I owe you guys an update. By you guys, I mean those loyal folks out there who even though I average about three posts a year, still care what I have to say. I'm touched!
A little over two years ago, I left my full-time job to freelance and opened up about why the traditional 9 to 5 wasn't working for me and what I planned to do about it. But what's been happening since? Have I found my pot of gold? My Path of creative expression and satisfaction?
Hmmm... how honest should I be?
Help Wanted—More Like Needed
Immediately upon quitting my job and beginning freelancing I knew I made the right choice. Through late 2013 and 2014 I shot some great work for new clients and had some glorious moments feeling very fulfilled. In the summer we had an amazing vacation touring California with friends. We saw some of the most beautiful sights our country has to offer, had really great food, wonderful times with friends, and two weeks without work.
And the entire time I mentally balanced our checkbook and made myself miserable.
By the Fall I was panicking. I'd been freelancing for a little over a year, and financially, it was a very tight year. So I started looking at ads. I applied for several positions, but none were truly good fits. Everyone wants someone that can do all of the things I can do—video, photography, graphic design. No one wants to pay them what they're worth.
I chose a shitty time to try to break into the photography field.
I love magazines. I used to do layout and design for several, and I knew the industry had been suffering for years. By 2011 or 2012 anyone in the know could tell you print magazines were suffering. I won't go into the reasons. There are many, but greed is probably the biggest reason.
But back to my reluctant job search.
It was a relief to find an ad posted by USAID. They were looking for a freelancer to work on a number of videos shot internationally throughout 2015. It was perfect. I could keep freelancing, and produce work that means something.
I applied in November and waited to hear back. All of November came and went. Then most of December.
Then, a small blip.
One of my references emailed me to say they'd been contacted by USAID. This meant I hadn't been passed over! There was still a chance! I reached out to my other references and asked them to let me know if they heard anything.
The holidays came and went with no word.*
*Sidenote: The holidays are the hardest time of the year for freelancers. Our clients are incommunicado for a month—at least. No contact with them means no progress on current projects, no new projects, and so... NO INCOME! DURING THE HOLIDAYS! WHY THE FUCK DO WE FREELANCE? Note to self: Have head examined.
In January, I heard from my other references. They'd been contacted and gave glowing reviews. "Excellent," I thought, "I'll hear something soon." Keep in mind that I had had zero contact with USAID. I didn't even know that they'd received my response to their ad. I was glad things were finally moving forward. Until...
January came and went. I'd pretty much given up on this prospect and thankfully it wasn't the only iron in the fire. In the meantime, I'd been putting an RFP together for a huge institution here in Baltimore. Putting together the RFP kept me busy (it was gorgeous!), and if I happened to get this one, I could be busy for years.
One weekend, my family and I went to one of the kids' favorite restaurants for lunch. P.F. Changs. Yummy food that's vaguely Chinese, with one dish on the entire menu that my kids will actually eat. With modifications of course. Believe it or not this is a huge win for us.
At the end of the meal we got our fortune cookies. We have a rule where you pick up your own fortune cookie. At least, I do. Otherwise, how will I know if I was really meant to learn to say "donkey" in Mandarin, or was truly the one that "Will be lucky in love."
So I chose my cookie, cracked it open and read:
Whoa. That's crazy. Have you ever seen a fortune like that? I hadn't. Of course, I didn't get too excited, but as an optimist I did lean towards hoping it was a sign.
To end this long story, I eventually got the gig. In March I signed the contract and since then I've stepped on the soil of many countries, including India, Senegal, El Salvador, Jordan, and Egypt. But there's a catch. I've been shooting video all year.
Where Are All the Photo Gigs?
2015 has been an interesting year for me professionally. Since 2007 I've been no stranger to international travel for short documentary projects. In that time I've visited every continent but Antarctica and Australia. It's been a privilege, but it's not what I set out to do with my career.
There's a phrase I love: Life is what happens while you're making plans.
Apparently, this is also true for careers. They often develop of their own accord while you think you're on one path, you're actually on another.
I think of myself as a photographer first, and a filmmaker second. But if you take nothing else away from this piece, let it be this...
It doesn't really matter how I think of myself—at least not to my clients or the outside world. They have needs, and if I want their money, I must fulfill them.
It's difficult to come to terms with that idea. I'm a first-born and as such I'm inclined to believe that whatever I think or believe will be so. I can make my own destiny. But it turns out during this year at least, every one of my clients sees me as a filmmaker/video guy, and who am I to say they're wrong? After all, I think I've gotten pretty damned good at it (pats own back; promptly pulls muscle.).
But when I wake up in the morning—and I think this is absolutely key for us creative types—I *think* in still images. I imagine shoots I want to do, photographs I want to take. Shouldn't this mean something? Shouldn't it shape the life I'm living and the career I'm developing?
Of course it should. But what 2015 has taught me is that thinking this way means so very, very little. If I truly want to change the course of my career, if I want to sculpt it in the real world to match what I see in my head every morning, I'm probably going to have to be more proactive.
So here's a start. I have another dream. Not really a new, totally different dream, but a more specific one. I want to partner with a chef or restauranteur—think Jamie Oliver—and photograph their cookbooks, their magazine, their website, their everything!
This has been my dream for YEARS. So now, it's out there. Universe, send me this person! I will give my everything to that gig. I hope 2016 is the year of incredible still shooting gigs, like 2015 has been the year of making videos that matter.
But in the meantime, holy shit. People are all about video. And I'm only getting better at it.