Rivard Report: Alex, give our readers your thumbnail bio, starting with your father’s emigration to the U.S. from Egypt. Your back story is a bit different than most young entrepreneurs and artists who find their way to San Antonio.
Alexander Hilmy: My parents came to the states in the ’80s from Egypt. The typical “I came to this country with two suit cases and 100 dollars in my pocket!” type of deal. Fortunately they are the two most intelligent people I have ever met so they instilled a pretty kick ass value system from money management, quest for knowledge, and most importantly, integrity. My mother is the Dean of Communications at DePaul University in Chicago and my father has a private surgical practice in Harlingen — no pressure. I was actually doing the whole medicine track before the entrepreneurial bug bit me. Surprisingly my folks were supportive of the endeavor. I’ve been flipping things on eBay since my high school days. I also used to take people’s Stat exams for them in undergrad for cash under the table (mum’s the word on this one). Now I have a few businesses of my own.
RR: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: You look totally Latino. Do you find yourself having to tell people your family is from Egypt, or do you blend right in to our world?
AH: Natives to SA think that I’m Hispanic, Puerto Rican, or half black. I usually don’t say anything unless I’m asked or if the subject matter permits it. Who cares? We are all going to breed ourselves brown eventually.
RR: Okay, before we move on, give us some first impressions. What is the good, bad and ugly of life and work in SA as a transplant who has lived elsewhere?
AH: I actually wasn’t the biggest fan of San Antonio for the first few years that I was living here. After befriending and dating people who are from this city I was introduced to a lot of really interesting scenes. Now I love this city and all it has to offer. It’s actually a really beautiful city. As far as the work environment goes, I feel San Antonio has a bit of the “land of mañana” mentality which makes things difficult from time to time.
But I find opportunities in the most arbitrary scenarios. The organizational culture at the city level is unorthodox to say the least. Lots of ladders and hoops. Good thing I learned to jump high. That being said, the upside to the work environment in San Antonio is the fact that we are currently in a huge innovative boom across the spectrum. San Antonians are also very friendly. I think the young boom in this old town is placing this city on a tipping point of a positive change.
RR: Who’s the dog?
AH: Nigma! It’s Arabic for “White Star,” which is ironic because she is actually becoming a bit of a local celebrity. I’ve had her since she was 10 weeks old and she accompanies me to work, and other places that are dog friendly. She’s six and a half now and a huge fan of the “Dog Monologues.” Probably because my staff and I bribe her with treats on photo shoot days.
RR: The minute we saw your dog photos, we wanted to publish them as a send up on contemporary marketing and branding. Was it your intent to put a pin in the same balloon, or did you have a different objective when you started posing Nigma.
AH: I didn’t have an objective. They are certainly drawing that demographic/crowd. We have the prints in several galleries, eateries, shops, etc and people have come to us to purchase prints, or come to ultimately have us provide photography or graphic design after seeing the execution of the various looks. So to answer your question, sure. I’m an equal opportunity business owner.
RR: By the way, how do you get Nigma to pose for those photos? Crazy question, but has the dog seen its own portfolio? Any recognition or reaction there?
AH: She’s really obedient and very comfortable with all the folks that make up the Hilmy office. We have our stylist build her wardrobe around her so she’s not uncomfortable. We don’t do anything that will piss her off or hurt her. She’s a fan because of the treat bribes. We were just wondering if she recognizes herself. I don’t think so.
RR: So Central Market is mounting an exhibition of your work starting Friday evening, correct? How long will the photos be up? Can people meet you there?
AH: Starting today, Friday at 7 p.m. The photographs will be up for two months. We are working on the remainder of the book so we may go rotate out some of the photos with new ones. I will probably have a wine and cheese “meet the artist” type of deal to draw exposure. That date is TBA.
RR: Alex, what else have you been doing as an artist? Is video an arts medium for you, or strictly work?
AH: Just photography. Our art director and videographer execute a lot of branding videos and even videos for our client but I don’t shoot video. I have personal photography work in a few galleries around Texas. I love lifestyle photography when traveling. I travel a lot.
RR: Tell us about Hilmy Productions. How did it start, what kind of work are you doing? Are you a startup or do you consider yourself more established?
AH: Hilmy Productions is a full circle creative. What’s nice about our company is that we do everything in-house. Started as a photography company. Closed that business (Hilmy Photography) when we started doing printing. Everything from business cards to high-end photographic work, as well as wall art for hotels, restaurants, vehicle wraps, and other large format signage. It’s nice because we have high client retention. Green (the restaurant in the Pearl) came to us for Menu and staff photos, and doubled back for design, printing, and now utilize all the services we have to offer. We have a stellar and I mean STELLAR team. Our full-time guys (operations manager, art director, design lead, videographer) and all of our part-time shooters really make the company. I’m more in new business and account acquisition over the actual execution. We are established in this city but we are a start up in that we are less than two years old and we are always adapting to provide the best service to our clients.
RR: The Rivard Report wants to become a platform presenting more local video work, but we find the video community locally a bit disconnected. Are we wrong? How do you connect with other videographers in the city?
AH: I couldn’t agree more. People in the service industry are flaky. They’re artists. It’s a right brain thing. That’s why I’m a business owner who hires very selectively. Everyone on team Hilmy has the ability to think with the creative and execute with the organizational to stay connected. We would love to help the Rivard Report with video. We did a lot of filtering before choosing our in-house staff and our go-to sub contractors. There are some amazingly talented videographers in this city if you need recommendations.
RR: So tell us where you live in San Antonio, what you do in your spare time. Have you found it easy or hard to connect with a community of other interesting young professionals and artists?
AH: I live in Alamo Heights and our main office is in Olmos Park (5313 McCullough Ave). I find it extremely easy to connect with other professionals and artists. After getting over the ’09er stigma associated with this part of town, I have no problem approaching anyone and everyone. I’m a social butterfly in that regard and I’m about as subtle as the train that runs behind Hilmy Productions (if you couldn’t tell by the aforementioned responses).
RR: Do you have family here, or are you on your own?
AH: I’m solo. Just Nigma, and those who I hold close to my heart. No family here.
RR: Favorite restaurant, bar, coffee shop?
AH: I can’t answer this with a singular answer. I’m a huge foodie so I have an appreciation for dozens of local restaurants. I’m also a big drinker (I don’t need to drink to steady my hand, but I’m 26 so booze isn’t a stranger to me). I’ll frequent bars in the evening (big fan of TBA). Local Coffee, or Olmos Perk in the a.m. to offset the previous night. I host a lot of dinner and cocktail evenings at my house more than anything.
RR: Spurs fan?
AH: Is the Pope Catholic? You have to be if you live in this city. Not being a Spurs fan would be like not drinking margaritas.
RR: Last question: What do you most wish we would do in San Antonio that you’ve experienced in another city?
AH: Walk. Yeah it’s hot, but you have to drive EVERYWHERE here. I don’t live a sedentary life style, but this city doesn’t lend itself to foot mobility as well as it should. C’est la vie.
RR: Good luck with you exhibition.
There’s more where this came from. See the full Nigma collection at Central Market’s exhibition starting tonight at 7:30 p.m.