Chris Crisman Photography

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We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

chris crisman studio manager meditation slowing down

Slowing down can be hard – very hard sometimes. There’s a certain pace at which we, and I’d hazard a guess, most freelancers in this industry function on that is best described as breakneck. It’s an easy groove to fall into and function in. Work begets more work and busyness begets even more busyness; similar to the snowball effect, things keep building and building, and when we’re hitting our stride the pace of work and life can be crazy.

More times than not, when an opportunity presents itself to slow down, it can be an opportunity missed. Sure you’ll take a day or two off from the grind, but will you actually unplug? The easy answer is no. I’ll be the first to admit to checking emails on vacation and thinking work-related thoughts al all hours of the day, night, and even when I’m supposed to be tuned out.

For me at least, this is why I’ve learned not to fear slowing down – it affords just a bit of time for a nice respite. A time to work not quite as hard as we normally do, and free up some energy to think and concept the next big idea – which will naturally function to ramp up the pace and get us right back to being as busy as ever.

Of course, working as a freelance ship in the vast sea of the photo industry, sometimes that slow period can feel like you’re taking on water. To keep with the boating analogy, in the past it was very hard for me to disassociate the idea of slowing down a bit with a total sinking of the proverbial ship. Yet inn the past few years – 2014 especially, I’ve also learned to embrace slowing down, even if only for a few days or a week. It’s just as natural as being incredibly busy.

Certainly you can’t stay stuck at one extreme or the other – the consequences of either aren’t healthy or livable for any extended period of time. There’s a balance to be struck in this life, and it is okay to accept slowing down as a small part of that balance.

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Four years in, it’s hard not to repeat the same adages about what being a studio manager entails; long hours, tons of work, odd hours, unique experiences, and tons of miles on the road. All of these are truths about this job, but in a way, they only scratch the surface of what it all entails.

Every year that passes by allows me to pause and think about where I was exactly a year ago writing this blog post. In this particular instance, I think I was on a plane, in transit to the next shoot; exactly where I am now. This moment also proves me with the transcendental pause to really reflect on what the past 365 days have afforded me in terms of what this job means and what I do.

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In a way, it’s like chasing a moving target. As soon as your skill set has you adequately equipped to handle any of the challenges on your plate, a curve-ball is thrown and you feel like you’re effectively back to square one. Granted this feeling only lasts for about 10 seconds (that’s all it is allowed to last for) but it still as the impact of pushing one out of their shell and forcing yourself to grow and evolve.

What I’ve really learned this year is about tearing down walls – it’s about taking care of whatever needs to get done regardless of wherever we are or whatever we’re doing. That may mean a lot more moments when I’m rushing off set to answer a phone call or reply to an email, but let’s be honest here, it’s the year 2014, what can’t be done when you’re shooting in the middle of goddamn nowhere or cruising down the highway at 85 mph in the vast expanse of nothing in southern Idaho.

In that same vein, I’ve learned that you can tear down the division between personal time and work in such a way that each facet is equally important and equally portioned in the much grander scheme of life – the result? A helluva lot less stress and the ability to afford more time to everything that’s not qualified as “studio managing” while still effectively steering the ship.

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I find humor in the fact that my easiest days are spent building out and breaking down a few octabanks, there’s a certain zen-like calm that comes over me while I’m immersed in our gear. This feeling may never change; the best days are still those when we’re making pictures, however they may come.

Here’s to all of those days that have come to pass and every single day in the future. I have no doubt there are countless more ahead.

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We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Way back in 2010, one of the first things I did as an assistant and studio manger working for Chris was promptly wreck my Achilles Tendon. Blame it on vanity, or maybe just purely on stupidity, and take my advice when I say to never assist in Sperry Top-Siders (they don’t make great shoes for hauling photo gear).  Months of physical therapy later, I was stuck per doctors orders, with sneakers for the rest of my photo assisting days. Since the wound was still tender, I rounded out the year of 2010 in a pair of very sporty and very lame running shoes.

2011 was a new year and I knew that it required a new beginning in the footwear department. The Crisman team had arranged for an awesome expedition down to Florida to shoot a self-funded and self-produced lifestyle project, and I felt this was the prime opportunity to break out a new set of sneakers – not just any trainers, these would be my assisting shoes. These would be the sneakers to take me to Florida and well beyond.

Enter the Saucony Bullet. Certainly an athletic shoe, but with a touch of modesty. Supportive yet stylist – these were my compromise between a sensible shoe that would protect my feet and a style conscious decision. Damaged Achilles or no, as an assistant you spend a lot of time on your feet – you might as well be comfortable.

Starting in 2011 and lasting well beyond their expected or reasonable lifetime, these shoes grew to be a part of my assistant kit. The first item packed into my travel bag, as time went on and they began to wear and tear, my connection with my sneakers grew ever fonder. Beyond any reasonable lifespan, I pressed onward, refusing to let these shoes go.

In my tenure on the Crisman crew, these shoes coincided with a clear shift in our process – for lack of a better explanation, we hit the road. From 2011 onward, my Saucony’s and I have logged hundreds of thousands of miles, spanning cities, states, and countries. We’ve hit the north, south, east, west – deserts, tropics, great plains, and everywhere in between. It’s hard not to grow attached to the well worn companion that you trust to get you from point A to B.

Two years is a long tenure for a shoe and by  the fall of 2013 I knew it was time. The tread was bare, the fabric was soiled, the seams were splitting – sadly it was time to retire my trusty pair of assistant shoes. At that point, there was only one solid option in my mind for a replacement; same shoe, new color.

Six months out on my replacement pair, I can’t help but looks towards the future. Where will these new soles take me? What adventures lie ahead for myself and my trustworthy trainers? Only time will tell.

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We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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Presence

Maybe I’m crazy, but more and more lately I feel like it is getting easier to lose oneself in the happenings of others. In other words, between all of the outlets on the internet and in social media, surfing, status updates, instragram photos, foursquare check-ins and tweets can infiltrate the day to day and fill in gaps in our daily to the point where the need to keep up-to-date digitally is outweighing what’s really happening around us. Photos and images play a huge part in this online sphere and being in this industry, we have a very deep connection to that content.

As creators of images, we make our living and we thrive creatively in the act of making, taking, and sharing pictures. On the best days at the job, we could be far from the studio, in an inspiring location working with special individuals to capture their spirit onto film. We are incredibly fortunate enough to travel far and wide all in the name of capturing images to be shared, sold, and disseminated to the population at large. A normal day at the office may take us to the wildest extremes of the earth, or in the company of celebrities, titans of business, or other equally awe-inspiring subjects. We are so fortunate to have access to this treasure trove of personal experiences – and to call it work – not to mention to be paid to have these experiences is a wonderful way to spend one’s days.

I can think of multiple times when I have been guilty of not being truly “in the moment” of the situations I’ve just described.  Is it more valuable to get the perfect instagram photo of an awe-inspiring landscape, or to just sit back for a moment and take in the view? This is something that I honestly am not sure of the answer. There’s certainly value in capturing and sharing the incredible experiences that this unique job affords us, but that process shouldn’t outweigh the inherent value of the experience.

The big question here is where does one draw the line? More specifically, where do we, as content creators draw that line? Should it fall in a different place than everyone else? Even though we derive value both in the inspirational and promotional sense from social media and all of these outlets for the dissemination of photography, are we allowed to fall victim to being sucked into it all too much? I’m sure that it varies from person to person, but more than ever for me it feels that the distinction between capturing a moment and being present for that moment is becoming blurred. In that sense, I am striving to remain present.

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We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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My Last Trip to Calumet

Earlier this month, I started off my morning in a fairly normal fashion: coffee, a quick breakfast, hopping in my car and stopping by Calumet on the way to the studio. We needed a few A clamps – nothing more, nothing less. In every respect, it was a perfectly normal trip. I browsed around for a few minutes looking for odds and ends, bullshitted appropriately with the employees, paid for our new A clamps and got on with the rest of my day.

A week later, Calumet filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy overnight and closed every single one of it’s US stores. Chris and I were in San Fransisco on a shoot when I woke up to the news – plastered all over Facebook and social networks that the longstanding photo supplier shut it’s doors without telling a single soul. Maybe it was the haze of jet lag or a slight hangover from the beer I’d consumed the night before, but I didn’t quite believe it. This couldn’t be – I was just there, I just bought A clamps, it was business as usual.

I made a few calls – first to the Philadelphia store; nothing. With no answer on that line, I made a call to one of the only people who I knew could give me a definitive answer. I dialed the cell number of one of our guys at the Philadelphia store. What I’d heard was confirmed – the news was not good, our conversation was short and I immediately realized the worst part of the situation. It wasn’t the equipment, it wasn’t the studio supplies, the rental gear, or any of the actual things Calumet sold. The worst part of this situation was the abrupt and unfair blow the company dealt to its employees.

This blog post goes out to those guys – I wont name names here, but you all know who you are.

Thank you. Thank you for that morning earlier this month when I came in, browsed around, bullshitted, and bought A clamps. Thank you for the years of great service and even better friendship. Thank you for putting up with all of the Crisman team’s craziness and requests. Thank you for everything, it won’t be forgotten.

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We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.

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I need to apologize. I need to apologize for being busy: too busy.

The new year started off with a bang, like a sprint off the starting block and truth be told, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to check off every box on my to-do list. When it comes to my responsibilities within our team, I spend a ton of time producing, coordinating, facilitating, and very generally speaking, making shit happen. When the dust settles at the end of the day and we take a breath and crack open a beer, there’s still a laundry list of tasks that vie for my attention. The honest truth is that my role and responsibility as part of this team changes every single day and I may wake up with one thought in my mind as to what needs to be accomplished only to be pulled in ten different directions to help put out ten different fires. It’s what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

This January in particular has been a whirlwind. We’ve been across the country on advertising and editorial shoots, quickly checking-in at home base in Philadelphia before heading back out on the next adventure. The past few weeks have taken us from Philadelphia to Califorinia, Florida (twice), Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi, and NYC. It’s an incredible feeling to be working this hard – but there are a few drawbacks and inevitably things fall through the cracks, like this blog.

This is where I need to apologize. I’m sorry for being too busy to keep us all on track here. Ideally we like to share at least one or two posts a week – something that I’ve been missing the mark on. Moving forward, we’ll all be doing our best to post more regularly and share as much as we can. Whether it’s new personal work, advertising campaigns, editorial assignments, or just some of the randomness that we deem worthy of the internet, we’ll do our best to keep it up.

So I, and much more importantly, we – embrace the busyness. It’s fuel for the fire. All we ask is a bit of understanding for the situation: we’ll share when we can, as often as we can, and when we can’t, we’ll do our best to save those stories for next time.

In the meantime, the best way to keep up with Team Crisman is through the lens of our iPhones and via 140 characters at a time:

Chris:

www.twitter.com/crismanphoto

www.instagram.com/crismanphoto

Robert:

www.twitter.com/robertluessen

www.instagram.com/robertluessen

Jared:

www.instagram.com/jaredcastaldi

David:

www.instagram.com/dohl67

2014 is shaping up to be a great year and we’ll keep on sharing our unique take on this crazy world. The blog may evolve and change as we grow, but rest assured we’re committed to everyone out there and offering up more of the projects, photos, behind the scenes, and thoughts that we encounter on the daily.

Thank you.

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chris crisman three years studio manager robert luessen

Taking a moment in our hectic schedule to stop, breathe, and reflect – I have to ask myself the question, what have I been doing for the past three years? The pace of what we do and the pace of my life doesn’t exactly allow much time for reflection, but as I’m sitting here on a tiny airplane next to Chris, in flight to Milwaukee, Wisconsin I’m forcing myself to stop, tune out and think about what this job entails.

I should mention that on a personal note, this three year “workiversary” coincides with an equally significant occasion; I’ll be turning 25 years old next week (no gifts necessary). With a rapidly upcoming quarter century under my feet, I can’t help but look backwards at the path my life has taken and simultaneously peer into the vast, wonderful uncertainty of the future. Of course, I could really be over thinking all of this and should just shut up and enjoy a piece of birthday cake and a tall glass of scotch next week to celebrate my birth. Either way, I’ve spent a lot of the last three years working – and I don’t often stop to think about it all.

chris crisman three years studio manager robert luessen

I find myself constantly remarking to acquaintances, friends, and family that I enjoy this job because “every day is different from the next.” Sparing the trite overtones of my phrasing, I can’t help but think that statement is true; proven truer and truer every day that I come in for work. The variety of photo-shoots and studio days aside, I’m finding that these days my plate stays full and my to-do list grows at a pace that outstrips the paper I’m writing it down on.This is a good thing. Specific to the last 365 days on the Crisman team, I’ve found myself digging deeper and growing skill sets that the greenhorn studio manager of a few years ago had no idea he’d be working on.

chris crisman three years studio manager robert luessen

The days, weeks, and months of the past year have truly flown by – whether it’s working on production in the studio while Chris is halfway across the country making photos, managing our ever-expanding archive of pictures, standing in for a light test for Sir Richard Branson, working feverishly on invoices and paperwork from an airport lounge, or carrying around generators and octabanks in a freak Arizona snowfall. Whatever the task, I don’t say no. If it needs to happen, we make it happen.

chris crisman three years studio manager robert luessen

Particularly in the last year, the notion of “we” has been evolving as well. The Crisman team keeps growing, adding talented assistants, photographers, stylists, producers, and friends to our rooster. Certainly we have a few core members that help us hold down the fort in Philadelphia, but we’re always trying to meet new faces and work with old friends and new in every city that we visit. In my opinion, quality begets quality and I can sleep a bit easier at night knowing the people we’re working with realize the value of hard work and are committed to making it happen.

chris crisman three years studio manager robert luessen

All of the dovetailed thoughts and ramblings aside, I keep coming back to my initial question: what have I been doing for the last three years?

I’ve been working my ass off – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been lucky enough to have three years of learning, three years of laughs, three years of new experiences and three years of enjoying coming in to work each day. Thank you to everyone along the way.

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