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Curiosity Matters

An Exploration of Branding, Design and Cultural Trends

Tête-à-Tête Tuesdays with Molly

photo by Emily Gilbert

Tory Williams and I went to Skidmore together and have gotten to know each other much better over the last few years. She's an award winner photographer - smart, talented, adventurous and seems to have a strong idea of what she wants in life. You can check out her website at www.torywilliams.com and hire her for your upcoming wedding at www.torywilliams.com/weddings. Tory is constantly on the move. To see what she's up to, check out her blog.

How did you get into photography and what was your first job out of college?
Out of college I was offered a job as a raft guide on the Hudson and to take pictures at a hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan. It was a defining time – do I want to be a raft guide or a photographer? So obviously I chose the photography gig. It was kind of a cool situation, I lived on this island with no cars and took portraits of people at the hotel. I did family portraits and events. I learned a ton and made lots of friends who I then followed to New York City.
It definitely doesn’t sound like a loser job. Did you take photography classes at Skidmore? 
Skidmore didn’t offer too many photography classes so when I studied abroad in Paris, I was given the opportunity to do an independent study with an artist. She had a darkroom in her apartment. So I really picked up photography in Paris, which is kind of appropriate because photography was discovered there.
After coming to NY, did you work as an assistant?
When I came to NY I had no idea what to because it’s a daunting task to come here and be a photographer. You just need to meet people. Tavern on the Green was hiring event photographers so I took that job. I had to go around to each table on Valentines Day and such and ask them if they wanted their photo taken as a couple. It was kind of a humiliating job to some extent but it got me out there. Through that, I met a wedding photographer who I started assisting and also met an older man who became my mentor. I don’t work for him anymore but he's still a close friend. 
How long did you assist before landing your first assignment?
Around the same time I applied for an internship at a still life studio because I figured I needed to learn something about lighting. I interned there for a few months and they started hiring me as an assistant and then as a photographer. I fell into shooting stiff life through them but they also had connections to magazines and basically, everyone so I just built my network through them.
What are your thoughts on school versus working as an assistant?
I’ve always taken the approach of taking classes here and there but when I first came to New York, I didn’t have any cash. I went to ICP and TA’d a whole bunch of classes. So I got to essentially be a student but I also developed relationships with teachers so that led to more assisting jobs. School is just not for everyone. I’m a very hands on person so I didn’t want to go and sit in a three hour critique. I wanted to learn how to use a camera. So I feel like today I have a strong technical sense because of the way I started.
Do you have any overall valuable advice you can pass on to people starting out?
I think it’s taken me a really long time to realize that I should just be myself. And that also goes into man different areas of life. But I think in photography there are so many photographers out there and essentially it’s just your point of view of the world that you’re capturing. And if you just be yourself, you’re unique. For a long time I was so desperate to get jobs I was trying to be like everyone else. Now I understand that if you’re just yourself and believe in what you do, of course, you’re going to do well. Another good advice that someone gave me a long time ago is that you’re working for yourself. So it’s who you are that they’re hiring. Your skills, a lot of times, are secondary. You’re spending a lot of time with this person. It’s a collaboration. Treat everyone like they’re your clients. That is the best advice that anyone has ever given me. Conversations on subways can bring you jobs. Great example is that I became friends with the studio intern. She became a photo editor and hired me for a job.
Does your blog get you jobs?
I don’t know if the blog has gotten me jobs. I think the blog has helped me create a voice and be myself. You have your website and try to be commercial to an extent but with a blog you can just be yourself. And that’s where I really found this path of being really open and honest about my process. I bet most of the people who comment on my blog are people who are interested in the industry and not direct clients.
Tell me about the challenges of going from photography to film and video editing. 
Video is so hard. That was the first thing I discovered. A year ago I had a video camera put in my hand and created the worst thing ever. Crazy images. Then the teacher told me “would you ever take that picture?” “No.” So I started to think about it more in terms of pictures which is kind of obvious but when you have it in your hand it’s not so obvious. It’s a natural progression in the sense that the industry is going that way and since the web is such a great platform for showing full stories – it’s one more way of story telling. It’s a new challenge and I always need new challenges.
When you’re leaving for a shoot, what do you pack?
Always bring a backup camera. Always! Always! Always bring lots of memory cards. Double of everything. Two battery packs, two flashes, I always bring a reflector and never use it. Lots of lenses. Tripod. I sometimes experiment a little with hot lights, etc.
What are your thoughts on freelancing versus working 9-5? Is it harder? More fulfilling?
Well that’s the thing about freelance is that you’re going to work so much more than everybody else. But mainly it’s all in your head because you’re working all the time thinking about things, doing these things and everything in your life is work. I wake up early or try to. I work a lot from home because a lot of my stuff is post-production or returning emails or stuff like that. I respond to clients at 2 in the morning sometimes. I’m always working. But at the same time I dictate the terms of my work and now that I have more consistent work, I can turn things down that are not appropriate for me. That’s a huge difference because now I’m not breaking my back for things I don’t believe it.
What do you like most about being a photographer?
I just like freedom. I really do. It’s a perfect medium for me because I’m interested in so many thing and if I was just to do one thing it would be really hard for me because I’m always so curious about everything. As a photographer I get to slip into the life of a ski patroller for a day, of a psychologist for another day, of a non-profit. I get to travel the world. I get to live so many different lives and appropriate people’s experiences constantly. So that’s what I like about it.