Making Art with a Water Gun

The story began in 2010.

I was a 22 year old college undergrad with zero career prospects, no car, and two parakeets I literally couldn't afford to feed. I was surviving on two tablespoons of peanut butter for breakfast and for dinner, ramen infused with tuna chunks and soy sauce. 

It wasn't a very glamourous lifestyle. I wasn't doing too well financially and the $6.75/hr job I had at the bookstore didn't exactly afford me good wiggle room for monthly groceries (which I needed) and the Ferrari I've always wanted (but didn't need). 

Why ask for a camera when my food pantry was empty? I'm not exactly sure.

Priorities, I guess.

Image by Premkudva, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I got my first camera in 2010. A wonderful friend bought it for me because I had kept complaining about how expensive these damn cameras were and she wanted me to stop complaining.

The camera she got me was the Nikon D80, which was good enough for sunshine and trees but not good enough for...well, candles and bees, if that makes sense. It didn't handle low light situations well and focusing on that thing made my head explode.

Still lost? Here's a better analogy: the D80 is a water gun in a room of rocket launchers and anthrax

HOWEVER, Wesker (aka my D80) was my first camera and a divine creed from the art gods to make things, to make the art I had constantly seen in my own head yet had not the resources to do so.

And art I did. Or at least tried to do.

I shot things up close, like this.

Note the color contrast.

Note the color contrast.

And other things far away like this.

And then I shot my friends doing weird things, like this.

The kid in the graduation photo is actually my brother, circa 1988. He's 32 now.

The kid in the graduation photo is actually my brother, circa 1988. He's 32 now.

Most of my first shots were in the spirit of good fun and curiosity. I hadn't really thought of becoming a professional until the actual inquiries started coming in. "Hey dude! Nice camera! Can you shoot my party!?" "Hello friend! Do you do headshots?"

The post-grad failure in me finally felt needed. Valued.

And so, with little to no business skills starting out, I fumbled most of my gigs terribly. The first prospective wedding client who came to me asked if I could shoot "lowlight." Meaning, did I have the pro-level gear needed to shoot in places like churches or receptions halls.

(Spoiler alert: I didn't.)

My earliest attempts at lowlight photography. Note how low the lowlight is.

Fearing that I didn't have the capabilities nor equipment to shoot in dark places like churches and weddings, I remember dodging the question entirely with a surprisingly stupid response. It went something like:

"Yes, I mean, if you're asking if I can still take pictures in the dark, then yes, my camera can do that. It's battery powered, not solar-powered, sir."

...sure enough, that A-level salesmanship didn't get me the wedding gig.

At the time, I hadn't yet solidified my business model nor attracted the stream of clients needed to run a media operation safely. I still hadn't found work, or at least good-enough work to both cover student loan payments and general amenities, so with no credit and no money to further upgrade, I did what any stubborn artist would do.

I made my own gear.

Here's the makeshift light I made out of PVC pipes and light bulbs from Home Depot.

Here's that lamp in action.

Here's BOTH me AND that lamp in action.

My good friend and colleague Adrian is holding a bootleg color checker I printed out for my first several shoots in the field.

Yes, it worked.

Yes, it worked.

And these are pictures of my friends wearing cereal boxes on their heads.

Don't ask.

It's been about five years since I picked up my first camera. I still look back fondly at these days because they were formative learning experiences in both learning good technique and just getting out there to shoot. The same curiosity I had early on is still alive, flowing through these veins like electricity through wire.

Safe to say, I don't build rigs with PVC pipes anymore and I've long since upgraded my camera and lenses, but I'm forever humbled by the journey that has gotten me to where I am. I haven't forgotten how hard I've worked to get here, and I know there's more work to be done for as long as I keep making things.

Pictured: The ever so talented graphic artist Aishazamm and, right Annpanic to whom I owe my gateway drug into the art high.

Pictured: The ever so talented graphic artist Aishazamm and, right Annpanic to whom I owe my gateway drug into the art high.

This post is dedicated to the friends who have helped me endure the growing pains of learning a new craft. 

To the colleagues who have lent me equipment time and again, to the fans who have believed in my crazy visions since day one.

To the haters who said "I couldn't take a good picture" when I first started out... you were actually right. Thank you for the constructive criticism.

But most importantly, this inaugural post is dedicated to the dreamers who love to make things but don't think they have the means to do so.  Because, spoiler alert: you do.

Find a way. Dig a path. Don't stop creating. Fire that water gun.


(...and if all else fails, annoy rich people.)