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A Letter

February 9, 2012

World traveler and photographer Chase Heilman had the opportunity to speak to students at the Denver Art Institute last week. He shared some experiences he’s had since graduating from there in 2008. Some of you may have seen this posted on on Facebook but for those who haven’t, I thought we could all use a little Chase advice.

Chase and I circa 2010 – I want that pink shirt.

“It does not cross my mind, the past. I don’t look back on what has transpired, but last week, when I was tasked with guest lecturing to 20 photography students in Denver, I had two solid hours to relive the last four years of my life.

I received that piece of paper that meant I was an adult, a degree, in the Spring of 2008 and a letter from a sweet sounding woman named Sallie Mae telling me I owed her money. I was relatively lucky with my student loan amounts (under the national average), we will get back to this later. Now, those that grasp the difficulty of making a living as a creative in 2008, I’m sorry. For those that don’t, it was like finding Osama…in 2008. What I’m getting at, making life work, the way you saw it in your dreams, was hard, and you were only relieved once 2010 came around.

I won’t tell the story, but the an important part of the lesson comes from telling you a tiny bit.

I set out, left Denver, those I loved, and every comfort, for a boat in Baltimore, hoping to chase my photography dreams on a sailboat. Taking risk, taking a big risk, I decided was the only way to make “it” happen. It only took a week, reality hit, being a galavanting sailing photographer wasn’t going to work out, not this way. I was inches from leaving, tail tucked, for an unknown job out west, when I bought a beer at a bar filled with sailors and met a guy named Bill. I’ve always been a talker, but most importantly, I listen. After a few cocktails we struck up a friendship that now will last a lifetime, and he gave me the opportunity and the time to avoid tearing up my dreams and stuffing them in the garbage.

Everyone loves a list on a blog so we’ll start it with that.

1. Family, friendships, and relationships are the only way I have ever made it to where I am. I have no clue how an introvert makes it as a commercial photographer, I can’t begin to fathom it.

2. Listen to people, except for those that tell you how it is supposed to be done. I was never an assistant, never an intern, and never took a second job to make ends meet. I went against the advice of professors and people much smarter, more talented, and with more experience, and so far it has paid off. LISTEN, to strangers, to children, to music, and to artwork. I’ve never met anyone I didn’t like off the bat, and if you are willing to listen to a strange redneck in Arkansas for an hour about carving wood with a chainsaw, you’ll find its worth it.

3. Responsibility, I hate it. That being said, I’ve always wanted a dog that would go on road trips with me, a cabin in the woods I own, and a girlfriend that deserves to have me there for more then a two week visit. Its a difficult balancing act, and I am just starting to get to the point where I might take on a few of those things, but starting out, there was no way it was possible. I don’t even have a bed, and all that I own can fit in my paid off 1996 Subaru Outback Legacy with 300,000 miles. No car payments, no mortgage, because when things get tough, and they do, those bills keep coming.

4. Take risks. then fail. Then take more risks. you’re still going to fail. Then do it all again after you shake the dust off. I’ve never found joy in safety, the most joy in my photographic life has come at times when against all good judgement, I’ve come to the cliff edge and jumped, and like Wile E. Coyote, something blows up in my face. (When the time comes, I assume your supposed to do that with women).

5. I said at the top, the past doesn’t cross my mind, nor does the future 95% of the time. I have planned, budgeted, and set goals, but plans go bust, never hit a budget, and goal posts move by the hour, and I’ve turned these thoughts off, knowing now, I give as much as I possible to each moment, worry about as little as possible, and find inspiration in the unnoticed.

Much of what I said, you’ll find doesn’t fit with your life, and thats fine, because this is my life. Each finds their own way for their success, all I want is to shed light on how it works for me in this single moment, knowing tomorrow, my entire story could change in an instant. This is meant for the young photographers I spoke to in that classroom, but maybe it resonates with you too. For those two hours I went through my entire story from the doldrums of 2008 to the happiness I’ve found so far in 2012, but that was then, and this is now. I have experienced everything that falls between despair and elation, needing every bit of each end of the spectrum to understand.”


Chase M. Heilman

p.s. Chase doesn’t generally do kid photography but seriously, a baby in a sink… couldn’t resist.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2012 4:32 pm

    He says he doesn’t make plans. But I’m convinced he makes plans to get us girls all plastered at every reunion… and that’s a goal he never fails.

  2. February 10, 2012 10:21 am

    The baby in the sink is the greatest thing I’ve seen all year.

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