What do the words "Creative Community" bring to mind for you? How do you feel is the best way to utilize members in a Creative Community?
When I think of Creative Community, I think of my tribe. When I am interacting with the world outside of creative professionals, wether as friends, as photo projects, even just random folks at the super market, I feel like I am always explaining myself. Explaining why I want to take their photo, or why I don't (always) have to work during the middle of the day, or how I can be busy even when I don't have a camera in hand. With creatives, it's totally not like that. I can talk about a new personal project and skip right to the part where we talk creative process, execution, background, etc. They are the people who sharpen me, who's feedback influences me, and who I can collaborate with. We speak the same language, and that is refreshing.Frequently I ask creatives to be test subjects because they get why I would want to do a photo that normal people might think is weird. I use them as sound boards for new ideas, and make myself available to talk about their ideas. Our ideas give each other ideas. Also, they periodically hire me; which basically means a client pays for us to collaborate and make art which is awesome.
How did you discover your creativity?
It was a slow and indirect process. I started rollerblading when I was like 14 and wound up making a lot of other skate friends. I got hurt in high school, and it was becoming clear that the people I was skating with were much better than I was. My sister taught me how to use an SLR camera and I have pretty much had a camera in my hand since. I worked as a photo assistant in my early twenties and started working on a portfolio. The main photographer I assisted helped me hugely by giving me the keys to his studio and letting me go crazy with all his equipment when he wasn't booked. I tried everything, from frankly stupid table top work to portraits to mixed media stuff. I just wanted to shoot. That still is pretty much how I work. I don't feel limited to be making a certain kind of work. A lot of clients hire me to make portraits and action work, but I still shoot a ton of still life. I recently did a bunch of stop motion videos for a big bank client and that was super fun, too. I really just try to take projects and add my own vision to them.
Name the biggest challenge you have had in your career to date. How did you solve it?
The biggest challenge is definitely being slow. Sometimes it feels like I am Tarzan swinging vine to vine. When a projects ends and nothing is coming up it feels like you are floating and you wonder if there will be another at any time. Right when I quit assisting and started shooting, I got really anxious that I was wasting my time and burning through the little bit of money I had saved. Solving this is an ongoing process. Having experienced slow periods and busy periods helps give me some idea of what to expect. Staying busy with personal work is really key as it's my favorite thing to do. Having faith that making good work and showing it to the right people is still a good investment of time and money.
What was your first “Big Break” in your profession?
I'm pretty convinced that there isn't one big break, but a series of breaks that make up something loosely referred to as a "career". Some of the greatest hits include my first multi-day ad job for a regional beer company; they let me do really whatever I wanted and were really encouraging. I was a COMMUNICATION ARTS "Fresh" artist which added a lot of clout in certain circles. I shot a really cool project for Belize Tourism, which again was basically me making photos that I really believe in. Weirdly, the big breaks sometimes feel like the things that just keep the fire lit. For example, right when I started out a friend who was an art director for a big retailer was hiring me a ton to do these silly product shoots. Having somewhat steady gig for the first year or so of my career was really helpful. Steady is good, even if it's boring. Also, a lot of personal work I have done has really hit home with some good people. I did a still life series of bikes that had been hit by cars that won some awards; my portrait series of people who surf in the winter on Lake Superior also got a lot of buzz.
What's in your backpack/handbag/tote right now?
I have this one small camera bag that I got before I visited my sister in Zambia in 2009. At this exact moment it has my Nikon D810, a 50mm and 35mm lens, a notebook, a granola bar, keys to my crappy car, allergy pills, a polarizer, a Nikonos which is a silly underwater camera that I am testing out before traveling to Panama, a few rolls of film, rocks from the North Shore of Lake Superior, and sand/dirt from all over the world.
Top 3 Tips you would give someone starting out in your creative profession:
1. Be yourself. Make work that you are genuinely happy to be making, and happy to see. If you don't like seeing it, why would anyone else?
2. Get dressed right away in the morning, even if you work from home with your cats as interns. Your life resembles a retired person most the time, try to be normal.
3. Be really frugal, and make your money go far. If you are working a lot, great! Don't blow it on gadgets you don't need and fancy crap. You are an artist, sometimes a well-paid artist, but generally an artist. Be sure your lifestyle reflects that.
What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?
I watch Bob Ross when I work. Other than Bob Ross, I really like photographers like photographers who aren't limited to shooting just one thing. Justin Fantl, Christopher Wilson, Dan Winters, Irving Penn, Thomas Prior are a few that fit that description. I also like some of the more usual suspects: Phillip-Lorca diCorcia, Richard Avedon, Jeff Wall, etc.I go to the movies of all types, and go on walks/bike rides constantly. I try never to take the same route anywhere and it has paid off by finding these really cool places that generally find their way in to my work.
What would be your DREAM ASSIGNMENT?
Belize Tourism was pretty close to my dream assignment. I also really want to do more running/sports stuff in cool places. Generally travel work that gives me the chance to connect to people who live where we are shooting is my favorite as I get to learn more about life somewhere else.
Who are the people that have been instrumental in your success as a creative professional?
My mentor, Tom Connors who I assisted for years. A lot of other people I assisted really helped me, too. Any creative, producer, or client who has come to me and asked me to do my thing for them. Of course, I really wouldn't have a career if not for my wife. She is extremely supportive, a relentless critic, and a total mega babe.
What would be your last supper?
Peanut butter toast
What would be your Networking Do's & Dont's.:
Remember that the people you are "networking" with are people. Meaning they have things they are worried about, excited about, stressed about just like you. They may love your work, but not have anything that you can work together on at the moment. Or they may have just experienced some really great or really horrible thing in their personal life and thinking about pictures for clients may be the last thing they want to do. Remember that they need you, and you need them. They are not king-makers, they are collaborators. Treat them with respect, and understand not everyone will love you. Be yourself, because being anyone else is boring and hard.
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