Since the first checkered flag waved at Formula 1 (F1) in Austin, Austin Community College (ACC) adjunct professor of photography Keith Rizzo has been there to capture every moment.
On Sunday, October 21, the grandstands and grass seats at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) will once again fill with more than 100,000 people for the big race. As the official photographer for COTA, Rizzo will be there too.
“It’s an incredible experience to watch a race like that unfold through the lens of your camera,” says Rizzo. “You don’t get that sort of opportunity anywhere else.”
Through his partnership with COTA, Rizzo has opened the door for dozens of ACC students to experience that rush as well.
“A large part of the reason I was hired is because I can assemble a competent team of photographers from the students enrolled at ACC,” he says. “These are the types of experiences that our students can’t get at any other school.”
Rizzo’s drive to connect his students with real-world experience earned him a nomination for the ACC Teaching Excellence Award. He knows first-hand the struggles students can face.
Born and raised in Austin, Rizzo dropped out of high school and went to work at a photography studio. Determined to do more, he went back to school, earned his GED, and in 1994 was approached by the college to teach Continuing Education photography classes. He later began working as an adjunct professor and in 2004, Rizzo himself enrolled at ACC to earn his associate degree.
“I took four consecutive semesters to get my degree,” says Rizzo. “I ended up taking 19 credits the summer of 2005 and was able to get approval to teach that fall semester by the skin of my teeth.”
While teaching the next generation of photographers, Rizzo continued to pursue his own passion, working as a professional motosports photographer.
“In 2011 I was ready to walk away from professional motosports photography until a friend called to tell me F1 was coming to Austin.”
At first, Rizzo had his doubts, but he started tracking developments on the U.S. Grand Prix and began developing relationships with stakeholders in the development of COTA. When the rumors turned out to be true, Rizzo used those connections to be named COTA’s official photographer.
He’s contracted for multiple events each season; two of those are Formula 1 and MotoGP. For each event he hires a team of photographers. His first stop is in the classroom.
“Our students are the sole suppliers of photography for Circuit of the Americas. This cannot be said of any other major event in Austin.”
Rizzo selects at least 10 photography students per event. They’re selected based on their experience, recommendations, and enthusiasm for the projects.
“As a team, we have generated more than two million photos documenting the events at COTA since its inception in 2012.”
Over the three-days of F1, students will shoot more than ten thousand photographs each. They’re treated like every other professional photographer on site and work side-by-side at each location along the track from the opening turn to the pit for the winning moment.
“These are the experiences that will build their confidence, establish their portfolio, and get them connected in the industry. They work hard, and they earn every moment of success that comes.”
For more information about the photography program, contact the department at 512-223-4463 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out some of the unique experiences and photos students captured in the first years of COTA.
Keith Rizzo: In 2015, Rizzo captured this image when Lewis Hamilton clinched the driver’s championship at COTA.
Sarah Weeks: Weeks began helping with events at COTA in the fall of 2015. During MotoGP in 2017, Rizzo received a text message from her excitedly explaining the moment a particular rider went down right in front of her. She captured the whole sequence on camera. (The rider was okay.) This image is from the sequence. It won first place in the TPPA State print competition this past summer along with other contests.
James Stacy: Rizzo hired Stacy to create advertising content for the Formula Americas Series offered by COTA as an “Arrive and Drive” open wheel high-performance driving experience. You can see his images on COTA’s website.