You snap out of it. Your eyes blink and finally relax from their wide, fixated glaze. Suddenly, you hear all of the sounds that you didn’t realize you’ve been listening to this whole time. The murmur of everyone around you and the way their conversations collide together into one rambling noise. The scrape of a chair as it backs away from a table. The clink of a spoon onto a saucer. It was all an ambient hum. You realize how bad your posture has been for (at least) the last hour, and you’re certain the same Lumineers song has played at least three times. You sit up straight. The clack, clack, clack you hear from the espresso grinder and the hiss of the steam wand swirling the milk into a perfect, silky texture reminds you that you want another latté. After all, the one you ordered earlier has long since turned cold. You’ve been staring into the blue glow of your laptop screen for several hours, and the battery warning that appeared on your screen is the only thing that brought you back to reality.
Chances are, you know this scenario quite well. Most of us end up working in a cafe from time to time, if not regularly. For Los Angeles portrait photographer, Emilia Paré, local coffee shops are home to her behind-the-scenes work. When she’s not standing on the bluffs of Malibu, bending sunlight to her will, or finding beauty in the most unlikely of places, you’re likely to find her sitting among the rest of us, spending countless hours working out of her local cafe. In fact, she and I did so together when we lived in the same city. In that time, we stumbled upon a way to make the most of our workdays; for ourselves, and each other.
Even though our work is quite different, Emilia and I learned that, through supporting one another, we could be agents of growth and change. We had (what I call) a “Creative Co-workers” arrangement. She and I connected through video chat recently to discuss this and a variety of other interesting topics.
[Chris] How did you benefit from our support meetings?
[Emilia] I think that it was good just good to have the mental break. It’s so hard when you’re sitting and working by yourself, as a lot of us do all the time, and to be able to sit across from someone that you trust and get an honest opinion or feedback is so helpful. And motivating!
What elements (do you think) made it work well for the two of us?
The mutual understanding that we are both capable individuals and here to get shit done, but also being there to support one another if needed. We didn’t just coddle or baby one another, but we were there to work and give one another real and honest feedback when needed.
Knowing that you have this other person on your team is amazing, but there has to be the mutual understanding of the other person’s talents and abilities. You have to trust that [you are both] capable, and know that you’re there for support (not necessarily guidance). We are there for one another as a bounce-board. We bounce whatever shit we have off of one another, give opinions, and then it’s up to [each person] to do what they will with it.
Yeah, sometimes it was just about one of us needing to express something to someone we trust, and the trust was a huge thing! Often, once verbalized, the answer presented itself without any feedback at all.
Totally! You have to be open with one another! Sometimes verbalizing your thoughts just clicks the puzzle pieces together! It can be so jumbled in your head, and then as soon as you put it into a sentence, it’s like, “Oh Shit! I got it!”
You just gotta get it out! I think a lot of our job as creatives is to internalize things so that we can then turn it into our creative endeavors. You can get so used to that, keeping it all in your mind, that when you finally let something out it’s a huge relief!
Along with the openness, which is a prerequisite for a support relationship, I think that you also need the ability to give and receive constructive criticism. And when it is negative constructive criticism, not to take it personally.
Haha! Yeeaaaaahh. I’m bad at that. I feel like I’m getting better, but it’s still hard. As close [as we are] and as much as you and I have supported one another, you could tell me terrible shit, and it would be fine. But otherwise, as a creative, it can be so hard not to take things personally because everything you do is personal (for the most part).
Totally. And I believe that’s why openness is a prerequisite to artists being supportive of one another. Without the open understanding, you may take it personally because it’s art and art is personal.
It’s also okay, I think. Go ahead and take it personally for a minute. Let that shit sink in, but then you have to be able to pull yourself out of it and try to see it from the other person’s perspective. It’s okay if someone tells you that they don’t like your work. Art is subjective, and not everyone will love it.
It’s part of what makes it art, right? Not everyone is going to love, enjoy, or appreciate the same things in the same way.
What’s cool is that even when someone voices that they don’t like something, they are still inspired to think creatively. It’s a silver lining!
Absolutely! Even for myself, there is art that I genuinely appreciate but don’t like at all. It’s because it causes me to consider a different perspective over and over again, and I love that! It’s what makes art great to me; forcing my brain to see differently than it would on its own.
It’s likely that you occasionally work near (or with) other creatives. Find those that you believe you can establish a trusting relationship with, and discuss becoming dedicated work buddies. Actively setting intentions is what will make your partnership valuable.
When selecting your co-working location, consider places that offer ample table space and easy-to-access power supply. You might even want to consider investing in a dedicated co-working space together. If you’re going to work out of a cafe all day, support them with your purchases and always tip your barista!
Once you’ve formed your creative co-working group and have selected your working location, it’s important to do the following:
- Establish expectations: When (or before) you meet, establish what the workday will look like, and give yourselves a time limit for general conversation. I’ve found that it’s very helpful for each person to start the day by stating their end of day goal to the group.
- Stay on track: You are all there to work. Don’t allow yourself or your co-workers to succumb to long periods of procrastination.
- Trust your team: You and your co-workers have to trust one another. Working with others can be a lot of fun, but it won’t necessarily benefit you if you can’t say and hear things that may be difficult to process. Without trust and understanding, forming an honest feedback loop isn’t possible.
- Give and receive feedback: When receiving feedback, really listen and try to adopt their perspective. It’s okay to take it a little personally (art is personal!) just don’t let that get in the way of growth.
Your co-working workday may include:
- Portfolio reviews
- Input on final deliverables
- Giving and receiving constructive advice
- Sharing ideas and brainstorming
- General comradery
Why You Should Start a Creative Co-working Group
It can be tough to be a freelance creative alone. There are times when all the Googling in the world won’t deliver the answers you need. You may find yourself stuck in your head and stuck in stagnant cycles. You may even become self-burdened by procrastination or begin to feel lost. Having a dedicated person or group of people that you can trust and rely on to co-work with you can make a big difference. Sometimes, simply knowing that you’re not alone is all you need to keep going. Working with others will enable you to clarify your goals out loud and move toward them, surrounded by a support system.
Something else I’d like to get your perspective on is art and business. Even more specifically, what has that experience has been like for you as a woman in the industry?
As you were saying that, I immediately thought back to an email that I had to send yesterday that should have taken me 30 seconds and ended up taking 30 minutes. I just kept questioning myself, saying, “Can I send this?” [This was] all over changing a sentence that literally had nothing to do with the core reason for the email. Someone was offering to pay me way less than I needed (or wanted) for usage of an image. His email to me was straightforward, no emotion. So, why was it such a struggle for me to respond and ask for what I truly needed in the same straightforward way, without [thinking about] the fact that I’m a woman? In my response, I kept worrying that I may come off as weird or demanding, etc. It took me that half hour to say to myself, “fuck this,” then send what I needed to send.
That’s a big struggle for me, both as an artist and as a woman, asking for what I need or deserve. As a woman, there’s a mentality ingrained in you that you don’t even realize. A mindset that you are ‘less than,’ or [that you] can’t ask for things. Now, it is a social conversation that [people are having] and thinking about more. So why do I still feel like I have to say things in a certain way rather than just saying what I need or mean? It’s hard enough being a creative and a business person at the same time.
No one goes into creative freelance saying, “I can’t wait to do my taxes!”, “I can’t wait to do bookkeeping.” That is hard enough, especially in a field where the business side is changing so constantly and quickly that you’re always asking yourself how you’re going to keep up.
I don’t feel like I’ve ever quite been on top of all of that. To add to it, the feeling that I have to do things in a certain way or say things in a certain way as a woman is in my mind all the time. It’s so crazy!
It is. Especially considering that I know you to be a such a kind and thoughtful person that also won’t put up with shit. To me, that speaks even further to just how ingrained that mindset must be.
Yeah. You can think to yourself all day long, “It’s just an email. I’m not gonna take any shit, I’m just going to be straightforward”, and then when it comes down to the actual moment of doing it, it’s often a different story. I also can’t pretend that I don’t need anyone who wants to pay for my art; I need those people still. I’m still trying to pay bills and rent.
You know, you wanna be a boss. You wanna tell people what you need and what you’re worth, and then the moment comes down to it, and you say to yourself, “Well, you don’t wanna be a bitch.”
As a freelance creative, you have to be assertive (or worry about being assertive). You’re constantly working for new people and strangers, with the exception of repeat clients. You don’t have time to get comfortable with people. And people wonder why creatives are stressed out all the time!
Perception vs. reality can be crazy! If someone were to look at you, me, or any other professional’s online persona, they would naturally assume that we all have it figured out, at least to some degree.
Ha! Right! And in reality, I just spent my last $40 buying film for that shoot, and now I’ve got nothing for groceries! That’s the shit that people don’t see!
On that note, I want to back up a bit. Not long before we started the interview, you mentioned to me that you were about to start a new retail job. How do you feel about that?
My perspective of having a job outside of being a creative is changing. I just read “Big Magic” (like every other creative person I know). If you haven’t read it, you should!
You’ll probably be like me and think that the first half is total bullshit and wonder why people think it’s so magical. But then, I got to the point where Elizabeth (the author) started talking about side hustles. She wrote “Eat, Pray, Love” and other books while still working part-time jobs.
She asks, “Why are you putting so much pressure and stress on your creativity to pay the bills? Just go get a job!” She says it SO bluntly. “Just go get a fucking job to pay your bills and allow your creativity to be totally free of that pressure.”
We might not always think about it from that perspective; that we’re freeing our creativity up to be what it wants to be. We’re thinking that we’re a failure because we aren’t being paid and that a side job will take away all of our time in all these negative ways. I was totally doing that. I’m a very proud person. I say to myself, “I’m a photographer! That’s what I do! I’m not gonna go work at a fucking retail store!” Then, I read that book, and I realized how silly that was. I can just do the job and then have all of this other time to do whatever I want to do for my creativity, without the pressure of trying to pay the bills with it. Especially in Los Angeles! And even more especially now that there are “influencers” and everyone is a photographer; the value of the craft seems to keep going down, and people are getting paid less and less for their work while being asked to do more and more.
A side hustle can be kind of like a reset button. You get to make money, shut your brain off, and give yourself space to not worry about art (or whatever it is) and then you can go back into your creative endeavor totally free.
So that’s where I’m at, navigating that and feeling good about it. It still comes in waves of feeling excited about it vs. feeling obstructed by it, and I have to fight it off and remind myself that it will be good and help me.
Trying to turn your art into both your career and legacy at the same time; that’s immense pressure!
You posted a couple of weeks ago about some of these struggles; it was honest and vulnerable. Can you go into detail about that and your experience putting that out there?
I don’t share anything personal on social media, except sometimes I’ll post Cole and I’ll share Otto on Instagram. The most personal I usually get on social media is, “This is my boyfriend, and this is my cat.”
I did make those posts a couple of weeks ago, though, and voiced some frustrations. I said that I knew my work was good and getting better but was still having a difficult time finding jobs. [Then I] asked how others felt.
It was in my brain for so long, and I knew I wasn’t the only person thinking about it! I didn’t do it so I could get a pity party or anything, I just wanted to get it out of my brain and see what would happen. Right after posting it, I immediately felt weird. I wanted to delete it SO bad. SO BAD! So many things went through my head. Things like, “Are people going to think that I’m complaining?” or, “This is just too personal for the internet,” but I got the MOST responses from people saying that they felt the same way and that they were having the same experiences. It was such a relief to know I wasn’t alone. That was all I needed!
Let’s switch gears a little bit.
One of the things about your work that I find so unique and interesting is the way that you see light. Can you speak about your journey (from when you started shooting to now) and the way your perception of light has evolved?
When I was in photo school, Gregory Heisler, (who is great, both as a human and an artist!) was the artist in residence and did my portfolio review. The thing that always stuck in my mind from that was his comments about how well I used light. Back then, I lit everything using strobes and one or two softboxes. He also commented on how well I blended natural and artificial light. I loved doing that for so long, but eventually thought I should just try relying solely on natural light and learn how to use and shape what was already there. I found that WAY more exciting!
I see light all the time. It’s something I just notice now. I guess most photographers do that, depending on what you shoot. It becomes natural. I even keep an ongoing Lightroom catalog of light that I randomly see.
Now, I’m learning to embrace midday light more, especially while using a giant diffuser. For a while, I was only shooting either early in the morning or just before sunset. With the big diffuser, I can take this giant light and make it soft. Learning to mold sunlight has been so fun! You can only control it so much, but I like the challenge.
Yeah! I thought that may be a difficult question to ask just because we are all always looking out of our own eyes. Even still, I wanted to get your insight because you certainly see light uniquely, differently, even from most photographers.
It’s interesting, even between equally amazing photographers, how differently each person sees light. Some look at a space and see the light, and others look at the same space and see how they can change the light.
I also want to ask you about your relationship with film. You’ve shot Canon digital for as long as I’ve known you, and you also clearly have a love and admiration for film.
I don’t like digital right now; I’m having a moment. Film is what’s up. I was thinking about film while we were talking about using light. I think that because I’ve been shooting more and more film, it’s also changing how I see light — even more than before. I have to be much more intentional. I know that with my digital camera, I can push a tiny bit of light a long way. Film isn’t the same; I have to know the limitations. The way light translates onto film vs. a sensor is just totally different.
I really like when things box me in, though, and learning to be creative within that box. The main film camera I’ve been using (a Rollei 35 TE) has pretty limited settings, and you’re [basically] guessing with the focus. I’ve found that I only like to shoot one kind of black and white film (Delta 400) in it, so everything that I shoot with that camera is a little bit more limiting. It kind of forces me to do more with my subject rather than my surroundings.
I think that speaks to the natural honesty of your work.
Man. This has been great, but I want to do one more thing before we part. Let’s trade portraits!
Emilia and I were on a video chat, so I moved my computer around the room until she saw a spot she liked. Then, she posed me in the spot and took a photo of the screen (and of me). I did the same for her, making the image you see below.
You can find Emilia on Instagram at @emiliapare
and her website: