Black Mesa is a 22 year old recent graduate from the University of Iowa in cinema just trying to figure life out. He is originally from the East Bay Area in California and his photographs convey a unique sense of skill based upon gritty urban architecture. Black Mesa plans to move back to the Bay Area to figure out what he can do with his extensive skill in photography while being in the comforts of home. However, he does not plan to stay in the Bay Area for an extended period of time as he would eventually like to move to Chicago to be in a new terrain to satisfy his photographic needs. Being in Iowa seems to have bored him and he is ready for a large move.
In your own words what do you do?
I mean, I guess I just take photos man. I’ve never really considered myself a photographer of sorts, I just like exploring places. Seeing cool stuff, capturing the memory. It gives me more of an incentive to go sightseeing and do things that I wouldn’t usually be comfortable with.
What led you to your current business?
I don’t have a business. I’m strictly freelance. I had a business with my friend Danny a few years ago where we got everything we needed to start our own photography studio including a location. It sucked. Doing work for other people so we can take photographs of their children for a quick buck isn’t really what I’m into it for. I want to shoot what I want to shoot, not help other people with their family portraits on a regular basis. It just felt really boring and at times I’d go as far as saying it was demeaning. Shooting some weddings or events people were literally like, “hey cameraman, come here!” They didn’t quite treat me like I was human rather than a robot. Did the patrons of this event realize that I have been planning for this particular event for weeks? I don’t need you to tell me where I’m going to be. You hired me to do a job, let me do my job. One time a family didn’t pay me for an entire month after I had already delivered their photographs, then also paid me $150 short. After an unfathomable amount of times of terrible experiences, I just said fuck this to doing gigs for other people. I love photography but this is ruining it for me and if I don’t love doing something, I should step away. Right after I went back to shooting the landscapes that I love, everything seemed to go back to normal.
Could you walk us through your process of developing your photography?
It was all about trying new things. I’m a big believer that the only way to truly learn is through trial and error. Failing repeatedly made me realize what I did wrong and develop new tactics to combat them. I just kept falling down and tried to find the most efficient way to get back up. It ended up working out for the development of my photographic style and it is a tactic I still use today. Making mistakes is an amazing strategy as long as you don’t repeat them. Being comfortable just isn’t something I feel is beneficial to the development process. Feel free to fail to learn.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties in the beginning?
When I started, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I couldn’t figure out settings or anything, I felt quite frustrated a majority of the time because I always knew what I wanted my photographs to look like but I couldn’t achieve that look. The frustration never seems to go away because it’s all about getting better. It isn’t if I’m satisfied with a picture today, it’s about never being satisfied with anything at all. If I went to the same spot tomorrow at the same timing with the same lighting conditions, could I create a better photograph? I’ll always think that I’m not performing the way that I would like to.
What is your long term plan?
Move to Chicago/New York/Boston. Something of the sort, I’m kind of over California. It’s a giant tech bubble that seems to be losing character by the day. Soon, there’s going to be nothing gritty left to take pictures of and nowhere left affordable to live. I want to live somewhere where I can enjoy the environment, I don’t need much to get by financially. Maybe film a screenplay I’ve written if I’m lucky. I don’t know man, I kind of take life one step at a time.
Could you share with us some industry insights?
Just try it. Seriously, pick up the phone and call that person that you’d like to shoot with. Email whoever the hell you can if you want to be there. If 1000 people say no, 1 person might say yes. Don’t be scared to dive headfirst into something, people seem to be intimidated by this because they’re afraid of what other people will think. I know, it’s nerve wracking but just do it! If someone ridicules you for trying, did you really want to work with them anyway?
What are some important lessons you’ve learnt about entrepreneurship?
Manage your funds, sit there til the job is done. I’ve messed up on those so many times. Recently, I just released a photography book that took me forever to finish because the times where I was on a roll, I’d get lazy and stop working for a bit. It took me a long time to build up the willpower to finish it again. Then, I didn’t properly manage my funds so printing became a bit of a hassle.
Any tips for achieving success?
I think I’ve had few moments of success but I don’t consider myself successful. I don’t think anybody should. Some people like to hang their hat up high when they get a significant achievement, which is fine for a brief period of time. After all, it’s good to celebrate and reward yourself for your hard work. However, getting caught in a phase of feeling success is ridiculous. It creates complacency and complacency leads to incompetence. Think about it this way, hypothetically if I won an academy award for a movie I made 5 years ago, that would be good right? Now if I never made another good movie for 5 years but kept talking about the academy award that I once won, what would that be? It would be pathetic.