My background is in Interior Design and Project Management. Like so many people my age, I followed the “in-order-to-get-a-good-job-you-must-go-to-college” paradigm created by parents who did not have the opportunity for higher education, many of whom were struggling in blue collar jobs such as guidance counselors indoctrinated by an antiquated school system, and the school system itself formed by a culture created during the Industrial Revolution.
Suggestions for your area of study were predicated by the scores on your SATs, ACTs or ASVABs. Apparently, my mechanical scores on the ASVABs were quite high as I had the Army and Air Force calling me to become a heavy equipment mechanic. I can thank my dad for that skill.
So I did what every “smart” kid in our small town did, I went to college. I quickly found that my first declared major was looking at impending, debilitating cuts in funding over the upcoming three to four years. So, of course I sought counsel on what I should do. I was given the sagely advice to, “Declare a major in business. You can do so much with a business degree”. My first day at the business school indicated that everyone else thought so too. Classes were overcrowded, I didn’t particularly know what I was going to do with the degree, and I really didn’t like any of the courses. What I really wanted to do was something creative. But, “you can’t make a living being a creative”.
I floundered in this environment. So, I quit and went to work, married, had babies, got divorced, and struggled on an income barely suited for a single person. And was again faced with the “in-order-to-get-a-good-job-you-must-go-to-college” paradigm. But this time, I was going to do it on my terms. Or so I thought. “You are so creative, you should check out The Art Institute of Seattle”. And so, I did. I got my degree in Interior Design, started working for a retail fixture manufacturing company and somewhere along the line, I ended up being a project manager, “because you are good at it”. Now, if anyone has ever been a project manager, you understand that it is, mostly not very creative. It is a data-driven, glorified babysitting position on most days. I hated it. So, I turned to a favorite subject, food. I had heard about this thing on the World Wide Web (that is what it was called then) called a blog. You could make a recipe, take a picture of the dish, write something related to the dish, and post it. And so, I did. It served as my creative outlet.
As more and more people entered the food blogging space, I recalled a business class that focused on competition. I understood that in order to stand out in a highly saturated space, I needed to differentiate myself in some way. I decided that that way was to become a much better photographer. By chance, I was presented with the opportunity to attend a food photography course (I didn’t even know that was a thing at the time) being produced by a fairly new Seattle-based company. The company’s concept and model were met with much speculation and criticism. There were those that thought that giving away “trade secrets” was sacrilegious, and others that denounced the quality of this type of education. I didn’t care. I saw the opportunity to learn from an industry leader and I grabbed it. That was four years ago.
I learned that my passion lies in the visual storytelling aspect of photography. I crafted my own photography education. I continued to learn through online platforms, put myself in the same spaces with food photographers, signed up for workshops, and became part of food photographer communities.
I am now a working food photographer and I have a digital educational model that has disrupted the traditional educational paradigm, which in part I have to thank. There has not been another time in history where we have had real-time access to so many talented people from which to learn, connect, and become in community with as we have now. Our opportunities to reinvent our realities are supported by online learning platforms, social media, and communication systems.
If I have a technical question, the answer is truly a text away. If I am having a particularly challenging time with a client, advice and support is no further than a Facebook group. I am confident in adding a product or service to my menu because I have the ability to learn new skills conveniently. I am able to connect with people from around the world and not have to worry about long distance charges.
This digital world can sometimes feel oppressive and overwhelming, but it also has the ability to open up endless possibilities both professionally and personally. The world truly is our oyster.
Excerpted from the Spring 2017 edition of the IACP Digital Media newsletter. Read the full issue here.
Leigh Olson is a Seattle-based photographer specializing in food photography with a focus on cookbooks, editorial and branded imagery. She grew up in the Big Sky Country of Western Montana. She graduated from The Art Institute of Seattle with an Associates Degree in Interior Design. Her genius is in developing partnerships with her customers, exploring a project’s requirements, teasing out the ideal approach and delivering perfectly aligned, beautiful products. You can find information on Leigh’s business at Epicurean Creative.