Howdy folks… Extremely humbled to be here. Big thanks to Scott and Brad for giving me the stage. Three-Act play here today… let’s get started.
ONE // INTRO
Three short years ago I stood in a tiny restroom six stories above 31st Street & Park Avenue in Manhattan. Buzzed from my 4th cup of crappy office coffee, I stared at my reflection for what seemed like hours. Did I really just leave my entire world behind, only to find myself in a supremely uninspiring job in an extremely lonely city? Was this really what the rest of my life was destined to become? Did I really believe that moving to New York City would ignite some long-lost passion I had buried somewhere? I was three years out of business school, stuck in a boring finance job, in a new city with zero time to invest in my growing interest in photography. I chuckled at myself, realizing I was staring back at a young man either a) on the verge of a serious life change or b) destined for a Kerouac-style breakdown.
Two weeks later, I left the uninspiring job behind and walked down Park Avenue smiling for the first time in two months… My 90 days in the NYC financial world were finished, and tomorrow was Day One of my career as a Photographer. I immediately scheduled a few test shoots and one week later, scheduled my first official photo-shoot. Images from this shoot will never again see the light of day :)
The next twelve months included internships with Monte Isom [who taught me about strobes, self-promotion, and the photo business] and Frederic Lagrange [who taught me about travel photography & the beauty of natural light ]. I studied the work of Avedon, Clinch, Chessum, Frank, Leibovitz, and Cowart. I bought my first set of strobes & stumbled through a year of self-teaching. I assisted with friends & colleagues around the city. And I constantly pushed my work to anyone who could help me pay my NYC rent with a camera.
Eventually, I started making better images. Used Photoshop as a tool, not a crutch. Learned how to be patient with my vision and style. I found myself walking amidst a beautiful community of people in New York City, which led to connections and jobs. And most importantly, I began to redefine my view of what a successful commercial photographer really is. I couldn’t be more thankful to live in such an inspiring, culture-shaping city, and take pictures for a living.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have never made the jump. My naivety turned out to be my biggest asset in those early days… without really understanding the size of the mountain I was climbing, I marched forward purposefully and diligently.
I still consider myself a very young photographer. I learn valuable, sometimes painful lessons every week. I’m learning how to deal with the ups and downs of freelance life. I’m still shaping and defining my vision and style. I absolutely don’t have the answers yet, and am rarely happy with my images for more than a week. But I’m marching forward and trying my best to enjoy the journey… which takes us to Act Two.
TWO // ON THE ROAD IN TEXAS
Book a job. Shoot a job. Deliver a job. File a job. Repeat.
This was the cycle I found myself falling into in 2009. Many of the jobs were fantastic and exciting and challenging, but working only for a paycheck began to rub me wrong.
I work with many musicians, and I’m constantly amazed at the similarities between our respective professions.
Musicians take years and years of other people’s rhythms and melodies, and try to create something new, beautiful and unique.
Photographers take years and years of other people’s images and designs and try to create something new, beautiful and unique.
Musicians create albums, use the web to showcase their work and hope to book shows to monetize their talent and sustain a living.
Photographers create portfolios, use the Web to showcase their work and hope to book shoots to monetize their talent and sustain a living.
Musicians don’t just play shows. They spend hours experimenting, practicing & recording on their own.
Photographers shouldn’t just shoot jobs. They should spend hours shooting personal work, experimenting & practicing. But so often, we forget this part of the craft. We get caught up booking, promoting and mostly worrying about what’s next.
Now obviously this isn’t a flaw-proof [or original] theory, but you catch my drift. Over the past few months, I began thinking about how both industries have been revolutionized by the Internet… free music, cheap stock imagery, file sharing, the decline in album/magazine sales, etc. Look at independent/indie music today, and you’ll see more and more artists releasing side projects and EPs. Usually they consist of 5-6 songs, recorded on a distinct subject or during a distinct time-period, released online and marketed via websites, email and Twitter. They give the artist a chance to hone their craft and extend their brand with minimal investment and risk.
I recently returned from a 12-day road trip through West Texas. Being a native Texan, it was a trip I’d been dying to make for years. A good time finally came up, and I took it… no expectations, just a few memory cards, a few packs of Polaroids and a few calls to friends around the state. I wanted to shoot for fun, for me.
After returning from the trip with 1000+ images, I started thinking more about how to showcase them. I thought back on the musicians and their EPs. If the musicians are using new technology and accessibility to create an EP, why don’t I try the same thing? Printing photos online is easier and more affordable than ever, and us photographers have the same avenues of exposure that the musicians have.
So with all that in mind, I created my first EP. It’s a full-color magazine featuring about 70 pages of imagery from my Texas excursion. It doesn’t showcase any commercial work. It’s not a full-blown portfolio piece. It’s simply a documentation of a brief moment in the life-long journey.
This isn’t a revolutionary idea. Designers and photographers have created ‘zines for ages. This is my version of the traditional zine. I share the thought-process simply to highlight one idea or method that we have at our disposal to hone our craft, build our brand & share our images with the world. Get out there and shoot that idea you’ve tucked away for a while. Make some prints. Make a video. Try something new. Take advantage of the opportunities all around you.
If you want to check out the final product, visit my journal at ivegotfriends.com. Below are a few images from the trip, followed by some closing thoughts from the road.
THREE // 10 RANDOM THOUGHTS ON PHOTOGRAPHY + LIFE
01. Get out of town. Leave your bubble for a few days. Go meet some people who don’t use email, whose hands are dirty at the end of the day and who wouldn’t know what a ‘re-tweet’ was if their life depended on it. Observe the beauty of simplicity.
02. You will never take a photo that everyone likes. Embrace that fact.
03. Looking for a worthwhile Christmas gift this year? Check out charitywater.org… Truly great people doing wonderful things around the world.
04. To the younger crew :: Respect and remember those who came before you. Though we work in a rapidly evolving industry, certain principles will always remain relevant. Observe, listen, and learn from the folks who have shaped commercial photography for years and years. They’re still around for a reason.
05. To the experienced crew :: Remember that everyone was a beginner at some time. Instead of being threatened by the onslaught of young, digital photographers on the scene, engage and embrace them. Teach them that dodging & burning isn’t just a Photoshop tool. Encourage them to experiment and grow and push the industry further. We can all benefit from your openness & teaching. We’re all in this together.
06. My style is evolving. I hope that never changes.
07. To the hobbyist :: Keep shooting. Keep experimenting. Keep pushing those of us who shoot for a living. The minute we aren’t a little bit nervous about you guys showing us up is the minute that our quality and creativity begin to decline.
08. Treat your assistants well… They usually have a longer, more exhausting day than anyone on set.
09. Let’s spend this season putting things in perspective. Let’s remember that if you’re reading this blog, you’re one of the wealthiest people in the world. Let’s spend less time worrying about website hits, flickr comments or Facebook updates… and more time enjoying community, family, and art. Most of your Twitter followers won’t be at your wedding… or your funeral.
10. And lastly, some wise words from the Avett Brothers :: Decide what to be, and go be it.
Again, huge thanks to Scott & Brad for allowing me to rant for a bit. Please never hesitate to email me… questions, comments, critiques, anything, anytime.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the holidays. I love you all.
Email :: firstname.lastname@example.org
Portfolio :: ericryananderson.com
Journal :: ivegotfriends.com
Twitter :: @anderson_eric