10 years ago today I moved to New York. I had planned on moving to NYC a year earlier but I was managing a band called the Gaskets at the time and decided to stick around until they graduated. Eventually I made plans with a friend to move with a friend but it didn’t work out so I signed another year lease in Richmond and figured maybe I could try again later.
Two weeks after I signed that lease I was in Brooklyn for a Gaskets show and I ran into a friend at an after party. He needed a roommate and could probably get me a job at the restaurant he worked at. I went in and met his boss the next day and they hired me as a bus boy. I broke the lease I had just signed and a couple of weeks later I had moved to Williamsburg Brooklyn into the same apartment I live in to this day.
For the entire first year I lived in NYC I worked as a bus boy in a hotel restaurant. I still had dreams of managing bands and working in the music industry but The Gaskets were on the verge of breaking up and there weren’t a lot of music jobs available believe it or not… I started going to parties in NYC to meet people and hit on girls and I would always bring a camera. I was a photo major in college but that was more just to have a useful trade while I did my own shit. I never thought I would be a photographer but I knew I would always take photos.
In late 2006 party photography had just blown up. Cobra Snake and Last Night’s Party were all the rage and when I would take photos at parties people would ask me what website it was for. I had started Driven By Boredom in 2001 but I rarely updated it but apparently I needed a place to post my photos so with the help of some friends I redid my website and became an accidental party photographer.
I would go out around midnight every night and shoot until 4am. I would come home, dump photos, and then shower and head to work. I had to be set up by 6am so I would get there around 5:30. I would work until 3, head home, upload photos, update my website and sleep for a few hours by doing the whole thing all over again. I hated being a bus boy and being broke constantly so every hour I had I free I spent working on photography.
Almost one year to the day after I started I quit my bus boy job. I really thought I could make it as a photographer and I did… for about 8 months. When I ran out of money I ended up getting a job digitizing books for Archive.org. It sounded like a cool job, working for a tech non-profit, and I got to work with cameras, but it was really closer to an assembly line factory job than anything else. I would turn the page and press a button and two cameras would fire and then I would do that again and again, thousands of pages a day.
When the economy crashed in 2008 a massive amount of Archive.org’s funding was cut and they had to lay off the night shift. They said I could re-interview for the day shift or take 6 weeks severance. So on December 23rd 2008 I worked my last day at a “real job” and tried once again to make it as a full time photographer.
Right around the time I got laid off I got a freak advertising gig. A Swiss ad agency saw one of my photos and asked me to re-shoot it for them. They paid me $2500 which was probably way less than I should have asked for but it was way more than I had ever made taking a photo before. In January I decided to go to LA as a little severance vacation and while I was there I randomly got hired to work Sundance for the main liquor sponsor. It turned out that because of the economy crash the company couldn’t afford to hire a real photographer so they paid me $3k to work five days. Again, it was not nearly enough but more money than I had ever made as a photographer before.
Within a month of being laid off I had nearly $7000 in my bank account and was on unemployment. I kinda looked for a job but mostly I was just trying to find as much photography work as possible. I was hoping I could make it longer than 8 months this time. When my unemployment finally ran out I didn’t have a job but I still hadn’t run out of money and many years later I still haven’t.
To this day I have no idea how I haven’t run out of money yet, but somehow I keep paying my bills. I still live in the same apartment and I have rent stabilization so my rent has only gone up about 10% in 10 years. The rents in the neighborhood have basically doubled so basically I can never leave.
And that’s my New York story. NYC isn’t nearly as inspiring as it was for the first few years, and I certainly have a lot less fun than I did in my 20’s but I still love it here and haven’t made that move to LA yet despite thinking about it all the time. So here’s to my 10 years in Brooklyn and to the next 10 years wherever I end up but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still in this same god damn apartment.
To celebrate my 10 years in NYC my friend Betty Rose hooked me up with a New York City tattoo. Someone once told me when I first moved to NYC that if you make it 10 years you can finally call yourself a New Yorker. Not sure if that’s true or not but I guess I finally made it.