Let me start this by saying, Chris Hershman is an absolute angel. This blog was supposed to go live in February. However, life, and super-fun clients, got in the way and here I am postponing this gem of a human for five months. That’s five months some of you folks didn’t know who Chris Hershman was! It doesn’t feel right. I’m deeply grateful for him for his patience and continued excitement for this feature while I got my sh!t together. Now down to business…
Chris Hershman is a rock star. He’s a rock star filmmaker and photographer, he films and photographs rock star and he is, himself, a rock star, making music and playing guitar with his Chicago-based band, Tall Walker. Previously the Creative Director at Chicago Music Exchange, Chris has just recently gone out on his own, though he wouldn’t call himself a freelancer, he identifies as an independent. “The term freelance, for me, means that I’m looking for gigs.” Chris explains, “and I’m not looking for gigs as much that I’m independently choosing what I want to do.” Shortly after leaving CME, Chris also left the house he was renting with a bunch of friends and downsized to create a whole new, but apparently effective, creative space. I was lucky enough to be invited into that creative space, or, rather, the living room right outside his creative space to chat about artistic goals, dreams and the day to day efforts we make to make them happen.
I guess I’ve rebranded myself as an independent rock and roll photographer and filmmaker. Period. I’m focusing on that one direction and finding work in that direction. Everything I try to do centers around music. Honestly, even if it is shooting a wedding it is a wedding for people I met in the music industry and people I respect from a music perspective. I’ve gotten to a place in my career where I need to draw a line and that line is music.
A new friend I just met in Vegas for the NAB (National Association of Broadcast) conference said something along the lines of ‘you shouldn’t have to wait to see who you become as much as you need to create yourself.’ I know freelance vs. independent is just verbiage but everything is so mental, it’s mentally preparing yourself and putting yourself on the path that you want to go on. Every time I say independent it fuels me a little more and I definitely feel like I have more control over where I’m going. I feel like freelance is a little more open – you take the gigs that come to you. I don’t have gigs coming to me, the work I do are all things that I’ve pushed after and pursued on my own.
Well, going way back, I had picked up a Nikon camera in high school and shot for yearbook. I told my dad that I wanted to go to Columbia for photography…but then changed my mind last minute so as to avoid crippling school debt. So I went on the road and played for a band instead.
Haha, well this is actually the second time I’ve gone out on my own. Even the first stemmed from music. I was working at Guitar Center and decided ‘enough is enough.’ I took a loan out from a federal credit union–a bank wouldn’t even give me this money–and I bought a nice Nikon camera body for around $2k. I wanted to take this seriously and make some moves.
I filmed a buddies band — empires. I put a music video together for them the next day and they used it to enter a contest to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. So my first video goes straight to RollingStone.com and they got second place, Sheepdogs got first. After that, other bands and businesses in Chicago started calling me because they heard I did really cool videos, I did them quickly and on a good budget. Finally, it got to a point where I needed to stand up for myself and leave Guitar Center.
Three months later, I got hired by Chicago Music Exchange for a very different role at a music store — Creative Director. So no, I never went to school for photography, but I picked up a camera and shot, directed, and edited photos and videos for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 3 years. And now, after my boss told me verbatim that he thought they were holding me back, I’ve gone out on my own again.
Here’s how I think it happened – I don’t just do photo, I also do video and edit, direct, produce, whatever the moment calls for. When I worked for Guitar Center, I met an employee of corporate Nikon and had gotten his card, which was his first mistake. So, when I made that first video for Empires, I sent him the video and he started passing it around internally because Nikon had just released video features on their cameras. You have to realize that Nikon is a camera that has only done digital photography and film photography, it had never done video.
There was a Nikon concert photographer who had gotten that video and who lived pretty close to me in Indiana and he wanted to meet up and talk about my video and using Nikon for film. It was his personal goal internally to grow his skills in video and video knowledge and he wanted to know how I did what I did with their cameras. So we met up and talked and he took a personal interest in me – I’d call him one of my mentors. He would look at my work, critique my work and he watched me grow for several years before Nikon ever came calling. So, when an opportunity did come up, he thought I was ready and mentioned my name. I tell ya, I’m not the most talented Nikon photographer or filmmaker out there, but I may be one of the most passionate. We’ve kept up, I email them, we discuss how the brand could be more creative with their marketing, we talk film techniques and we encourage each other to push the envelope.
A lot of people know that they are meant for bigger things, but they don’t chase it. Nikon and I want to encourage others to get out there and do it.
From November to early January it was crazy. I hopped on tour with Switchfoot, Nikon asked me to speak at NAB and that was insane – there were 160,000 people at that conference and I was the youngest guest speaker. Other than that it’s been a lot of planning and changes. I’m new to this apartment, to be honest, and this place in my life that I’m still settling into a different schedule. Amanda, my roommate, wakes up at 6 o’clock and leaves for work at 6:30, so I try to wake up at 6 so I can cook her breakfast before she goes to work. It forces me to get up early. I don’t have curtains on my windows so I can’t sleep in even if I tried. It can be tough. When you don’t have someone telling you that you need to be up at a certain hour, you have to do that yourself.
Clean your room. That’s my biggest advice. Wake up, take a shower and clean your room. It’s something to do before sitting down or heading out to work and I think it puts you in a clear and clean state of mind as well as environment. It’s seriously all about setting yourself up for success. Creating a routine is everything.
I also try to schedule a meeting with at one person every day. I don’t know if that’s a key to success or anything, but I try to put one new person in my schedule every day if I know I’m going to be working from home.
The luxury of working from home is you don’t have to work straight hours. Maybe you need to walk around. Maybe you need to get a coffee. Maybe you need an hour or two hour break. As a musician, I come alive at night, I don’t fizzle out so I’m definitely the type that will push into the evening if a project requires it. The 40 hour work-week is something that society decided means “good job, you are being diligent with your time.” I don’t always need to work 40 hours a week or even 8 hours a day. Just because you’re not doing something that, strictly speaking, is “work” doesn’t mean you’re not doing your job and spending your time well.
My space now, my apartment, is a third of the rent I was paying before and is super conducive to creativity. It is also probably less than a third of the size. I was in a huge house with a bunch of other people, now I’m in an apartment with just a few roommates. I only have a twin size bed now. I made a lot of changes, but I love change. I think we don’t need to step out of our comfort zone, I think we can change our comfort zone.
Well, let’s talk about my physical environment — I’m living in my ex girlfriend’s bedroom. She lived here because I vouched for her with my then best friend, now best friend and roommate, Amanda. Our paths separated and shortly after she moved out, I left CME and knew I needed to move to force myself out of comfort – so I moved in here. It was scary at first.
Actually, this has been a very big place for me to creatively work through a lot of what happened in the last year. I’ll say it again, I made a lot of changes. I think mentally, I had worked through everything, but not creatively. Our relationship and change sort of became a theme for a lot of my work after moving in. I still think very highly of her, but due to geographical location it’s impossible to ignore the last year. I’m living in the same walls and looking in the same mirrors as she did. So, my physical space has become a creative outlet for me, and I didn’t intend that, it just worked out that way and it’s been really interesting.
The singer of my band, Tall Walker, even wrote a song about all of the things I talked about during that break up — Our band has always been about our lives so the fact that he took the time to wrap up in lyrics what I went through meant a lot…and now it’s my job to make a music video for that track and release it and promote the new song.
Wireless internet? Nah, I’d say that when I need to get work done, I turn my phone off or I put it in airplane mode. I’m too social of a person. If I’m editing, sometimes I’ll disconnect from the internet entirely. I need to separate myself from the world sometimes because if I get a notification…I’m going to start a conversation.
The majority? If I’m sitting behind a computer, the majority of that work is done here. That room is non distracting, it faces another building and the only distraction is the naked guy changing next door. It keeps me focused.
I’ve tried to dramatically decrease the time that I spend editing – and that can be a lot of desk time. My creative process is to not spend a lot of time editing, but to spend time shooting and discovering what is special about those moments. Most of my editing will happen on the road now. I created a process that is quick for me and then settling – you have to settle with what you’ve created. I know that I’ll look back at those photos one day adn go ‘Argh, I could have done better!’ but I got them out and they were used and they meant something at the time.
Most of the time I spend in my workspace is dreaming up new ventures, concepting music videos, exploring what work other people are doing.
I like the idea of having everything I need on my back — I’ve strived to be able to accomplish everything I need to do creatively, everything I need to shoot with and edit on my back. That’s why I went on tour with Switchfoot — I wanted to prove to myself and others I might work with that I can do everything out of a backpack…and I want to encourage a ton of people that they don’t need a ton of equipment to get something done.
I welcome naps! I think naps are essential for creatives. I’m still newish to working from home and having a dog. I’ve recently created this routine where I have a heavy lunch, lay on my bed, the dog jumps up and before I know it I’ve slept for about 2 hours. But again, I don’t look at my entire day as 9-5. My number one thing working from home is to always keep myself happy because if I’m not happy, I’m not going to be productive. I understand deadlines, but if I’m getting caught up on something and I’m feeling very angry about it I will take a break – maybe a nap – and get myself back to a place of happiness.
I have a lot of stuff on my desk but they’re all really cool things, haha. Honestly, I’ve eliminated so much moving from a giant house to a little room and I only kept the things that mean a lot to me…those things are pretty small, so they are pretty knick knacky. I’m pretty nostalgic about everything I own and have kept over the years. I don’t see these small items as clutter, I see the inspiration behind them.
The number of changes that it offers my life. My room is nothing like what I came from and it’s everything I need. It’s a daily reminder that I’m living a different, but better and more fulfilling life. Chase after that, don’t stay comfortable. My room isn’t necessarily comfortable but it keeps me creative and I love that.
I don’t visually have a space in mind, except for maybe some exposed wood rafters, but it would be a space that allowed for a lot of people to come there and work. I’m not very selfish about my space or my work. I love bringing people in on what I’m doing so I’d love a space that people would want to come to at all hours of the day.
Nikon cameras, obviously. And then, honestly, the only thing I have to do the art form that I call my job are cameras that are not mine, a macbook pro that I just finally finished paying off and the intuition to know where to get the rest.
I’m a big networker so I’ve met the people who have the equipment I need when the time comes. So instead of spending all of the time acquiring all of the production gear in the world, someone else already has it and I just need to call them and offer them a fair deal to bring that gear out.
If you want specifics for the nerds: A Nikon D800, Nikon D750, Nikon 58F1.4, a 70-200mm F2.8 and a 14-24mm F2.8.
You can find Chris wandering the streets of Logan Square snapping photos of his friends and having a good time. Or, you can cyber creep on him in a variety of fashions. Earlier this year, when this post was supposed to go live, Chris was a featured guest blogger for Scott Kelby’s blog, so if you have made it to the end of this post and want to hear more, head that way. Chris’ band, Tall Walker, will be playing at The Taste of Chicago this Saturday at noon in Grant Park before hitting the road for the rest of the summer. To stay in the loop for future show dates, follow Tall Walker on Facebook.
Tagged with: awesome • chicago concert photographer • chicago creative • chicago freelancer • chris hershman • creative process • creative spaces • creatives • freelance writer • independent artists • independent filmmaker • independent photographer • nab conference • nikon concert photographer • nikon photographer • rock and roll photographer • tall walker • tall walker music
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