I started my career at a disadvantage, and it’s not that different from the majority of you. I didn’t have Hollywood connections, money, a connected family, and I didn’t have my rent and bills covered by my family. It wasn’t because they disapproved of me and my career choices. It’s because that’s the way life happened. We had bills more pressing than Walid’s Hollywood career.
The one thing I did have, which I consider more powerful than money or connections was my ability to tap into my instincts. To follow what was in my heart and not have a road map was my biggest weapon, along with the work ethic taught by my parents.
I did things because it felt right and I made decisions because something told me it was what I needed to do. I wrote emails and made calls based on “a feeling” that I should do it now vs. later and I bought a camera on a persisting feeling/voice that told me I should purchase a camera with my last money, even if it was all that I had left.
What I was doing was listening to my instincts, my gut feeling, sixth sense, my intuition, the universe, God, the light, or whatever you wish to label it. The label does not matter. When you don’t have many resources, you make the most of what is available at any given point. What was available to me is something we’re all born with, our instincts. It is this tool that society tries to suppress in a number of ways. Because I did subscribe to this thought process without knowing what it was, I saw the immediate effects. I happen to call someone “at the perfect time”. I emailed when they were in front of their computer, looking for a solution.
Am I psychic?! ABSOLUTELY NOT psychic and I’m not claiming this for the antagonists looking to discredit. Now that I’ve skimmed over my career trajectory, I don’t for one second want to discredit my talent, my family/friends, or any other source that aided me.
Well then how exactly did my career come to a halt? My career nearly ended because I bought into what society told us…worry about what THEY say, THEIR opinions, THEIR thoughts, and THEIR feelings before mine.
Around October 2015 I was still unpacking boxes in my new photography studio in Downtown Los Angeles. I was setting up a giant space by myself, 5000 sq ft. and felt defeated by what was 2015. Being that it was October and close to year’s end, I was thinking about what I worked on that year, where my career was going, and why I wasn’t getting the clients and work I sought out. What happened? What changed?
I realized that I was in a career rut because I stopped listening to ME. Wait, isn’t that how my career started? Isn’t that what helped with the trajectory? Yes, and somehow in the process I let things get to me because now there was an image to maintain. There was an agency that I needed to answer to, a portfolio that needed to book me jobs, to employ others, and it became a mess.
I permitted others to speak on my behalf and gave me career directions, but I was the one who booked the big campaigns. I did that, not them! Are they to blame? NOPE! I am to blame. Just as I take credit for my career highlights, I have to own the dark chapters also. I stopped listening to my instincts and I started listening to outside voices. Did the outside voices worry about my artistry and future or were they concerned about the immediate?
Walid can you be more cheerful? Walid can you shoot more “white people” and more commercially minded images? Can you stop making those grainy pictures? You’re so hard to market! You’re too fat right now, that’s why you’re not booking. Stop photographing urban artists and try to be more poppy in color. Stop shooting so moody. Could you maybe shoot someone at the beach, in a bikini? How about a pink background? Maybe you need to shoot more like this photographer. He books a lot, be more like him! You need to shoot influencers, they get lots of LIKES. It’s about social media. Buy fake followers, you need to bolster your numbers. You’re too urban. You’re not skinny enough. Shoot more studio! Shoot more outside! You shoot too many black artists, can you do my album packaging? You’re too old. You’re too young.
I became jack of all, master of none. I tried to please everyone. I was told to shoot slightly more colorful, less grainy, happier images. I tried it. The images were terrible. I was told that I’m “hard to market” and I should change but I booked a commercial for HP, so I was confused. Truth is, THEY didn’t know how to market me because I’ve been booked for years. Yet, I still listened to their toxic words and that is MY FAULT.
In essence, I became a luke warm mess. I was a little bit of everyone and everything but hardly anything of myself. What a disaster I created for myself! I was lost. The bookings stopped. Clients were upset. My work suffered. And I put my camera down for 8 MONTHS. I didn’t photograph anything, and the income stopped. Shamefully I will admit, I questioned if I was an artist anymore. Was I still good and relevant? Or did I have a good run, photograph the biggest stars in the world and now it’s game over. Was it time to retire the camera and look into getting an MBA and seek a “regular” job?
The result was opening a huge photography studio to rent as a location because I wasn’t shooting anymore and I no longer felt that I was an artist. It was miserable. I was miserable.
Now that you know the past, lets come back to October 2015. I was going through box after box setting up my studio while my mind wandered about life. I recalled having the DVD for “The Secret” and how useful it was. I also had the book somewhere but I needed quick infusion of energy, law of attraction and hope. I looked and looked, box after box, room after room. For nearly one week I combed the huge studio for the dvd of THE SECRET.
If I found it, I’d get the message needed to fix my career but I was unsuccessful in that attempt. After about 4-5 days of searching for this DVD,I stopped looking for it all together. I cannot recall a box or place that I hadn’t searched for this item. I resigned to the fact it might be a friend or family members house. I’ll just order one on Amazon and get to that once the boxes are cleaned up.
The day that I stopped the search, a friend of mine called me. He said “hey a friend of mine works for a company out of Arizona and she’s looking for a photographer for her boss. Mind if I share your contact info?” – Sure, I said. The following day, my phone rang and it was a woman by the name of Lisa. She said, “Hi Walid, this is Lisa. I’m Dustin’s friend and he shared your number with me. My client Bob Proctor needs new images and we love your work!”
MY INTERNAL DIALOGUE: BOB. PROCTOR. BOB PROCTOR from the THE SECRET. Bob Proctor from The Secret DVD, the man who teaches law of attraction? That Bob? THE Bob Proctor whose DVD I was searching for all week in my studio, is calling me? He knows who I am? He’s seen my work!?
Fast forward a couple of months and we have the photo shoot booked. I recall asking my producer, Matt to go all out. Spend a lot on catering and take from my pay if necessary. Get the nicest flowers! Get nice candles! Hire the nicest hair makeup artist who will cheer up the room! I was undeniably nervous about photographing Bob and his partner Sandy Gallagher (who is amazing also!).
In fact the week before I had photographed Jennifer Lopez for her Vegas Residency. Not to take anything away from Jennifer’s iconic career. Photographing JLO was incredible but I mentioned that for scale, to describe how nervous I was for Bob. I wasn’t even sure why I was nervous, just that something told me it would be a special moment in my career.
By now I’m simply excited that he wants me to photograph him. It doesn’t escape me that I was looking for his DVD all week, and then his office ends up reaching out to me. Already if the story ended there, I would categorize it as magical.
It didn’t stop there, thank God. Midway through our session, everyone was in their own corners. Nilo my hair & makeup artist took Sandy into the glam room. Bob was in the dressing room. Matt was in another corner working from his desk and Lisa from Bob’s team was on the couch. I was walking over to adjust my next setup. Completely unsolicited and unexpectedly, Bob walked up behind me and it happened. He put his arm around me and said:
“I’ve photographed with many people in my life. But you’re different, you’re not like any of the other ones I photographed with. You are an artist. I see the way you work and you really are an artist”
In one quick statement, he answered what was on my mind all year. The question I mulled over in bed and on drives, the question that kept me awake at night was answered. Just as quick as Bob’s statement was, that’s how fast I became light again and it felt as though 100 LBS was lifted off my chest.
I don’t think he knew the impact of his words. But from that moment on, my path changed again for the better. Sure bad things still happen but I’m talking about the overall path.
I felt a 100 pounds lighter and realized from that moment on I was not to concern myself with anyone’s opinion ever again. Because I permitted everyone to drive my life and cast their own doubts on me.I let it happen. I listened to all of them tell me I wasn’t good enough and I needed to change. That Walid is dead, he died January 2016. GOOD!
No matter how crazy they are, follow your instincts. Listen to them! Create your own style and own it, nobody can duplicate what you’re able to make. Stick to it, things go up and down for all of us. Just as listening to my instincts ignited my career, ignoring them nearly ended my career. You have a greater voice that you should practice listening to. Pay attention to the most successful people in history, they all preach the same.
How are things now? BETTER! We’re on the upswing and I couldn’t be more thankful! Careers do not turn around overnight. I spent the rest of 2016 and 2017 repairing what 1 year of self-doubt did. Do not make the same mistake as me and this advice retains its value no matter what professional field you’re considering.
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Originally published at howtophotograph.net