New York City inspires me. When I am here, anything feels possible. And I meet the most intriguing people. Whenever I start to doubt my goals, or lose sight of the future I want for myself, I come to New York. And, just like that, the spark returns.
In four years, I will leave my teaching career. With 25 years of service behind me, I will begin the second half of my life. A half dedicated to myself and to my passions: writing, photography, and travel. I hope to package myself for freelance work, but hopes are one thing. Reality is another.
So, this trip entailed touching base with a freelancing friend for coffee and advice. I also met a new friend, an expert photographer, in my quest to truly know what the freelance life entails.
I’ve been friends with Koen Blanquart for about a year now. He is the most resourceful and inspiring adventurer I know. Years ago, he quit his lucrative technology job, and decided to live a life most only dream of. A mix of photographer, videographer, documentarian, motivational speaker, and adventurer, Koen has done more in one year than most have done in a lifetime. He has photographed whale sharks while diving in Thailand, hopped the Trans-Sinerian railroad in Russia, and sailed to Antarctica to complete a book and photography assignment. In the past months, he has crossed the world multiple times over. From Paris, to Brussels, to Amsterdam, to Mongolia, to Bangkok, to Vietnam, to Costa Rica and back. He is a voracious traveler and lover of life.
I am fascinated by his drive, and his ability to finance his adventures. He creates his art, whether via video or photography, as he travels. He is a digital nomad, truly experiencing all that this wonderful world has to offer.
As exotic and lovely as it all sounds, the freelance life is not an easy one. Talking with Koen yesterday, it was clear that there is palpable risk involved when one chooses the freelance life. Flights are cancelled, hotel bookings fall through, illness happens (and never at a convenient time or place) and nothing is predictable.
If I plan to achieve my dream, I must conquer my fear of being out of control. Of letting life unfold around me. Of not having all the answers. Of not having my next steps planned out. It is both an exhilarating and terrifying thought. But Koen has inspired me, and has taught me to stop saying ‘if’ when I should be saying ‘when.’
Stefano Giovannini is a freelance photographer that I have been following online for years. He captures the soul of everyday (and some not-so-everyday) people with his lens. He is vastly talented, and I was honored to shadow him while he worked. It was an experience that showed me the reality of a freelance life. His phone constantly buzzed, with spur of the moment assignments, feedback from successful shoots, and upcoming meetings and opportunities. Flexibility, availability, and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the perfect shot are mandatory in this career. Stefano exhibits all these things with an ease and a passion that is second nature.
Carrying multiple camera bags, umbrellas, and cameras across his chest and shoulders, he crossed from Brooklyn, to South Slope, to Flatbush, to Manhattan. He captured the closing of a refrigerator business in Brooklyn, belonging to two 90-year old brothers: Jack and Roy. He listened with earnest to their stories of World War II, viewed their pictures of the Brooklyn of years past, and the photos of them squeezed between beautiful USO girls in Japan. He captured, via his camera lens, their history, their heartbreaks, their pride. He captured decades of living in their faces and in their eyes.b
Later that evening, in Park Slope, he worked a tasting event featuring local eateries, coffee shops and bars. Even though this assignment wasn’t as prestigious as past assignments (like his work featuring celebrities and the wealthy elite of the city) he treated each business owner with the same reverence and respect he might have offered to past subjects like Beyonce, Martha Stewart or Mayor Bloomberg. He was able to put them at ease, elicit a natural pose, and pull from them the spark that shines through in each of his photos.
Watching Stefano, it was clear that if one wants to live a freelance life, one must be willing to dedicate every waking moment to the pursuit. Stefano never leaves home without a camera. He is perpetually looking for shots, documenting life as it unfolds around him. His camera is an extension of him, an appendage of his art.
I am grateful for my NYC experience, shadowing and meeting with two people making a living out of their dreams, out of their passions, and out of their talents. I will leave this city more inspired than when I arrived.
Thinking of, not if, but when……