What are some of your nicknames? What do people call you?
My name is Russell but I go by Russ or umm…that’s really the only nickname. My older sister called me RT when I was a kid because my middle name is Thomas. Russell + Thomas = RT. However, she’s the only that does that. So yea, I think that Russ is pretty much the only name.
Are there any embarrassing nicknames from way back?
Oh of course, there is plenty. Not even from that long ago, my coworkers do love to point out that I look like a younger sexier version of James Lipton, the host of Inside the Actors Studio, so I get that every once in a while.
The sexy version – that’s great. And you’re a host at Creative Live?
Yes, I am an on-screen host. That is all I do. In the year and a half or so that I’ve been there, I have done many different things but that is my current full-time job.
What led you up to working with Creative Live?
For about 6 years, I was a video game designer. And I loved that, it was an amazing amazing job. I love the company I worked for, the coworkers that I had, the work, but the industry itself is very unstable. There is a cycle where a company will put out work for years on a game, and all of the sudden, people working on it are laid off. It’s a cycle and it just goes on and on and it seems like nobody out there can figure out how to run a sustainable business making video games, which is weird, because it’s an industry that makes more money than the movie industry.
Well I got laid off in July of 2011 and I immediately started looking for jobs, but wasn’t finding anything I was really excited about. Even the ones I applied for were just like, ehh it’s a job. I started looking for other things that I can do and during my time – the last year or so, at the video game studio, I started to get interested in photography. I was looking for a kind of art form to learn, a creative outlet, just something to do to inspire me.
You never studied photography?
No, everything that I know about photography I learned by watching Creative Live or from one or two blogs that I read…and that was it.
So you decided, “I am going to go do photography”?
I started thinking do I want to go do photography full time? There are two different types of people: some people are the “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” people and there are others whom that’s not the case for. For me, once I started video games, I had a huge passion for video games and I love what you can do with them: I love the stories you tell, I love the way they can challenge you to think creatively and just take you to worlds youhave never been before. I love games, but after starting to do it for a living, I lost a lot of that passion because it became my day-to-day. When I got laid off, I thought my work had improved to where I could justify charging for it and starting to run a business. However, I made a conscious decision that I did not want to do that. I wanted to maintain it as just this passion, this hobby, this thing that I did for the pure joy of it.
You didn’t want to overwork what you enjoyed?
I didn’t want it to become a job. I made that conscious decision and during the same time, I met some people from Creative Live, like Kate Giller. She’s been there for a long time doing a number of different roles, but I met her though an event called Help-Portrait, which is a charity event started by a national-ba
sed photographer named Jeremy Cowart. Jeremy had been on Creative Live teaching and happened to run the Help-Portrait in Seattle at the Creative Live studios which I volunteered to help out at. This was good six months to a year before I got laid off.
After I got laid off, there was an event that Kate organized – it was a photowalk for an upcoming instructor which is really fun – a bunch of people get together in an area, walk around and take pictures. So I talked to Kate there and told her that I am laid off at the moment and while I am still looking for work, I have a lot of time so if there’s ever a need for volunteers at Creative Live, I’ve learned a lot and would love to give back. That’s how I started volunteering at Creative Live as a chat moderator.
A chat moderator?
In addition to our live events, we have chat rooms where people can jump in and talk about what the instructors are teaching, and give some additional insight if they have any, or ask questions of instructors in the chat room. We have moderators in there, whose job is to make sure everything is working properly, help people if they’re having any problems, keep the peace and that sort of thing.
I started volunteered doing that and found out they needed help with customer service – just answering emails and helping people who are having problems with the site, so I said, I can do that. I started coming in on a freelance basis and help out a couple of days a week and in talking with people and the founder Craig Swanson, he found out that I had been doing video game design. We started talking about what game design is, and what you’re doing as a game designer is creating a story and you’re creating an experience in which people are learning something.
In most games, for example Super Mario Brothers, we are going to teach to how to jump, how to break bricks, how to land on monsters, how to get coins. You teach, and then give a challenge for them to overcome with what they just learned. And that’s honestly exactly the same thing we do at Creative Live: instructors teach something and then they put it in practice, so people can learn in that way. Craig was looking for help on the content side, which means working with instructors to figure out how they’re going to present their material the best and most effective for the viewers in a cohesive fashion. Having the experience creating that learning environment, I was a good fit for a position in content development. This was in June of 2012 that I officially started working there full-time, before I had been working on a contract position. And that’s how I got in.
It’s amazing how an event like Help-Portrait connected you to this opportunity. Tell me more about it.
Help-Portrait is an organization that encourages photographers to give back to their community and the idea is instead of taking someone’s portrait, you are giving it to them. So you’re bringing people from homeless shelters, battered women shelters, people who don’t have access to cameras on a regular basis because those people forget how powerful having a really nice portrait of yourself can be. We take it for granted, because we have easy access to pictures and we see ourselves looking great all the time but these are the people who need that help.
This is an organization around the world and many different countries and people participate in it each year and basically they run an event where they bring in people, they do professional hair and makeup if they can and they take a picture, print it on site and give it to them. There’s no charge for anyone – the goal is just to make them feel loved and special.
Can anyone join and take part?
Anyone can join. Check out http://www.help-portrait.com and check out in your local community they’re always looking for people. Even the people to just help out and play with the kids while the mom is in makeup. Anybody can help.
You got a bit teary eyed when you were first telling me about your experience there. It seems very emotional. Why do you think that is?
The whole point is that this is not for you, this is not for your portfolio, this is not for you to show them around, it is for them. It’s not about taking a portrait, it’s about giving a portrait.
That’s what I think is so special about it, most of the time when photographers are shooting, even when they’re shooting for clients, they’re always looking for another portfolio piece so that can attract even more clients. It’s not a bad thing, I think it’s great it’s how it works, and it’s awesome that people are always trying to improve themselves, but it’s just a different mindset when you’re no longer looking to benefit yourself.
I think it’s really important that people focus on giving on a regular basis. We actually had a workshop the past two days with Porter Gale who is an author, speaker, she was a vice president of marketing of Virgin America for years, and she was teaching about networking. One of the most important things she taught is the process that she called “give-give-get” which is to imply that it’s more important to be giving. It’s a different way to get things done and that’s how you establish those relationships is that you really need to be willing and eager to give to people.
I also think of it as something that is taking hold in the photography industry. Photography has an opportunity to do a lot of good, both on the individual level like with Help-Portrait, where it’s just for someone who really doesn’t know that they’re beautiful, or strong and handsome, or just don’t know that they have value, and obviously, on a larger scale, exposing abuse, government wrongs or whatever larger societal ill. Photography can also bring awareness to that. Photography is a business and I absolutely think it’s important for photographers to be able to make money, to live well, and to be able to continue their passion, but it is also something where they have the opportunity and even a responsibility to give back.
Ideal is when everyone is benefitting from the relationship. When you have something to give, there’s an audience for it. It’s important to find those people and that’s something a lot of people struggle with, is finding their audience- client- employer. Whatever it is you do, there are people who want that, whatever it is you are, there are people who need what you are, and being able to find those people and give them what you have of value they’re going to reward you. When everyone is doing that, it makes the world go round.
Profession: Host at creativeLIVE. Avocation: Photographer. Recreation: Movie guy, book guy. Summation: Just a guy.