New York City: 9 Years Later
My, how time flies. 9 years ago today, I moved to New York City from Los Angeles. I was 24 years old at the time and remember writing a blog post titled, “The 25th Year”. It was a post where I reflected on where I was in my life and career at the time. Since we’re approaching my 35th year, I figured it would be a nice time to reflect on my time in New York. My thoughts on the city, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. Perhaps this will help someone else make a decision if it’s the right city for them; especially for a photographer.
When I first made the decision to switch coasts and come to New York that was primarily based on a few positive experiences I had coming here doing client work and shooting for my portfolio. I loved the serious attitude everyone had. I really felt like my fellow artists keep abreast of all the things happening in the industry and pushed themselves by utilizing the newest techniques and some of their own that they’d created through hard work. Compared to Los Angeles, everyone was a lot more relaxed. Not lazy, mind you, but relaxed when it came to their career pursuits and how serious they took the industry. Consequently, I felt a bit out of place at times. Here I was sitting up every night to learn the latest techniques, look over my work critically to make improvements, and constantly try to refine my game. They, on the other hand, were just going through the motions. So I decided enough was enough and moved to New York.
On one hand, I think that was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career. On the other, perhaps my life would have been a lot easier and less stressful had I remained in LA. We’ll never know.
My Thoughts On The City
As is often said, New York is the greatest city in the world. There’s so much culture, attractions, entertainment, and food to discover it can be overwhelming. There’s literary something for everyone. If you’re an artist, there are entire communities built around even the most niche of art forms. Maybe you’re a finance person with a penchant for numbers? Wall Street is your friend. Athlete? Check out Chelsea Piers or run in many of the dozens of parks around the city. Heck, run IN the city in one of the many marathons that happen throughout the year. Politics? There’s a crowd for you. Religion? Yep. Sewing? Yep. On and on and on. It’s amazing at the sheer abundance, variety, and number of choices New York offers.
For a photography career, New York is also one of the best places to be. It’s ridiculously photographic and there are interesting people everywhere.
But be warned. The competition is fierce and new photographers are popping up all the time. When I first arrived I made a note of who were some of the top artists in my field. I believe the list was about 20-30 people I considered best of the best. Fast forward to now and that list has expanded with many of the old competition moving away or just switching careers entirely. At one point, there was another artist who was the talk of the town. Now, there’s a new guy. And there will be another this year. And the next. You have to remain diligent to your craft and adamant about running a sound business to keep a leg up on the competition and stay afloat.
And, to be honest, it’s less a competition against others than it is against yourself. With the number of distractions here, it can be hard to remain focused. Plus, the amount of competition can also seem overwhelming and discouraging at times. You may have been hot shit in your previous market, but here, no one cares. You’ll have to claw your way back up to the top. And not many can deal with this new reality.
Is it worth it?
If you love a challenge like me, absolutely. If you’d prefer a less stressful life, maybe New York isn’t the place for you.
My Thoughts On the Industry
The photography industry is great here. I’m a subway stop away from B&H and Adorama where I can get any equipment my hear desires. Rental stores are numerous and they stock the latest stuff. Many of the major photo expos, new releases, and events happen here so it’s easy to remain in the know. Additionally, the industry has a great relationship and history with the city so everyone’s used to seeing photographers or big production crews blocking off entire streets while they shoot the latest project. It’s easy to get permits and easy to get people excited about helping with a project whether it be getting access to a cool location or even finding talent. I doubt a project like 100 Faces would have been as successful in a smaller market such as Orlando or Atlanta. New Yorkers are also pretty chill with having their picture taken and I think the goodwill earned by the industry over the years has helped that tremendously.
On a more negative side, regarding peer relationships, it can be a crap shoot. I’ve seen makeup artists, hairstylists, stylists, and even models come and go. One year you’re working with a great team. The other year, you barely see each other. For a variety of reasons. At first, I thought maybe it was just me. But after speaking with some of my fellow photographers, they told similar stories. The nature of the industry is very much a “what can you do for me” sort of attitude versus a “how can I help you” one. I can’t tell you how many emails/dm’s I get from people wanting to “test” all the time.
“Love your work! Let’s shoot!”
“Hey Jamiya, I’m insert name. Love your work, let’s shoot some beauty!”
Bleh. It really gets annoying after a while. And add in a lot of flakiness from people and you’ll want to pull your hair out.
However, when someone is professional, sends me a link to their work and generally has a collaborative sort of attitude, I’m usually interested in linking up with them. I just prefer that people would be a bit more professional and appreciative in their approach. You got to bring more to the table than a spoon. Feel me?
What Has Sucked
The struggle, the mistakes, and all of the setbacks. Missing opportunities, wasting time on the wrong people/projects, and allowing myself to feel discouraged at times. The weather is awful during the winter months. Everything is expensive. I feel like I spend $20 every time I go out. The subway system is shit. Either trains are delayed, it smells like piss, or both. People are rude. New Yorkers swear they’re real, but they aren’t. Fight me. Ummm…not having a car. I love to drive so I really miss putting on some music and just going somewhere. The real estate market is a scam. Listings say, “Spacious apartment, lots of light!” and it’s a shoe box of a place. And the rents are astronomical for what you get unless you want to stay way uptown or on the outskirts away from the action.
Also, I’ve never been fond of the New York sun. Sunlight has a different quality to it depending on where you’re located on the Earth. There’s a reason the California light is so dang good and you see it used all the time in photographs and films. It’s probably the best light in the US. I miss that.
What Has Been Enjoyable
My neighborhood. I love SoHo. It’s expensive as hell, but in the Spring and Summer months there’s no where else I’d rather be. The solid friendships I’ve made. I’ve met a lot of flakey people over the years, but the ones that remain have been some of the best people I’ve ever come to know. Love them to death.
Perhaps the most enjoyable has been winning. Oh man, I don’t know if you’re into videogames, but trying to “make it happen” in New York is a lot like playing Dark Souls. There you are, thinking you have it made and have amassed quite a bit of success, then something happens that knocks you right back down. But when you win, there’s nothing like it. It’s like fighting a game boss over and over again, but that one time you play perfectly. Your reflexes are sharp. You dodge at the right moments. Your strategy is sound. Your health bar is low and it looks like you’ll get killed again. But you throw caution to the wind and launch one more attack. Down goes the boss and you jump up with your hands in triumph. It’s a lot like that! Such a wonderful high. Success doesn’t feel the same without some sort of resistance. New York offers such a strong resistance that when you do overcome the obstacles in your way, you can’t help but be impressed with yourself. And proud.
What I Would Have Done Differently
Invest more in education and growing my business than on equipment. Spend less time with unappreciative people. I would have shot more frequently and done more projects in those early days. I also would have spent more time outside exploring the city. And last, I would have been a lot more budget conscious. This place is expensive as is, so being mindful of your spending when you first get here can go a long way. Protip.
Where I’m At Now
I’m in a great place currently. I’m having a fairly successful career. I just had an editorial come out in Elle Indonesia. Had my first exhibition. Met some of my favorite celebrities (Charles Esten for the win). I currently have a booming side business shooting headshots and working on a variety of projects I’m excited about. I’m far less stressed and much more optimistic about the future. I finally feel like I have my head above water and ready to set sail. That’s pretty cool.
After all that above, I admit, I’ve been contemplating a move back to Los Angeles. Next year will mark 10 years in New York. I’ll be 35 years old which makes me wonder would I want to deal with New York at that point in my life. Unlike some, I love moving to new places. While this has been a great journey, I’m not sure if I’d want to remain here another 5-10 years ya know? It would be nice to have a change of scenery and focus on the next phase in my life. Maybe I’ll get married, have some kids. I’m not too keen about doing that here for a variety of reasons. And most importantly, I miss the California sun. I also miss getting in my car and going to the beach on weekends. The free spirited nature of the city, the food, and to a degree the people. That may be my next move. We’ll see.
In the immediate future, I’m working on more photography projects. I hope to do another photo exhibition in the fall, begin shooting a film project I’m excited about, and do more sensual, provocative photography. I want to really maximize this year in New York so when I reflect back next year, who knows, maybe I’ll be compelled to stay. Or at the very least, I’ll feel I left everything on the field. I gave it my all and can’t be disappointed with the way things turned out.
I’m not making any concrete plans at the moment regarding a move, so let’s see what the future holds.
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