The Early Days
Image from Sassy Magazine by Michael Lavine
I received an abundance of GREAT questions. To answer all of them is going to have to be spread over a few posts. But Thank You All for the great ideas. Can I just say it here: you guys really inspire me! And yes, this will keep me inspired and busy over the next few weeks! I will answer each and every question here.
Okay, so how did I get started? Well, I graduated from The Art Center College of Design in 1987 with a degree in photography. Art Center was an incredibly great college because it really educated it’s students on what it was like in the “real world”. One of the things it really enforced was that you need to leave college with a kick ass portfolio and the last two semesters were all about portfolio building and business classes on how to market and what to do to get yourself established in the commercial photography world. The good news in that is that I was somewhat prepared to enter the commercial world. The bad news? NOTHING prepares you for the “real world”. It’s an education in and of itself. It’s an education based on experience and trial and error. Just like learning lighting. You learn the techniques, the basics. But it isn’t until you do it over and over again that you really truly LEARN lighting.
On a portfolio/test shoot related question…
20 is a good number of photos to show the agencies. If your photos look like the photos in the magazines on your newstand then you should be alright, but again, do YOU think they’re good enough? If you are doubting yourself, they probably aren’t good enough. Believe in your work!
In this case, you really need to network and be resourceful. Speak to boutique owners about using their clothes for photo shoots, go to schools and speak to fashion students who have their own lines or are working to become stylists/designers, go to events and meet people in the fashion industry and make the connections and relationships to facilitate your styling for shoots! It is possible to go straight to the designer, you just need to make the contacts, it’s A LOT about networking. Start out small and local. Or find someone with a high credit card limit ;)
I started out making cold calls. Cold calling is a horrible, humiliating experience but we ALL have to do it in the beginning. And here you go, kids: I STILL MAKE COLD CALLS. You have to. The only difference between making cold calls now and back then is that now, I just don’t care as much. Back then, I was so devoted and starving and desperate to get a gig. Nowadays, I’ve learned that none of that matters. I just want to get in the door now. I’m more detached.
I did a few cheap editorials for a local newspaper called the LA Weekly. The LA Weekly had a two page fashion section. And Gloria Ohland gave me a shot. I did a few of those and got my name out there. I went in to see Apparel News. To this day, I’ve seen them at least 6 times since 1987, and they’ve NEVER hired me. But other people have. Haha….hey it’s my blog, I can say what I want. When I was cold calling, 9 out of 10 just didn’t give a damn. But what does that leave you with??? The one who does. I met an art director named Stephen Kamifuji. He owned an ad agency and he liked my work and he liked me. He hired me to shoot a few ad campaigns for small little companies like Honda, Bugle Boy and B.U.M. Equipment. How did I get that break, honestly? Well, Stephen really liked ME. Part of getting a break in the business is that your personality will sell you more than your work. Real world shit. And often times, not what you want to hear. But it’s the truth. People will end up hiring you because they basically just like YOU and want to work with YOU. Stephen and I just clicked. Who knows why. And I never questioned it, even back then. I got my first ad campaigns under my belt. I met Stephen through cold calling. Do you recognize his name? He’s the owner and publisher of Genlux magazine. Yep, that’s right. The magazine that I shoot for on a regular basis is owned and published by one of my very first clients. That’s how it works! 22 years later, he is still working with me.
My first big huge break was in 1989. I really wanted to get into a magazine called Sassy. Sassy isn’t around anymore. But back then it was a really hip teen mag like 17 Magazine. I actually created a portfolio that was totally in the style of Sassy. I packaged it in this great little box and sent it off to Neil McCutcheon, the art director. Lo and behold, he called me. I will always remember the day! He called me and I spent my own money to fly to NYC to meet him. We clicked. He liked me. And hired me. I shot a few editorials for Sassy Magazine and that was my first big break. Two years out of college. I landed my first big national fashion magazine assignment.
As much as I’d love to help you answer this question, it’s a question many of you out there need to answer yourselves. The question is not only whether you have the talent to take photos, but whether you have the passion and LOVE for fashion and are willing to do just about anything to be in the business.
After I graduated from Art Center, everything that I owned fit into a duffel bag and I carried it, along with my passport, with me wherever I went. I was ready and willing to be anywhere an opportunity was offered. I was given the chance to shoot an editorial, by an ex-model who became the Men’s Fashion Editor of Spanish Elle, in Barcelona one day and I caught a flight and was there the next day. My boyfriend at the time was furious but I didn’t let anything stand in the way of moving my career forward. Is this something that you’re willing to do? I’m not saying it’s the be all end all but it’s a matter of the lengths you are willing to go, to get to where you want to be.
I persevered. I never let the 99 rejections in a row keep me down. In fact, with every rejection I just grew more determined and even more belligerent that I was going to make it no matter what. I kept shooting in the meantime, kept honing my skills, kept practicing my lighting, kept updating my portfolio, kept cold calling and kept keeping on. Nothing stood in my way. No relationship, no personal crisis, nobody telling me I should “get a back up plan”. I didn’t have a “back up plan”. I HAD to shoot. I HAD to make it. Failure was not an option.
Does it always take this kind of determination? I am pausing now while I think about this. Let me have a whiskey. I’ll be right back.