How did you discover your creativity?
I think it might have started as an innate compulsion. As a tiny little kid I remember obsessing over collages made from cut-up magazines and drawing fastidious little patterns and tessellations with ink on paper. My folks encouraged me, and enrolled me in art classes at the LA Municipal Art Gallery, which I lived for. Even though my memory of those times (I think I was 7-years-old when I started there) is hazy, I think I discovered self-discipline, self-love, and the art of the happy accident in those art classes! In high school I drifted away from the arts as my main focus, instead diving-into academics, with a particular interest in current world events, punk rock, political history, and social movements. So, in my first year of college, I was fortunate to find my way to the community of student journalists who put out *The Daily Northwestern* every morning. Shooting as a photojournalist for *The Daily* gave me the chance to bring the creative and intellectual sides of my life together. I felt lucky I found it. I still feel lucky. Working there I learned how to shoot film, learned the darkroom, and learned digital workflow. As I worked on the basics, I dove headfirst into studying documentary and portrait photography. Walker Evans and Diane Arbus were my heroes. For me, documentary photography was the perfect unification of my love for art-making and my interest in politics and history and people. My time in college propelled me right into the professional photo world as a 21-year-old graduate, and I haven’t looked back since!
What was your first “Big Break” in your profession?
In my early 20s, while I was working as a PA and then interning for Herb Ritts and Peggy Sirota, the assistants around me told me how to get editorial work by heading to New York and showing my work to photo editors. Once I had a portfolio of portraits printed and bound, I spent a week in a Barnes & Noble furtively copying photo editors’ names and phone numbers out of the mastheads of the magazines I loved. I was motivated, but still somewhat oblivious: Chris McPherson, who I also was assisting, let me know I needed to make a leave-behind card with my contact information. I had no idea. And I was without the infrastructure I needed: Patricia De La Rosa brought her Epson printer to my apartment and designed and printed those leave-behinds for me. It was incredible: I felt like I was part of a team, with so many talented and generous people all pumping-in energy to help me launch. I still think of that formative time often. Then I flew to NYC and started making calls. It felt like the big break when editors took my calls and invited me in. Tim Hemmeter at *Interview* blew me away when he showed interest in my work — his positive feedback gave me the mettle to keep cold-calling editors I’d never talked to before. But it was Michelle Egiziano, who was editing at *ELLEgirl* at the time, who truly gave me my first break. She sent me out to the streets of LA to cast and shoot guys for a back-of-the-book Q&A feature for the young women’s magazine. That assignment continued monthly for nearly two years — I cut my teeth on that project, working collaboratively with Michelle, pitching new variations of the idea, and shooting, editing, and submitting on deadline. I often think of the note Michelle sent me after reviewing the contact sheets from my first shoot: she wrote “We love what you do!” That sentiment reminds me to just do what I do, treat people with love, and keep on the path.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in your creative profession?
Totally! Once you’ve started shooting and as you start refining and editing your book, ask yourself what you’d like to contribute to society. Maybe even what you want to leave behind once you’re gone. The answer may not be clear, but think on that, stab toward it, and put in the work toward defining your contribution. Working toward that will likely keep you on a productive path. Also, bring a great attitude, treat all those you shoot and work with with the utmost kindness, be open to constant hustle, and and an ever-changing business landscape. And when you see me sometime down the road, remind me of everything I just advised here in fall 2015.
What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?
The history of photography is brief enough that I feel like if I put my mind to it, I can come to be acquainted with many of the important contributors to the canon and their seminal works. What’s come before has been my greatest source of inspiration. And photography books are the way I like to invest in that history — I deeply appreciate the way they encapsulate a body of work, give a hint into the artist’s mind at the time, and the milleu of the time in which the work was produced. So I’m always on the lookout for photo books. For me, second hand is best. The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA has great finds, and Skylight Books in Los Feliz’s art annex is constantly full of treasures, and a short walk from my home. The LA Art Book Fair has proven dangerous to my pocketbook in the past, as have the Artbook DAP sample sales, Photo LA, and Paris Photo LA! Online I love American Suburb X for a massive archive of criticism and links to work. Tumblr hashtag searches are the best! And following my peers and the greats on Instagram is always inspiring, and easily accessible: I love @stephen.shore (Stephen Shore,) @geveeve (Genevieve Dellinger,) @thisisnow_here (TJ Tambellini,) and @ryanschude (Ryan Schude.)
What would be your DREAM ASSIGNMENT?
I’d love to work with a news-oriented national magazine to shoot a months-long journalistic portrait project focusing on a community that’s grappling with a social issue that’s vital both to its survival and which also has implications for society as a whole. My hope is that photojournalistic work like this will contribute to tolerance, understanding, and inclusivity between disparate communities of people.
Who are the people that have been instrumental in your success as a creative professional?
Glad you asked! Every day I feel fortunate to have so many people who have helped me focus my photographic stance and achieve my professional goals. To name just a few: Maren Levinson, Amelia Hennighausen, Rebecca Horne, Frank Parvis, Laura Pressley, Debra Klomp Ching, Colleen Vreeland, William Nabers, Ann Jastrab, Cat Jimenez, Eve Schillo, Paul Kopeikin, Kate Osba, Jason Neville, and Jeanne Graves. I’m grateful for this creative community!
What would be your last supper?
How about an omakase sushi dinner presented by an expert chef accompanied by icy beer eaten while engaged in playful conversation amongst my loved ones. That sounds just about perfect!
MEET SAM, OUR ADHESIVE EVENT PARTNER AT OUR FIRST-EVER #ADHESIVELA POP-UP EVENT this coming Tuesday, September 22 at The Monty, 1222 W 7th St, Los Angeles, CA from 6:30 pm - ???
Full Name: Sam Comen
Industry: Advertising / Editorial / Documentary
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