My first introduction to photography didn’t start in a classroom or prestigious art school. It started very simple and at home in Los Angeles. Sure, I’d seen many beautiful and inspiring images from talented photographers on magazines, and I always thought how liberating it would be to be able to travel, capture raw, carnal moments and share those stories. Some time ago, my younger brother purchased a Nikon D3000 from another photographer via Craigslist and shortly after, started shooting everything he could find. Trees. Our dog. Family. Local artists. It was during this time, seeing the youthfulness in the art that I began to appreciate the tough task that it is to photograph something with passion, heart and truthfulness. As he experimented with photography, I started to play around with it as well, fueled some parts by sibling rivalry, some parts intrigue with capturing inspiring images, hoping one day, I too, would become one of the artists someone will read about and see in magazines.
Between a full-time corporate career in financial services, and helping my mother raise a family of five, I spent the next two years dedicated to consuming as much information as I could find. The vast inventory of content was a bit overwhelming but it was also very exciting to be a part of this thriving new world. Eventually I ‘upgraded’ from our family owned Nikon to purchasing my own Canon 5D Mark II, largely due to feeling more comfortable with Canon bodies. At this time, I had no idea what kind of photographer I wanted to be. In some respects, I still don’t.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing any photographer, professional or amateur, is finding your style. Obviously, there are many avenues: fashion, street, wedding or any of the various new styles curated through the use of Instagram. Seeking inspiration, I remember a friend and photographer, introducing me to Tales by Light, a photography documentary I found on Netflix. I scanned through it and noticed some exceptional work by a Richard I’Anson. I instantly became enamored. The way that the story danced and intertwined with the images were something I could only dream of emulating. I was mesmerized. I probably could use a thousand different adjectives to describe it but in the Instagram, VSCO filtered world we now consume content, it was a signature ‘light bulb’ moment of my young photography career. Nothing I shot compared to this.
Have you ever spent a considerable amount of time studying a craft, which is all theoretical to that point until you apply a practical, ‘pen-to-paper’, ‘roll up your sleeve’ effort only to come away with a subpar result? It is absolutely defeating. It was a gut punching realization that all these images I shot of friends, people, skylines of Los Angeles, paled in comparison to the beautiful story pieces that I’m watching on Tales by Light. I had much to learn.
Motivated and inspired, I started to take up any photography opportunity I could find. I recall spending one Saturday from 7am until about 9pm walking the streets of Los Angeles, specifically the ‘Skid-Row’ neighborhood. It’s a small pocket of about 4 miles. It is one of the most humbling of places to visit, even if you grew up in modest beginnings yourself. The neighborhood is known primarily for housing the homelessness and addictive population of the great city I grew up in. I was inspired to catalog the people in a respectful light and somehow, get my work seen by someone of influence who, hopefully, will be as inspired as I was to try and change the lives of this community.
Selfishly, it was an opportunity to hone my photography skills while promoting a solid cause. At the time, I so naïve and incredibly idealistic. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t gone shooting that day. The images I captured weren’t anywhere near the standard I was hoping to achieve with respect to highlighting the subjects in a dignified manner, when compared to the masters, i.e. McCurry, Leibovitz, Adams, Avedon. Granted, I set the bar immensely high as a novice. These weren’t the words of any magazine editor. It was the self-realization that I was out of my scope. To shoot individuals in a raw candid moment is very difficult. To try to capture moments of a community of people such as that, with dignity and artistry, it requires a level of skill that at the time, I was nowhere near and required a lot more practical experience to perfect. This series is still on my to-do list for one day.
I started taking up less passion projects and started to focus on more trade work with other creatives who could equally benefit from said work. So I reached out to agencies in Los Angeles and began trade work with them. Fortunately, it was an opportunity to practice on real subjects. Unfortunately, I had decided to relocate to New York due to the call of the suit and tie. I was always content my life in Los Angeles. However, every time I visited New York, I was in LOVE with the idea of my life there. The skyscrapers. The grit of the city. The architecture. Its history. It’s immensely diverse population. The smells and sounds. I was in awe of the challenge of living there, surviving it and more importantly, thriving there.
The relationships were in Los Angeles. I knew a maximum of 7 people in New York. The art community is easily twice the size of Los Angeles and working in finance in New York is considered the Holy Grail or Mecca, albeit I try to abstain from religious dialogue. The combination of the two key aspects of my life harmoniously intermingling was captivating. It was a dream come true and as nervous as I was, I was equally anxious to start this new chapter. In many ways, this move was very much inspired by photography. In other ways, it was a challenge to succeed in my tale of two cities.
Living in New York, I was able to hone my skills even more so than I was in Los Angeles. The streets were punctured by the galloping shadows of monumental skylines and highlights offset by seeps of sunlight and street light; the frequent rain and its byproduct clouds being a natural reflector created a surreal backdrop for my aesthetic.
One of my fondest memories of being inspired to photograph was on a drive to a client meeting for my day job early morning several years ago when I noticed this man set up his tripod with what appeared to be a large camera overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, CA. It was a rare overcast day, about hour past sunrise so the sky was a very vibrant and colorful aftermath from much needed rain in Los Angeles.
I can’t recall my exact thoughts now about that day but I can imagine feeling envious of this man. Alone. To himself. In his own thoughts. Free from any distractions and life around him. Novice or professional, the thought didn’t occur to me. To me, he was living life. He was doing what I could only surmise was magical. Pursuing a goal of capturing this exact moment we were both in, on two totally different trajectories. I was headed to hopefully finalize a deal with a prospect whom I had been calling on for the better part of a year. He was in short: freezing time and documenting it. To me, it seemed more powerful and impactful. I could only imagine what the end result of those images were.