WHAT DO YOU DO?
Professionally, I am freelancing as a content creator, web designer, & portrait photographer. Personally, I am exploring queerness & masculinity through several photo projects.
WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
I’ve always been creative & interested in photography, but for most of my life my main interest was film. I studied film at Emerson College but as time went on, I became more & more involved in one of our school’s magazines. I then got an internship at Boston Magazine & it completely blew my mind. I realized how much you could do within the creative field, which was so exciting. So I graduated college, packed everything I owned into trash bags & moved to New York.
I was so intent on working for a magazine I had a meeting with Condé Nast’s Head of Digital & told him not only was I ready to work for him, I was ready to take a Photo Editor position that just opened up. It was cute but very humbling. However, that naivety kept me from giving up & eventually, accidentally, ended up at Ann Taylor. I thought I was interviewing for a job in the photo department but during my final round of interviews realized it was a jr. graphic designer position. I said my strongest assets were my age (21) & how little risk I was because of that. I ended up getting the job in the digital department but quickly gained notoriety for my Photoshop & retouching skills. Eventually I was moved up to the photo team where I was a photo producer, overseeing all retouching & producing still life shoots. I was euphoric. But at the same time, living in New York was difficult. I missed being surrounded by green & rarely felt safe, so after a year there, I moved to Los Angeles. While searching for my next job, I took up a few freelancing gigs to pay rent & 2 years later, I’ve landed several long-term clients & have become full-time freelance.
How do you stand out in your field?
My background is a bit all over the place & I think for content creation, that’s sort of the dream. It took me a while to realize how much clients appreciate that I can do video or editing or illustration. I’m scrappy! I’m also very honest & stay pretty calm. I think a lot of it also comes from working client-side. I understand that, while aesthetic is great, the ultimate end goal is to sell a product or promote a brand, so I make sure that’s never lost in the work. A lot of the brands I work with are also just starting out & a little unsure of how to create their brand identity through social media, which is something I’m good at, so I think there’s also a level of comfort in working with me. I don’t believe in shooting stuff for the sake of having it- every shot/asset has to serve a brand goal otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
Professionally- I’m doing primarily product photography right now for a couple beauty & food companies. I’m also working on a couple websites for some companies, which is stressful but nice. I’m also trying to find more clients to work with, particularly fashion brands as it would allow for a nice blend of product & portrait photography.
Personally- a series called “duende” that highlights the performative nature of masculinity through a queer lens. Another big thing is trying to get my work off Instagram more, whether it be through magazines, websites, etc. And also learning illustration! I’m not great at it but god I love it.
WHAT'S YOUR STYLE/PERSPECTIVE/TASTE? DO YOU HAVE A PROJECT THAT REPRESENTS THIS?
Even though I’ve been doing photo professionally for a few years, I feel like I’m barely figuring out my style. In mood & color, I’m heavily inspired by sad, moody music & melodramatic movies. I’m also fascinated with memory & nostalgia. Someone once said my work felt like a bittersweet daydream & honestly, very accurate! In regards to subject, I’m queer & brown & like to photograph to people who feel like me. Growing up as a double minority always felt like growing up in the center section of a Venn Diagram.
It oftentimes felt like a battle between identities & I realized a lot of portraiture mirrored this. I saw so much work that showed men as being either very soft or hypermasculine. So a big personal focus has been finding that center section with subjects & visualizing it. Whether it be a balance between masculinity & femininity or queerness & ethnicity or a mix of all those things, I work really hard to show & celebrate people as they are. Whether that takes 30 minutes or 3 hours, I try to make sure that once the shoot’s over, I have at least one photo that speaks to the subject’s character & identity. But like I said, still figuring everything out so this could all change.
WE ALL HAVE MULTIPLE SKILLS OR WORK IN VARIOUS INDUSTRIES, WHICH ONE DO YOU WISH YOU COULD FOCUS ON MORE?
Definitely a 50/50 situation with illustration & networking. I create a lot of GIFs & stickers for brands & knowing more about digital illustration would be so helpful. Skillshare & Youtube tutorials have become my bible at this point. I’m also severely INTJ, so networking is so not something I am innately comfortable with. More often than not, I will need an hour or so after a portrait session to collect myself. I feel like if I were better at being social, I’d make connections more frequently that could lead to jobs or friends or connects.
WHAT IS FRUSTRATING YOU RIGHT NOW?
1. Taxes. Honestly how does that work when you’re freelance?
Sharing/getting work. Do I find an agency? Do I do an exhibit? Is Instagram good? Is Instagram ruining me?
2. Holier-than-thou criticism. I see so many people shaming content creation & some of it, honestly I get. It’s a job not a personality. But it’s also a job! Stop criticizing people for being creative & making money! And film photographers- it is so cool that you shoot on film, truly it is an art. But a lot of people can’t afford to shoot on film, whether it be for budgetary or time constraints. So stop shaming digital photographers! Not all of us are slapping Lightroom filters on our work & calling it a day.
3. Creative growth. Am I improving? If someone wants to severely critique everything I’ve done, that would be great.
IF YOU COULD HIRE SOMEONE FOR $20/HR, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE THEM DO TO MAKE YOUR DAY EASIER?
Honestly, a web designer to create my portfolio. I love design, I love photography, I love curating my portfolio, but I truly cannot seem to create a portfolio for myself. I know it’s fine but every few months I can’t help myself from completely destroying & reworking my site, so if I could find someone to take care of that for me, that would be great. Either that or someone to like, book me jobs. I’m tired of slipping into DMs. So like an agency, basically.
LET'S BRING OUT THE TIME MACHINE. WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE TOLD YOURSELF, WHEN, AND WHY?
I actually think about this/time almost daily, & one thing I really wish I could tell my younger self that everything isn’t so black & white, & that not getting into USC’s film program isn’t the end all be all path to success. I grew up going to a private Catholic school (lol) & they strongly fed us all the idea that ending up at a name brand university (USC, USC, LMU, etc.) was the goal, & from there you would get a job & work your way up. I so wish I could go back & tell young little Chris about art schools, portfolio schools, advertising, brand films, content creation, etc. so that I could have entered college with a stronger understanding of what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to create from a directorial position, which to me meant, film director. What I didn’t know is that that role exists in a multitude of ways, from art director to creative director, etc. I’m still happy I went to Emerson & I’m grateful for my background in film & marketing, because that background in constructing a narrative, translating an idea, selling emotion, etc. has really fed into my work as photographer & graphic designer or whatever I am, but I think I would have felt less of a crisis my freshman year. And at one point I think I’d like to try to get back into creating video content, whether it be video portraits or brand films or music videos. But to know I had options & to know that college is so not a stamp but a place to learn & grow, that would have been really great.
IF YOU COULD TALK TO AN EXPERT TO GAIN MORE INSIGHT ON SOMETHING, WHAT WOULD IT BE ABOUT?
If there was an expert that had a crash course in the business side of being freelance, that would be amazing. Like, is everyone else figuring it out as they go? How do they do their taxes? Or handle healthcare? How do you sort out rates? What other things do I not know? Anyway I can’t express how little I know about what I’m doing, where I’m going, & what the end goal is.
But I think that’s also the point. I could never handle a job where I plop myself at a desk & park it there for 30 years. I love making the rules as I go. But a little guidance would be much, much appreciated.
WHAT KIND OF OPPORTUNITIES/PROJECTS ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
I’d love to start shooting more lifestyle content for brands, merging my passion for content creation with portraiture. Working with a clothing brand would be so fun. I’ve also been wanting to collaborate more with musicians & non-photo artists (dancers, painters, illustrators, etc.), because I think fusing two very different things into one is just fascinating. And, like I said earlier, getting my work seen outside of Instagram is a big goal for this year.
DESCRIBE YOUR IDEAL JOB/CLIENT/COLLABORATION.
Creatively: ROSALÍA. LEÓN. Perfume Genius. King Princess. Josef Salvat. Any of them, all of them, their styles are just so unique & dumbfoundingly stunning.
Professionally: Shhhowercap. Boy Smells. Hims. Netflix. Nike.
WHAT IS YOUR HOURLY RATE, RETAINER, OR SALARY RANGE?
I love that this is a question. I know we’re supposed to say we’re flexible & whatever, but we need to know what we can/should charge. It can be uncomfortable but in the long run it protects us from being taken advantage of. If people keep lowering their rates & shooting for free, designing for free, then that becomes the expectation. Anyway, rant aside, I’m obviously flexible & happy to work within budgets but my base rate is $40 an hour for design/retouching unless it’s a long-term project, then rate is negotiable.
Photo: $300 per project, which includes my time as well as retouched photos. I’m also on retainer for a few clients, pricing varies from $100 to $150 a week depending on how many assets they need weekly/what kind of assets they need.
Design: $1,000 per site starting rate. Additional fees for eCommerce, coding, photoshoots, & updates.
WHO IS A CREATIVE THAT HAS HELPED YOU ELEVATE YOUR WORK?
Haley Hancock is my go-to stylist. She’s absolutely brilliant. Haley has such a unique & specific eye. Every shoot I’m just in shock. Work with her! I’m also such a severe introvert & she’s so good at pulling me out of my head & making the set a comfortable place for everyone.
Lindsey McFadden & I rebranded a magazine in college together & still work on things together when we can (she’s in NY). Mostly, though, we send our websites to each other every few months for critique.
HOW SHOULD SOMEONE APPROACH YOU ABOUT WORKING TOGETHER?
DM me on Instagram or email me!
HOW DO YOU STAY CREATIVE?
Put your phone down, remember something old, try something new.
This member profile was originally published in March 2019.