Working Towards A Dream

May 12, 2016 ·

Christopher Gampat

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Publisher’s Note: The community for providing photography based internet content is rather small.  Several times a year most of the top sites owners or representatives are invited to manufactures press conferences.  After hours we share cold beers and sometimes a meal and talk about the challenges of running web sites and providing unique content for our readers.  A few months ago I had an extended conversation with Chris Gampat of The Phoblographer and he shared with me one of his projects of developing a digital magazine focused on Black and White photography.  I liked his ambition and recently he shared with me the prototype for this new magazine.  He has now started to seek funding through Kickstarter to make this publication a reality.  This is his story.


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To many of you, a 29 year old may just be a kid–but you probably also know that perseverance, tenacity and dedication may pay off no matter what age you are. You were that age once, and if you’ve been a photographer for many years, you’ll know that one of the toughest parts of this job after finding your identity is carving a market out for yourself. Some of us never get this done and those of us who aspire to make the arts their sole source of income soon discover the tougher parts of this industry and its inevitable truth: sometimes it’s more about who you know than what you know.

It took a long time (at least to me) to really figure out and identify as the editor of a popular photography blog. But it wasn’t just because of me: it was because of the people I surrounded myself with.

Inception

In 2009 I graduated college and was living with my sister and a mentally abusive mother in Queens, NY. Born and raised tough, I never really knew what quitting was all about. Heck, I still don’t–and if someone could explain it to me in the forums or something, that would be pretty cool.

I did everything right: RoTC, founded an organization on campus, was an editor of the school newspaper, President of the college radio station, maintained three internships, graduated with a 3.7 GPA, and networked. They never tell you to go out there and network in college and that your work is only as good as society really believes it to be. But I did it; and those of you who remember that that year the US went into a giant recession will know just how hard things were. No one was hiring: and when I mean no one, I mean no one could afford a full time photographer, writer, etc. Everyone could only spare freelance income–until it ran out that is.

So on a very bleak and grim (at least in my world) New Year’’s Eve, I decided to start a website called The Phoblographer. All the negative energy that my immigrant mother spewed at me because I was sitting at home on my bed working and building a business that she didn’t understand would be countered by a gift that my father left me before my parents divorced: meditation. Through the mental abuse, I’d meditate and learn to channel the negative energies into doing something positive for me. It was, and still is at times, my catalyst.

Born into the world where every Social Media Manager was a barely 20-something, I took the skills I knew and my knowledge learned at PC Magazine and Magnum to combine imagery, reviews, news, techniques, and tutorials with the business side of social media marketing, search engine optimization and a genuine, organic New York attitude. There wouldn’t be any smoke and mirrors; nor would there be any sort of money or corruption in the coverage that tends to subtly come through in some publications if you read between the lines (this isn’t one of them)–I’d be up front with people about everything.

But I needed to define myself and the site: and so it became a place that was all about real life world testing. None of this charts and pixel peeping to 100,000% stuff that was all about the science and numbers more than anything. Real photographers don’t talk about that when they sell themselves to clients. They talk about their creative visions and how they can help the client get exactly what they want using their talents, artistic ideas, and people skills. And that’s who this was targeted towards.

It came at a great time: mobile photography was starting to become big and smartphones started to replace true cameras.

The Escape

Eventually I’d get a day job at B&H Photo where I’d experience first hand just how much some folks really didn’t have faith in a kid in his mid-twenties that was able to create a website with a very good Google page rank, a high Alexa rating, and with lots of fans.

I planned an escape for a year.

My plan was probably similar to that of many of you who left your day jobs to become full-time photographers:

• Work the full time job

• Work on photography gigs on the side (for me this also included writingSave up loads and loads of money (enough to take a year long vacation if I wanted to be exact)

• Create a plan for my business to actually make money and be profitable enough to pay myself and a staff

• Make ¾ of that money from the side business before I got into to full time

• Celebrated leaving my day job by buying drinks and shots for all my former co-workers.

And like that, I took off to create the Phoblographer into something much larger in the web space overall. It was followed by persistent social media marketing, content output, building and massaging relationships, etc.

Cool story I guess, right?

Just imagine if your kid did that; how proud would you be of them?

Evolution

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And with every business, you need to evolve to survive and explore new territory. Much of this started in the last year for me as I started La Noir Image. Yes, I know it’s spelled incorrectly, but try going and telling everyone about your website in person and every one screwing up the spelling. La Noir is easy for everyone vs La Noire or any other variant. This website focuses on Black and White photography and tries to inspire people everywhere about it. On top of this, it’s trying to make people realize that it’s not just a crutch to make an image better: the images are just sometimes better based on how the human eye perceives shapes, lights, shadows, darks, blacks, whites, etc.

It comes at a big time for me in my career as I was recently told that I’m legally blind now due to an extreme astigmatism. It helps me see things differently though; and so it’s a blessing and a curse. With the glasses off, the world is various blurs and shapes–kind of like what photography was in its infancy and what helped to create some of the rules that we follow today.

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At the same time, it’s kind of like me trying to find another way to carve another home in the photo industry. I’ve got a Kickstarter going to fund it and I’m exploring ways to raise money to get it done. Most of all though, I want to pay my workers fairly–something that is in some ways neglected. In the same ways that a photographer should be paid for their work, I firmly believe that journalists should be paid.

It’s quite tough to do considering NYC/NYS/Federal LLC taxes, fees to Kickstarter, video shooting investments, etc. It’s based on a need to survive.

Creating a magazine for iOS and Android (the latter was recently added) costs money and takes planning. You’ve got monthly expenses and then on top of that you need to make a profit. But not just any profit, you need to make a profit that lets you live and invest back into your business to help it grow. Part of this revolves around maintaining a budget, another part is about being an Evangelist for your own business and convincing people that you can do the work. Luckily though I’ve been inspiring people everyday with the Phoblographer. As the youngest indie publisher in the photo industry, it’s always a challenge but it’s always fun.

View a prototype of La Noir Image E-Magazine .

It can be hard though: for a while I used to print out the emails of everyone I helped and paste them on my wall. Every time I’d question what I was doing, I’d look around at the responses from all the people I’ve helped and their words would put me back on track.

But this is just my story; and there are probably ways that you can find your own voice to creatively express yourself. You just need to make sure that people hear you.


Chris Gampat
May 2016

Christopher Gampat

"I flash things for a living" is Chris Gampat's main statement these days. Chris Gampat got his big break in the photo industry when the Director of Magnum Photos America saw something in his blogging abilities. He went on to help with a special blog around the time that President Obama was elected. He's had his hands in wedding photography, photojournalism, product photography, portrait photography, etc. His main way of paying the bills and eating the ungodly amount of pizza that he does is through the Phoblographer: a website he started years ago. It's a popular photography blog that examines the psychology of photographers and why they create and is targeted towards real-world situations.

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