. “We were supposed to take her to Lubbock for her final casting. I approached my bosses to tell them that I needed a sick day for Isaiah, but they said that technically I couldn’t take a sick day because Isaiah was not my immediate family there. time, so I ended up telling them that I got married and adopted Isaiah before the wedding. In the end, I was able to use the sick day.

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

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

Karina added that it has not always been easy. The couple worked opposite schedules, which made it difficult to see each other, but in this new season of life, things got 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 the same ideas for the most part. We are different people; he is always very quick to act whereas I say we have to take things slower.

Karina added that it was amazing how the Midlanders embraced her and her family. She said James knew a lot of people in the community and they all hugged 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 or restaurants or apartment buildings,” he said. “We would go out to love Rockin’ Rodeo and people would spend money like crazy. As someone who was not directly related to the oil field, I would like what is happening here.

He remembers the first time he went to an oil rig to shoot for the newspaper and he had no idea what he was looking at.

“It was like this whole world of new stuff,” he said. “I felt this constant interest but not enough to go and work in oil and gas, but coming from a field where all I knew about gas was that I would put it in my car at the pump. but that I would think no more of it until I had fulfilled.”

2019 was the year he gradually left the newspaper and started working for himself full time. The business focuses on commercial photo and video, event coverage, portraits, rental monitoring and timelapse, inventory and asset management. Learn more about The Oilfield Photographer at https://theoilfieldphotographer.com/. In addition to oilfield photography, Durbin also has a sports photography business and a studio that specializes in grad photos and portraits.

“The best images come from the best access,” he said. “If you don’t have good access, you won’t get a good picture. This is where journalism has really helped me become the photographer and business person that I am, because it’s always about gaining trust for me, whether it’s the reader and the 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 had hired Durbin for a few years to do photography and video work.

“We were looking for an experienced photographer specific to the oil and gas industry,” Lester said. “It’s hard to find someone with the right certifications to go to 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 by being able to make beautiful real-life footage of the oilfield.

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

“Once you’re a client of James, he always watches over your business,” she said. “He’s extremely busy, but he always makes time for the customer 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.

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