Photography Spotlight: Connor Feimster

Hello, everyone! We have been making a conscious effort to increase the number of interviews and photo-related posts we feature on our blog, and today we’re given the rare opportunity to deliver on both fronts. We told you last week about a young man who has joined us in our efforts to better educate the future photographers of music, and today you will learn his story.

This blog exists to promote the future of the entertainment industry, and to do that we need input from people like you and your entertainment-loving friends. If you have any questions about the content in this article, or if you have an artist you would like to see featured on this blog, please contact james@haulix.com. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

I have lost count of how many times we’ve said something like this in the past, but there is no one living today with the power to do more for your career in music than you. There may have been a time decades ago when someone with a lot of talent and passion would be given an opportunity to prove themselves in the business simply because they were looking to work and willing to complete tasks for very little pay, but those days are long gone. We’re well beyond the saturation point for music industry employment, and the demand for jobs, as well as unpaid roles like internships, is at an all time high. If you want to stand out from the thousands screaming for attention around the globe, you need to take it upon yourself to get your name in work in front of people with the ability to help you along. Then and only then will you begin to climb the numerous rungs on the ladder to music industry success. You’ll probably fall down a time or two as well, but hey – that’s life.

Connor Feimster is one of countless young people currently trying to navigate the often tricky waters of professional music photography. He’s a frequent contributor to Mind Equals Blown and, as we teased in the introduction, he recently came on board to aide us in further educating others interested in music photography. I didn’t know who Connor was a few months back, but he took it upon himself to make an introduction, and then did so a second time for the sole purpose of potentially appearing on this blog. Drive like that may come across as annoying to some, but as a person who still feels they must fight for any semblance of acceptance/relevance in the music business today I completely understand where Connor is coming from. I’m there too. Some people know my name and sure, I’ve made strong connections with important people, but every day I wake and battle with an internal voice that tells me I am not where I need to be yet. There is still another article to create, another hand to shake, and another email to send. Connor isn’t where he wants to be yet either, but as you will soon learn he’s working incredibly hard to get ahead.

If you would like to learn more about Connor and his ongoing adventures in music, please be sure to follow him, as well as Mind Equals Blown, on Twitter. Additional questions and comments should be left at the end of this post.

H: Hey there, Connor. Thank you for finding time to speak with us about your work. How is the week treating you thus far?

C: Thanks for having me! I just got to shoot Anberlin for the first and last time last night, so my emotions are all over the place. Other than that, I’m working a lot this week and trying to maintain whatever cleanliness I’ve found in my apartment.

H: I’m not really sure what your professional situation is, but I know many people with your career also have jobs on the side for those times when work slows down or they simply need to cover bills. Does the same apply to you? If so, what do you do when not looking at the world through your camera lens?

C: Oh, absolutely. Aside from shooting, I’m also an editor over at Mind Equals Blown, I work in retail at one of the biggest malls in the country, and I’m an actor in Philadelphia. Aside from working, I like to collect and listen to vinyl records, see as many movies as possible, and above all else, I love to nap.

H: You’re one of the first people to approach us about featuring your work on Haulix, and I don’t think you actually expected us to respond. What inspired you to reach out in the first place?

C: I honestly don’t really know! I’ve been using Haulix’s music promotion program ever since my start at MEB last year and only recently discovered the blog and how it showcases various aspects of the music industry and it really struck a chord with me. I initially tweeted as a quasi-joke because I’ve never been interviewed for anything before, but I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of actually interviewing and here we are!

H: The reason I asked that is because I think one of the most important lessons people can learn in music is that those who achieve their goals do so because of their own drive for success. No one is going to come along, pick your work out of the countless others hoping to have your dream job, and carry you off into a long-lasting career out of the blue. The only way to get noticed is to take it upon yourself to make people aware of your work. You did that for us, and now here you are. Kudos.

C: I completely agree, and that was honestly an idea in the back of my head while I was writing that tweet. I kept thinking “well, nobody but me can really do this for me, so why not?” The result is already pretty cool.

H: I’ve made it this far without mentioning what it is you do in music, but we have certainly hinted at it. Why don’t you go ahead and tell people what you do and who you do it for?

C: I’m a music and portrait photographer based out of Philadelphia. I’m currently a mainstay photographer for Mind Equals Blown, but am opening up to more freelance work whenever I get a chance.

H: We’ve featured a handful of photographers before, but not as many as I would admittedly like to have shared up to this point. I’m working on it though, and I’m glad you were willing to participate. Tell me, when do you think you first fell in love with photography?

C: Pinpointing a specific time is excruciating for me to even think about, because photography has always been integrated in my life since my childhood. My mother is a nature photographer and I’ve grown up shooting alongside her. It’s because of her that I shoot with Canon bodies and that I really love shooting landscapes on the side. This whole thing started with her. A given time isn’t quite an appropriate answer; it all stems back to my mom.

H: Before we dive into that a bit more, let’s talk about music. What are the earlier memories you have of music and the role it played in your life during that time?

C: Music has always played an incredibly valuable role in my life, whether I like to own up to it or not. The arts as a whole are what I’m truly about and what I love, but music has always umbrellaed over everything else as an overseer of sorts. I’ve loved to sing forever, I love going to shows, and I love how the production aspect plays out. As a whole, music is just so cool to me. When I was a kid, I was way into soundtracks, top 40 pop, and musical theatre even though I grew up listening to classic rock, Dave Matthews, and folk music. When I was 11, I attended my first concert, which was (I believe) the latest Simon & Garfunkel tour in December of 2003. The entire show was like a dream. I can’t really explain it much more beyond that. By the time I was in high school, I began hitting up smaller club shows, the first being Envy on the Coast’s Lucy Gray release tour with Kaddisfly, Danger Radio, and Powerspace (my then-all-time-favorite band). Since then, I tried to attend as many shows as possible. Nowadays, it’s something that’s purely second nature to me.

H: Let’s get back to photographer. Did someone in your life help nurture your interest from a young age? When did you first get a camera of your own?

C: As I said, my mother was my biggest influence to even pick up a camera. She grew up on a property that has acres and acres of natural, preserved woodlands so every time I would visit my grandparents, I’d see something new and memorable. As a kid, one of my favorite things to have was a disposable camera. It would almost be seen as a waste of money, given that I would fill it up in mere hours, taking photos of anything (and sometimes nothing) just to get it all developed as soon as possible. I got my first camera for Christmas in 2005 and have never looked back. Since my dinky little point-and-shoot days, I’ve upgraded to a Canon Rebel T5i DSLR and am saving to upgrade again.

H: Were you involved with music at all beyond enjoying it as a fan before foraying into the world of music photography? If so, how?

C: The most involvement I had was simply attending shows and doing street team work here and there, whenever I had the chance. I was on Fueled By Ramen’s team back in their neon heyday, that 2007-2008 style. That was the most I could do with whatever limitations I had and I certainly don’t take any of it for granted.

H: My research tells me you’ve attended college in the past. Did you study photography or anything else that aides you in your pursuit of a career today?

C: Indeed, I graduated from Arcadia University in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. Photography and music, as I’ve said, have played extremely valuable roles in my life, but I’m a theatre artist through and through, which is something not many people know about me outside of my home and schooling life. I’ve taken photography courses throughout high school, but as far as a continued education goes, photography played absolutely no part in it.

H: Looking back, would you recommend that other aspiring music photographers attend college, or at the very least seek out additional education beyond high school? I know many of our younger readers have dreamed of making a living with their photos.

C: There are so many amazing photography programs around Philadelphia alone, so if it’s something you really want to hone in on and fine-tune, I absolutely recommend it. I’ve had friends go through programs and come out completely changed (for the better, of course). As a generality, a continued education after high school should be your decision alone. It’s a shame how frowned upon it is to not have a degree, but some of my closest friends are high-up managers at their respective workplaces and simply have a high school diploma. It’s up to you to decided what you want to do. I personally didn’t like college, but I don’t regret it one bit. My program kept me there because they believed in me. Surround yourself with positive vibes and you can get through anything.

H: You’re a part of the Mind Equals Blown news team, which is one of my favorite content creation groups in music today. When did you first learn of the site, and how much time passed from that point to the day you applied to be a contributor?

C: MEB has been around for a handful of years, but I didn’t really pay much attention to any site other than AbsolutePunk until very recently. I first paid closer attention to the site when I learned that my friends in A Lot Like Birds were really well-received by the team, so they had my respect right away. I connected with one of MEB’s writers through Instagram, of all places, in the summer of 2013 and he put a good word in for me to apply to the team. By September, I was enlisted as a photographer and a staff writer and got to review some great work. Throughout the rest of the year and the first few months of 2014, I was the site’s sole consistent photographer, which was a lot to take on, but the challenge of that has paid off tremendously. I was promoted to editor last month, so my writing is beginning to dwindle, but it’s quite an honor to be in this position. I like where I am on the team right now. It feels right.

H: What can you tell us about the application process? 

C: It wasn’t anything too strenuous; I had to provide my age, favorite bands, any previous publications I wrote for (fact: there were none), and a few samples of my writing. I had actually reviewed my top ten albums released in 2012 on my personal blog, so I just sent them what I had and a couple weeks later, I was a member of the team.

H: Have you contributed to, or otherwise worked for any other sites since joining MEB?

C: I’ve submitted some of my photos to Alternative Press, but there sadly hasn’t been any biting. I also shot for the stars and emailed Rolling Stone, to which they promptly (probably) trashed it. Other than that, I’ve just worked for MEB but am willing to shoot as freelance if people will have me!

H: Do you think it’s important for photographers to find a site to call ‘home,’ or would you be perfectly fine existing as a fully independent photographer in the music world?

C: My ideal goal is to be independent, because it builds a nicer résumé and shows variety. Having a home or a niche is wonderful; it’s what I have now and I’m pretty content. But I’d like to get out there and build up the credits.

H: You wrote a blog for us about a week ago on the topic of your first concert experience as a photographer, so I won’t ask you to talk about that again. I will, however, inquire about the other articles you may write in the future. Any ideas yet?

C: The holidays are upon us at my retail job, so I haven’t quite mapped out much else just yet, but I’d love to touch on etiquette or something focussing on the show rather than the equipment. That’d be cool.

H: What was the last event you covered? Tell us a bit about the experience.

C: I said goodbye to Anberlin last night and I cried. Their lights were incredible and epic, just as I’d expect them to be. They mean a great deal to me and my craft, so I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the show. It was one for the books, for sure.

H: You’ve been in music for a little while now, and I would like to think you have a strong grasp on the state of the business. Do you aspire to be a full time music photographer? If so, how are you currently planning to make that happen in the years to come?

C: You know, it’s hard. It’s very hard to have any job in the arts, whether it be photography, music, or theatre. Doing all three sounds like a nightmare to most, but the challenge is what keeps me going. Upon leaving college, I was cast in my first professional theatre role and that one show took up my entire summer on top of shooting, so it absolutely kept the wick burning under my ass, which I loved. Right now, I’m focusing more on saving my funds to move, so theatre is kind of on the back burner while I put in more hours at the mall. Photography is the one steady thing I can keep consistently doing; I don’t work nights and can plan out shows well in advance. If I could have a solidified, money-making career in the arts, that would be amazing. I don’t want to work in retail forever. I just have to get over that hill and get better at what I do. There is always, always, always room for improvement and anyone who says otherwise is a big, fat liar.

H: What are the biggest hurdles between where you are now as a music professional and the place/role you would like to reach?

C: Getting my priorities in order, for one. Another big one is time. My biggest problem is that I want too much too quickly. My friends and family keep saying “you’re doing too much to not get paid for it” but the fact of the matter is that I love it too much to make that a priority. I feel like things could potentially move faster if I allowed that to happen, but then I would be limited to what I could actually do. Aside from a few promo shoots, I’ve over ever sold my wares once, and that was because I didn’t want a free microphone.

H: If someone reading this is just starting to consider a career in music photography, what advice would you offer them?

C: If you like something, keep doing it. Nine times out of ten, what you want will never just fall into your lap; you have to work for it. For most of the time, it absolutely sucks and you’ll start off by getting little to no recognition, but if you keep at it, it’ll pay off. I’m almost there. Almost.

H: Where is Connor Feimster going to be five years from today, and what will he think of the way he spent his time in 2014?

C: Aside from joking that “next year will be the year of perfect vision”, I hope to have people know my work. The most egotistical thing I want, if you can even call it that, is to be appreciated. By 2019, I would like to eliminate the crutch of retail, complete with a roof over my head with the person I love by my side and maybe my own studio that can work both as an editing station and a practice space for whatever show I’m in. That’s the dream.

H: I think that is all I have for you right now. Before I let you go, are there any other thoughts/observations that you would like to share with our readers?

C: I’d just like to give an extended thanks to anyone who has taken the time to say a kind word about my work and took the time to read all of this. There’s no reason to shoot shows without fan input and appreciation, so for all that and more, I thank you. And thank you, James. This was a wonderful experience.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.