First published in The Photographer’s Mail, October 2013
Starting up afresh in a new country was never going to be easy. I knew that from the outset but I also was prepared to take my time and not expect anything amazing to happen straight away.
Before moving to Los Angeles in December 2012 I had been quite hectic with my business, and the act of packing two people’s lives into a 3×1 metre storage locker the night before I flew out took it’s toll. I pretty much slept until Christmas and in between the sleeping I ate. Badly. The food in America is amazing in it’s awfulness, the perfect mix of addictive and deadly that makes it sooo hard to quit! You can eat healthy here but it just takes more effort, and I’m here to experience the American way (for a time) so donuts, tacos, burgers and pizza it was.
I don’t regret a thing.
Finding work on the other hand was not so easy. I had no real contacts in the industry and without a work visa no one could hire me anyway, so I put my energies in to refreshing my portfolio.
My primary focus was on Fashion and Advertising, and the image style in the US is very different than in New Zealand or Australia, more polished and kinda over the top, so I needed to learn a new visual language. I wanted to shoot more produced images, lots of artificial light and impressive sets so I knew I was going to need to find a team of people to collaborate with.
Outside of commercial photography here there are two main sites to look at for other creatives willing to work for little or no budget: Model Mayhem and Craig’s List. Model Mayhem is the place for all types of Models, Stylists, Makeup Artists and Photographers of all experience levels. Some of the work shown is closer to Playboy than Vogue but in amongst it all you can find some amazing talent.
Craig’s List on the other hand is really pretty trashy. It’s the online version of the newspaper classifieds, free and quite an eye opener if you’ve got the time to skim all the postings. If you’re looking for a Cross-dressing Mexican Midget who’ll juggle hotdogs whilst being sprayed with a hose, then this is where you’ll find them (and they’ll happily take that old sofa off your hands for payment).
So for me, wanting to stay on the more conservative side of those lines, I placed an ad on Model Mayhem looking for a Stylist to collaborate with. I had ideas but if experience has taught me anything it’s that a great photo starts with an amazing subject, and a stylist can make or break the shot.
I met up with a local Stylist called Loren who was also looking to update his portfolio and we started to throw around a few ideas. After some initial back and forth we formed a plan to shoot 5 models and a variety of looks in one massive day at an Aircraft Museum not far from LA.
It was great to make a connection with someone in the local industry, even just to learn the different words for things here. Sometimes I’d explain a concept or set up and they would have no idea what I was talking about because I said ‘final checks’ instead of ‘last looks’. Perhaps it’s just my accent, every time I introduce myself it’s like a scene from Flight Of The Concords (Brit? Brat? Broot? Brent?). I just agree to whatever they think my name is.
The best way to grow in a new city is to connect with people, and I’ve started down that road. I’m amazed at how friendly the locals are, how willing they are to engage and help. I’ve also noticed how chubby I’m getting, but part of me doesn’t care and just wants to keep inhaling those Turkey, Bacon, Cheese Toasties and Deep Fried Twinkies.
I think other parts of me will be having words with that first part in the near future.