Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

finding a new road

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

with some of the b&w infrared shots of Route 66

with some of my black and white Route 66 work (photo: Trevor Booth)

So what the heck have I been up to?  Good question.  Lots of exploration, mostly of the interior sort.  This entry will be more about what’s going on inside these days, and not about Route 66 itself.  If you’re interested in my process of finding my personal path, please feel free to read on.  If not, I totally respect that and don’t want to waste your time: please return for the next post.  I need to get this stuff out first, before I can write about Ludlow, which will be my next Route 66 topic.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I lost my corporate video job last year, and am looking to use this opportunity to forge a new path in my life – one that is more in line with my personal interests and values, one where being the most authentic version of myself actually makes the world a better place (double win!).

Years ago, I remember looking at a brochure advertising a museum exhibition about sharks.  I wanted to go, and expressed my keen interest in sharks to my boyfriend at the time.  He responded with “you’re interested in everything”.  I smiled and thought that was one of the nicest compliments I’d ever received – until I realized he meant it derisively!  He did have a good point, though.  I am a very interested person, and I think that curiosity and sense of wonder is what keeps me youthful, and fuels my passion for travel.  I’m also starting to think it’s “why I’m here”.  To me, the education and self-expansion that travel brings is priceless.  I’m forever touting the values of travel – especially to those who have the means to do it, but for whatever reason, choose to stay close to home.

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”  -St.Augustine

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” -Mark Twain

Over the years, photography has been my chosen vehicle for communicating my wonder about the planet with others, partly for the sake of self-expression, and partly to inspire others to travel more.  My photographic trip down Route 66 was originally just something I wanted to do out of my own curiosity – but through doing it, I discovered that there is indeed value for others, too, in such ventures.  Since I returned, I’ve been trying to figure out how to translate that into a living.

this is how I spent most of the last 10 years

this is how I spent most of the last 10 years (photo: Andrew Haggert)

My love of photography is large.  When I lost my job, I pretty much assumed that I should just parlay those already-honed skills into a job for myself.  How does one make a living as a photographer?  Weddings are good; people are always looking for a skilled wedding photographer.  Pet portraits are awesome in that I am a total dog-lover, and would enjoy being with my subject matter so much.  Of course there is event photography, head shots, commercial work, etc… so I’ve spent the last few months heading down that path.

But here’s the thing about taking your passion and making it a job: you’re taking a “want-to” and turning it into a “have-to”.  Here’s a good example.  When I did my Bachelor of Applied Arts at Ryerson University, my specialization was video.  I was all about video, and my 4th-year thesis project was a well-received video installation gallery piece (actually, it was more an experience than a piece).  Everyone, including myself, assumed I would pursue a video-art-making career.  But then I graduated and started working as a video editor.  After a full day of cutting ads and promo pieces, do you think I wanted to head back into the edit suite to make my own video art?  Nope.  Not one bit.  The fire I once had to create my own video projects was soon extinguished.

After years of making a living in the advertising and television industries and using photography as my primary creative outlet, do I really want to turn it, also, into a job?  I am so passionate about my personal photo projects, it would be a damn shame to do anything that might curb that enthusiasm.  It seems to me that a better idea is to find others ways to make a living, ways that will allow me the time and freedom to still pursue my personal photo projects.  Of course I am still totally open to accepting commercial photographic jobs – just, not exclusively.

Which leads me back to travel, and sharing that with others.

training a facilitator, one of the more satisfying parts of my last job   (photo: Megan Robbins)

training a facilitator, one of the more satisfying parts of my last job (photo: Megan Robbins)

Why stay in one city and do commercial work 80% of the time, in order to make enough money to travel and take photos the other 20% of the time?  Why not travel as work?  That was what I always wanted to do anyway – get paid to travel.  (Or at the least, have a job I can take anywhere.)

Many photographers make a living out of a variety of photo-related ventures, one of which is leading workshops.  I already planned to lead photography tours of the areas I shoot so frequently (Salton Sea, Joshua Tree, Route 66, etc.), but I forgot that leading tours is actually a viable job in its own right.  It’s obvious that I want to share my love of travel with others (that’s what this whole blog was about), I like meeting people from all over the place, I speak three – OK, maybe two and a half – languages, and I am a good teacher.  Tour leading is totally a natural fit for me, so I’m investigating that.

Apart from sharing the joys of travel with others, I expect to call on my other various interests and skills (photo, writing, speaking, workshops, product offerings like the Route 66 DVD/book, etc.) to add to the income stream.  This whole patchwork formula, mind you, will require starting with very small margins.  And we know what that means: dump the real estate.  I’m still struggling with that one, but I will prevail.

happy in the cubicle on this particular day, because colleague Leonard made me a glorious birthday cake!

happy in the cubicle on this particular day, because colleague Leonard made me a great birthday cake!

Going from decades of having a job where someone else tells you what to do, to designing a whole new work/live lifestyle gets a bit overwhelming at times… but I’m pretty sure I’ll end up someplace that lights me up a lot more than a corporate cubicle ever did.

P.S. Here’s something fun.  A friend of mine called me up last week and said, “I think I just saw you on Fashion Television!”  Yep, she did.  (Which, if you know me, you’ll know how Fashion Television is the LEAST likely show for me to appear on.)  FT did a piece on the recent portfolio reviews I participated in, and I ended up in one of the shots.  For, like, a second.  How in the heck Tracy spotted me, I have no clue.   You can watch it here.

P.P.S. I hope none of this sounds like I think I had a crappy job.  On the contrary, I was actually very lucky to have a pretty darn good job, with some really awesome colleagues.  Working with these photos today had made me a bit misty, missing them… but this is about forging a self-designed path, not just getting a good job.  Either option is obviously totally fine – it’s just that I’ve already spent decades on one of these paths; now it’s time to try another.     (…that birthday cake, though, I would re-do anytime!)


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