So here is the basic idea…
…next, estimating cost of materials, deciding whether I want to cut and or weld it myself or have a fabricator do it, designing the propane poofer, and designing a platform/base.
My latest endeavor, as the title of this post would suggest, is becoming or developing myself as a freelance photographer. A little background before I get into the guts.
I first became interested in photography in high school and took both a basic photography (film) course as well as a black and white darkroom. These two learning opportunities had a certain element of purity to them in that I was pursuing the art out of an interest in the medium. I had not yet thought or considered trying to earn money. I continued taking photos through high school and remember getting my first digital camera, a Sony cybershot, 3.2 megapixles with a 32 megabyte memory card, woohoo!
Fast forward to college. I had graduated to a digital SLR, a Nikon D200. This camera was amazing when it was released. I immediately found an online stock photography website where I could upload images and start earning some income. Shooting these general, stock images wasn’t very exciting but it did generate (a little) income. It was fun to get creative, searching for subjects that weren’t widely represented in the database. I had hoped by focusing on these subjects I might get better exposure and earn better income. Now, with over 25 million photos in their database, my insignificant portfolio hardly even qualifies as a % of what they offer. Either way, I still manage to get a check 1-2 times a year in the mail. How much could I earn if I got my portfolio up to 2000+ images?
As I continued honing my abilities I had some great opportunities to work as a second photographer at weddings. This led to me getting a gig as the sole photographer on a wedding, shooting, editing, and delivering a finished product by my own prowess. This was a great experience and bolstered my confidence in attempting other gigs. I eventually got an opportunity through a friend to do some product photography for a website he was creating. This was my biggest professional job to date and I traveled to shoot on-location for a business on the coast of Maine. Arranging and shooting food was a really fun project, especially eating what was left after the shoot!
This point in my professional photography experience was a pivotal moment. I was no longer taking photos out of pleasure or love of creating beautiful images. Instead I was looking for opportunities to earn money. I had lost the love of the art form. It was a sad day. I eventually sold off my gear and decided to take a break, telling myself, ‘photography should be about more then just money.’
Jump to the present. I am now in Los Angeles trying to get my life in order, searching for career paths that suit my personality, passions, and values. While getting all of those facets to align is a challenge, I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m finding myself coming back to photography. I never really thought that a career in photography would simply fall into my lap – you have to put in a serious amount of effort and time to be able to make a living with this art form. It is especially difficult to expect to make a living as a freelance photographer.
Some of the major barriers to entering the industry as I see it are, a saturated market, ‘everyone’ being a photographer (thanks to digital), networking/connection development, and typical career paths to the position of photographer. Lets explore a few of these.
The saturated market – It is clear to me that a LOT of people in Los Angeles are talented photographers. In fact, I think a lot of talented artists live here or have moved here in general. This is partly due to the high demand for artists and creative types in the film/television industry. It’s a double edged sword – high demand and lots of people offering the skill in demand. It is clear that to have a shot in this saturated market, individuals need to stand out, we need to develop our ‘brand’. What is my brand? I’m working on this one.
Next, everyone is a photographer. Literally, everyone has a camera with them all day, it’s called a smart phone. I’m not saying that everyone who HAS a camera IS a photographer. Digital has definitely made entering the industry much easy for some folks who previously wouldn’t have wanted to invest the money in developing REAL film to see the results of their ability. I remember having to spend money not only on film but on materials to develop and print photos. All of a sudden it’s nothing to fire off 1000 shutter clicks at an event, sort through them and come away with 20-30 decent final photos. This is a beautiful thing, especially if you know a thing or two about composition, giving you no excuses to stop shooting. This is ultimately is a good thing for any photographer with even a basic understanding of the art.
Typical career paths to be a professional photographer are like most film industry paths out here. You start at the bottom. While it can be demoralizing to get coffee for people, clean up after others, and be reduced to a role of physical labour, perhaps it’s a good way to learn. I would venture a guess that most talented and successful photographers have been there done that. Starting at the bottom could give us an appreciation for the amount of work and time that goes into rising to the position of photographer.
And finally, networking/communication within the photography community. This, as I see it, is the most important, especially when it comes to working as a freelancer. Literally every job lead or actual job I have had so far is through friends and word-of-mouth. It’s amazing how far chatting up the right people will go. You literally have to be ‘working’ 24/7, offering/talking about your services to find these opportunities. My experience so far is that one job will lead to the next. This has lead me to the realization that being a freelancer is about correlating your work and life into one continuous social experience. Going to a friend’s birthday? Nope, your meeting potential clients. Having drinks with a few friends? Nope, you’re looking for job openings. I obviously don’t mean this in a literally sense – your friends might get sick of your presence if you are constantly soliciting them for work. However, you do need to be persistent and constantly looking/seeking opportunity. It’s a numbers game like dating. Of course, not everyone is going to want a date but, the more people you communicate with the more potential partners you will find.
What is the most disappointing interview you have ever experienced? Sitting outside the restaurant at 10:05, I glance at my watch for the third time. I was already informed that the manager (who is supposed to be shaking my hand and subsequently interviewing me) is running late. This is a good start. When he does show I am informed that he was ‘in traffic’ for over an hour. I’m not sure that I believe him. It is LA and otherworldly traffic does exist here: the kind of traffic that makes you utter every four-letter word you know and also consider how so many of these people haven’t killed themselves in previous moments of vehicular stupidity.
When he does squeeze through the door and shake my hand, we make our way over to a round table with black vinyl-upholstered seats. I’m immediately asked about my availability to which I reply, immediate and open, weekends, evenings, whatever you need. “Good, good”, he says. Then, less then 2 minutes into our interview he is glancing over the resumé I just handed him (he didn’t bring the other copy I had previously put on file). With a puzzled look on his face, his eyes come up to meet mine and he asks, “so where is your serving experience?”
Let’s take a step back here. I have been into this restaurant, a fairly reputable one on Ventura boulevard three times now. I brought them a resumé previously, then checked in on the status of that resumé a month later. I then followed up with an email to update my phone number which had changed. I was then called by the manager who asked me to come in for an interview.
So I’m sitting here and it is apparent to me that he has not yet actually read my resumé. I explain my experience as a Wildland Firefighter, doing chainsaw work while things are literally on fire all around me. I explain my experience as an Interpretive Ranger, speaking to groups of as many as fifty people, delivering original presentations 30-45 minutes in length. I even mention my experience back in high school working taking orders and cooking food at a country club. It is at this point in the interview that he explains to me that he is looking for someone with 3-4 years serving experience. Let me add that this restaurant doesn’t have any item that costs more then $50 (an overpriced steak). This is not a formal experience, rather an overpriced typical LA eatery. Sure, the food is good and it is well-reviewed, but it’s not some exclusive, black-tie ordeal. Needless to say he said that maybe in a month they would be looking for hosts and he would be in touch.
I immediately had another interview, also for a serving position. It was a similar experience, although I was under the impression that the person interviewing me had actually prepared for the event – she asked me questions, engaged me a bit. Still the same disappointing results.
Here is my little rant. I can be a server. I know this. Yes it is a high-stress job. Yes, it takes experience to be GOOD at it. I don’t want to devalue the ability of someone who does this job well. But guess what – any decently intelligent person can fulfill this job. Yes, there will be a learning curve. Still, as someone who has worked in many high stress jobs, I know I am capable of this. Rant over.
That evening I was feeling a little down, drinking beers, enjoying the hot tub at my friend’s condo, when I got an email asking if I was available and interested to work as a freelance photographer on a project for an advertising agency. Finally I was getting the break I have been looking for. In a whirlwind of forms, information exchanges, days in the field, and finally uploading work form the project, I am just about done with my first paid photography gig since getting to LA.
Sometimes, when we are the most demoralized, disappointed or discouraged, we are also on the verge of something wonderful. It’s a perfect example of my situation. I was really unhappy after having two very inconclusive and seemingly useless interviews but something great was just on the horizon. I learned (again, as I have learned in the past) that you cannot give up hope that something positive will happen. As someone who has experienced a shit-storm like most will never know, it is sometimes the only thing that can keep a person going – the hope for the positive. It will always be there, even if we are not always experiencing it.
My eyes struggle to focus on the computer screen. Today I am on recharge. Sleep schedules have changed like the phases of the moon and today I’m waning. A little more then a month ago I was waking to first light and falling asleep at dusk. This memory feels like ages ago. Things are a little less regular these days, work dictating my cycle of rest and consciousness.
The whole time I have been unemployed, my inner dialog keeps telling me, ‘when you are really ready to work, you’ll find a job easily’. That theory that we can manifest our desires isn’t proving quite as easy as the book made it seem. I never counted on things just falling into place without any work though. Life this past year has been somewhat challenging and I don’t expect that to just change. So here I am in LA trying to get something going. I have to say, things are looking positive.
I started writing freelance for an online blogging site for which the pay is terrible. I look at this job as more of a training opportunity to hone my writing skills. One of the biggest challenges is writing on topics which I have no knowledge of. This requires research to produce interesting copy. I have also been working with a family friend, preparing his house to go on the market. I did a bit of sanding, staining, cleaning, yard work, and landscaping. In the evenings I usually make the time to go for a run up the Maxwell fire road in Wilacre Park.
On the weekends I have been working in Santa Monica with some friends to prepare camp OKNOTOK for Burning Man which is just a few short weeks away. I helped Jeremy construct the frame for his outdoor workspace/shed. As a large team we disassembled the new tower, painted a lot, and moved camp supplies into storage. I still can’t believe that within a month I will be headed to the Black Rock desert in Northern Nevada, a journey I have wanted to experience for more then five years. Am I mentally and physically ready for this experience I signed up for? I look at burning man as a technicolor, multi-media art project with my brain as the canvas. Or is the desert the canvas?
And finally, the last three days have been a blur as I worked as a production assistant on the film, ‘The Broker’. This independent project was a great introduction into the industry, giving me insights I never previously had. Luckily, due to the small size of this production, PAing included lighting, grips, and photography. I learned a lot and worked with some great people. Although I didn’t get paid for my time, I certainly have a solid foundation with which to more forward with this type of work.
Beads of sweat roll down the side of my beverage, collecting on the New Belgium coaster. A slight breeze of artificial, cool air hits my left ankle while I sit on leather. Needless to say, I am not on the PCT. That corridor of continuous change. The beautiful and wondrous sanctuary for travelers and those seeking adventure continues to exist in what feels like an alternate reality just to the North-West. The contrast of Los Angeles, the smog and noise is a polar opposite. My former company continue exercising an existence of simplicity and utility while this boiling ass-fault (get it…) sprawl is filled with hoards of designer clothed zombies, stumbling in all directions with shopping bags full of excess.
I left the trail for financial reasons. I began hiking this season, not knowing if I would be able to afford to make the trip all the way to Canada. Spoiler alert, I ran out of money before making it there. I’m not upset, nor am I bitter towards those that are continuing on without me. I am filled with inspiration and awe from my experience. I only hiked about 800 miles of the 2600+ miles of trail that exists. If you ever get on the trail, you will learn quickly what I have come to understand intimately; the experience is the journey. Maybe you don’t have to hike the trail to make this assumption.
My journey ended in one of the most remarkable experiences of selflessness and kindness that I have experienced in my life. Snooze (Megan) and I finished hiking at Vermillion Valley Resort, an oasis of civilization in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. From VVR we hitched into the small resort town of Mono Hot Springs where we soaked and enjoyed a night of camping. The next morning, beautiful cardboard sign in hand, we packed our bags and sat outside the Forest Service campground, thumbing for a ride. Within an hour of sitting down, a white pickup slowed down and a kind traveler said that if we were still there when he finished eating lunch, he would gladly drive us to Fresno. We smiled and told him we’d be there.
Within an hour the familiar truck came rolling back towards us and we quickly jumped to our feet to throw our bags in the bed. Buck was a clean-dressed, friendly guy in his 50’s. With almost questionable enthusiasm, he said he would be more then happy to drive us to Fresno (2+ hours East). Upon jumping into the truck we all struck up conversation immediately and knew we were in good company. Buck had been coming up to Mono Hot Springs since he was a young man to go fishing. His wife had given him the ok to take a small vacation and relive some of his fishing glory days so he made the love drive up into the mountains. Although the fishing was questionable, he had a pleasant visit. Buck asked about the ins and outs of hiking on the JMT/PCT, told us about his adventures hitch hiking across the country as a teenager, and recalled fondly the kindness and open-hearted nature of those on the road. He said he had such a positive experience traveling when he was younger, that he wanted to give back by helping us on our way. We liked Buck a lot.
Eventually we rolled into the city of Fresno and arrived in front of a dilapidated building in what seemed to be a sketchy part of town. This was the Greyhound bus station where we would catch a cheap and uncomfortable bus ride the rest of the way to Los Angeles. Before we could offer Buck some gas money, he was practically forcing a folded bill into my hand. We refused for a minute, making quite the scene which eventually compelled me to grab his offering. We explained that we couldn’t take any money from him, he had already driven out of his way. Could we give this back and give YOU some gas money we suggested. Buck wouldn’t have it, saying that our company was payment enough and that we knew we were ‘good people’. Pay it forward he said. We tried to get his contact info but he was reluctant saying he didn’t want us to mail him any money back. We stood there amazed at his generosity and after a brief hug and exchange of smiles, Buck was back on the road. Opening my hand, I found $40, bus fare for Snooze and I to get to LA. This is real trail magic folks.
After purchasing our tickets, we walked through a deserted hispanic part of town, searching for food. The streets were empty and all the businesses closed, a very strange scene for a city. Eventually we were able to get something to eat and returned to the bus station. Our ride to LA was what you might expect for a bus – long and cramped. The WIFI that the poster in the station glorified was next to useless and neither of the 120 volt outlets that were advertised worked consistently.
Getting into downtown at 11pm, we waited on torturous metal benches until my Dad whisked us away to Studio City. Snooze and I spent the next few days catching up on much needed sleep, watching terrible day-time television, and indulging in restaurant food. Gotta love ‘real life’. We both longed for the trail, the simplicity of adhering to the schedule of the sun. The monotony of walking for hours. This strange and impermanent existence had become so normal to us, it was unsettling to change it. But change it we must – Megan had to get back to Connecticut for her Sister’s High School graduation and I needed a job. We parted ways at LAX, heads still full of fresh memories from our JMT adventure.
So that brings us to the present. I’m here, living with my Dad in LA, looking for a job. Oh how fun the real world is. Find a job so I can pay my bills so my credit score isn’t totally fuct (too late). Get a job so I can make my car payment and student loan payment. But hopefully the job I find can be more then just a means to an income – hopefully it can be enjoyable. Do you have a job for me?
At the moment I am writing to you all from Studio City in Los Angeles. Spending the holiday on the West Coast is a nice change of pace, warm weather and palm trees – not a typical Christmas for me but still enjoyable. I am staying with my Dad, enjoying a nice visit.
After tying up some lose ends in Nederland, I drove down to Denver to catch an afternoon flight out of the Mile High City. I don’t typically fly any airline other then Southwest, and for good reason. While everyone I interacted with at United was friendly, they charge $25 and $35 respectively for your first and second checked bags. You ONLY get free sodas on your flight, no solid food (unless you want to spend $8 for some ritz crackers).
I spent a productive hour at my gate talking with a lovely woman from Kansas who works in the outdoor recreation industry among many other interesting art-focused jobs (including helping design the monument for the fallen fire fighters from the South Canyon Fire!). After talking with her about my current situation and plans she offered some wonderful career/life advice. ‘Picture where you want to be in five years,’ she said, ‘and then start taking the steps to make that dream happen.’ The advice seems simple enough, but I find myself asking, ‘what is my dream?’. I have some direction but my end goal is not totally clear yet. I suspect that is the goal of the travel and adventures that I am in the process of organizing for the next year. More on that later.
After an extremely bumpy climb out of the Front Range, our flight was pleasant. It’s funny celebrating a holiday that you associate with snow in a place where the temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s during the ‘winter’. I’m not complaining about wearing shorts, sandals, and a tank top, it’s just a little strange this time of year.
And speaking of this holiday, I find myself caring less and less about the materialistic focus that seems to exist in our country. Sure it’s fun to exchange gifts, but the excess that typically exists is such a turn-off. If you are a fan of The Office, Michael Scott has a great quote regarding the exchange of gifts:
“Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is this tangible thing you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars worth’.”
And while this is obviously made to poke fun at the state of affairs, its scary how accurately this seems to depict where this holiday has gone. While I don’t have any religious beliefs, I still appreciate Christmas and for me, it’s about spending time with family, being kind and thoughtful to others, and these two foci don’t necessarily have to be demonstrated through the giving of things.
Now after all that discussion about the excesses of materialism during this holiday you might laugh at me when I mention the one gift I received – a GoPro camera. Yes, this was a big gift. It was given very thoughtfully though and you all should be thankful (joking, kind of) because now I have a means to photograph and capture photo of the journey I am about to embark on. Hopefully I will produce some enjoyable media, I’ll let you all be the judge.
Enough of my rambling about my personal beliefs. This visit has really been wonderful and I am thrilled to be able to spend time with some of my family during the holiday season. My happiness at the moment though is focused on another opportunity that has just been preposed – a trip with an old climbing partner to attempt an ascent of Mt.Rainier in May. While I would love to attempt this climb, some logistical concerns are raised. My thru-hike attempt of the PCT this year will have a start date between April and May meaning I would have to leave the trail, get to Washington, attempt this climb, and make it back to the trail, loosing roughly a week (that’s a guess) of trail time. I am not too concerned with loosing trail time, I will likely have a month or more of ‘zero days’ during the duration of my hike. The issue comes with missing a SOLID week of trail time, and right at the beginning of the hike, in the desert, a place where you don’t want to waist time when the weather starts getting warm. We will have to see how the opportunity develops but all I can say for now is that I am thrilled at the possibility and I will attempt to make it happen if at all possible.
Until next time, be well friends and family, I look forward to writing my next update.