2011 was my year of new experiences. The first time I lived somewhere for the entirety of a year. It’s amazing to see how drastically life can change in such a short amount of time. All of the simple pleasures from growing up in a middle class American family were stripped away as I burst out of my college bubble. I fell face first into the harsh reality of a failing economy in one of the biggest, and strangest, cities in the world with nothing but a degree in photojournalism. I had no idea what I was doing.
The year started off in a terrible rut. One I wouldn’t emerge from until the tail end of the summer. After watching my grandmother pass the day after Christmas and moving to my first big city, knowing only my roommates, I sank into a depression. At the same time one of my only 2 clients had stopped calling completely. The other calls were becoming sparse.
You can’t just sit around and wait for the phone to ring, the first lesson I stubbornly learned. Everything I was taught in school was how to be a great photographer, which proves to be useless when no one knows you exist. I had no idea how to market myself, or whom to market myself to. I spent the next 6 months in poverty while figuring out what to do.
My car had fallen apart after countless repairs on my credit cards. I had to take out a loan for a new one while paying off the repairs on the old one. I couldn’t pay my rent, let alone a new car, insurance. Sometimes barely even food. Every time I paid a bill it felt like a tiny miracle. Further and further into debt I fell, my student loans putting the icing on the cake. When it rains it pours, and I was bailing myself out with a paper cup. Welcome to the real world.
Somewhere along the line I began to slip out of the depression, catching glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel. But every time I thought things were about to get better, the levy would break and I would be right back to zero. From what I’ve gathered, this is pretty typical for any freelancer.
After about 6 months, I was about to cash in and leave. I felt like I had aged 5 years in that short amount of time. Los Angeles had broken me, started to make me cold. It was too expensive and the traffic was unbearable. Everyone I knew was inconsistent, had drug problems, or moved away. I had grown up my whole life with this naïve trust of everyone I met, a character flaw that city-folk know how to quickly identify and exploit. I had no idea where else I would go and didn’t expect anywhere else to be any easier. No choice but to stay.
Eventually I was getting hang of things. I had started personal projects to keep myself busy. The marketing strategies were beginning to broaden and become fruitful. I had picked up some new clients, began assisting wedding photographers, wrote contracts and learned how to quote prices. Around that time I met an intelligent, sweet, and inspiring girl who helped me regain my confidence. I went to Burning Man and came back with a completely new outlook on life. A little over a year ago my dreams had seemed impossible. They now seemed not only possible, but also probable.
My phone was ringing off the hook all of fall and winter, shooting assignments for The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and the Associated Press, as well as picking up field editing gigs for Getty Images. When it rains, it pours. I was not only keeping up with my bills, but paying off debt. I had never realized how much I had taken for granted until I had nothing.
As 2012 begins I hope to keep this humble little cloud of success afloat. I will strive to keep learning and know I still have a lot to figure out. Last year was a year for personal and professional growth. This year will be no different, but I want to dream bigger.
After most of my assignments being entertainment features and portraiture, my work has begun to feel shallow. This year I am striving to shoot more news, which is why I became a photojournalist in the first place. I miss that intimacy, compassion, and conflict that you get with documentary photography, and I look forward to finding more opportunity in that realm.
The Dragonfly - Hollywood