This is a long story. I’ve talked a lot about why I love photography, but I’d love to share some of my path to get to make images for a living. I try and mostly keep this space about what I’m actually working on, and at the moment, there’s not a lot I can discuss in a public forum (but if you want hints, ask real nice). So this story is what I’m sharing instead: my musical job chairs from the last year. I hope you can still look me in the eye after.
As a working photographer (and videographer), I’m not above a part time job in the slow season. Enter, the mall:
It’s kind of taboo to talk about a day job, but this past holiday season when I worked as a store chef for Williams-Sonoma, I enjoyed the break from my tech-head life as a photographer and colorist in training. I have a really hard time getting out of my head. I read tech specs and manuals for gear I wish I owned in my spare time for Pete’s sake.
Cooking, on the other hand, has always been strongly intuitive for me. It is fluid, a loosey goosey not-exact science and it makes me feel like a freewheeling artist. (It is, in fact, profoundly strange I need cooking to make me feel that way, because I am a professional artist who pays her bills with art and everything and owns reference books and goes to museums and writes the admission costs off on her taxes as research. I’m thinking “Really Suzy HomeMaker? Making Lasagna Bolognese makes you feel like you’re the kind of spontaneous flower blossom you know you’ll never be? Why don’t you go back to the Telecine Internet Group.” But that’s neither here nor there.)
I was kind of a different person teaching the cooking class. I was mind-blowingly hip, passionate about cuisine, a little flirtatious, and very modest, obs. I’d find a super expensive spice, throw it in with abandon. I was a late blooming rebel, but armed with imported Australian pink salt instead of any sort of illicit substance. I danced with the smells until something edible resulted. I deviated from the curriculum almost entirely. So, I’m sorry if you came to one of my classes and I made four recipes… none of which were written down anywhere. I was going through an incredibly subtle suck-it-to-the-corporate-man phase.
(By the way, I actually loved working for Williams-Sonoma and very well may work there again next holiday season. Unless they read this blog. Foot, gun, bam… and then we will eat Ramen.)
And it was great at first. I started in the fall, appropriately switching back to wearing my business-casual attire that was hiding in the back of my closet. My previous part time job was stocking handbags at Macy’s at five in the morning, and that made me want to ACTUALLY shoot myself in the foot. I quit one day when a furious Vietnamese woman made me cry because I moved a metric ton* of perfume bottles to the wrong place. Williams-Sonoma was infinitely better. They are one of the last corporations that truly cares about quality over quantity of service. And, it’s also homey and fun to be around cooking stuff all day. Look, olivewood spoons on sale!
Damn that discount.
The bosses at Williams-Sonoma liked me too. They started scheduling me more and more and talked about putting me in charge of that store’s culinary programs. I was delighted. I could imagine a different kind of life where I relied on the steady income from Williams-Sonoma. I would book my very limited shoots based on my desire for the subject matter, without worrying if I was charging enough to pay my student loans or charging enough period. I could afford to cover my bases. I wouldn’t have to spend another last ten days of a month knocking on the doors where my outstanding invoices were hiding.
Then there was a curveball. Earlier that fall, I’d told a friend who worked at a dailies lab to let me know if there were any openings. I got a call for an interview the same week I handed in my resume for the management position at Williams-Sonoma. As if that wasn’t enough, I really enjoyed the interview. And I really liked the boss. Plus I knew I’d get to work with a friend with school.
Here was the kicker: the staff at the lab knew I was a photographer. They knew my work was unsteady and I’d take off for a shoot without blinking. And to top it all off… they wanted me to develop a skill set I had that is so niche-y, I’d never even given a thought to using it in the real world: superior color vision.
It’s true. I’ve been tested. Encouraged by my lightbulb engineer father-in-law, I make time to read up on color science. I could drone on about standard illuminants for hours (oh look, I am. How out of character). Being a colorist is such a strange profession I wouldn’t have known what door to knock on to start with and didn’t give it a second thought. Then the opportunity was just… there, and who was I to look away?
Of course, business in Hollywood changes as fast as the weather in Oklahoma. At the time I didn’t even really know I had such an opportunity. I just knew I was getting closer to where they make the movies, and the movie people were appreciative of my strange obsession with color. Even now, don’t call me an assistant colorist until you physically see my credit up on screen.
I felt uneasy jumping ship without more confirmation the new job would work out. And, we were really, really broke.
So I decided to do both jobs, and keep growing the photo business. The previous winter was the scariest financial thing I’d ever lived through, and in this economy I knew it was foolish to turn down extra income. Extra gig in December? Gimme gimme gimme, I said. Take it while it lasts, I thought, because this too shall pass. And remember the Alamo, or something like that.
And that’s what coffee is for, I believed.
Part 2, “The Parable of Google Calendar,” coming up next Tuesday.