My friends mixed as I spent elementary and part of middle school in Westminster then moved to Arvada for middle school and high school. Even my high school years had a hard time figuring themselves out, which was symbolic of my internal search.
I spent three weeks at Ranum High School being uncomfortable and separate from my elementary classmates who ended up there. This was especially at my grandma and mother’s dismay since I spent about two weeks prepping documents to transfer school districts and prove my residency at my grandma’s, just so I could attend. On the fourth week of my freshmen year I transferred to Arvada West.
This scattered schooling for 12-odd years brought me to many awkward social situations. In these circumstances I found pieces of myself but nothing solidified. I know this is common. I needed to adapt to any group or person I met, changing myself or my beliefs to accommodate. I made scores of friends but mostly I didn’t want to stick out. It mattered little though, since my guess at popular boy’s clothing was about as good as my grandmother or mother’s, which if you hadn’t already put it together by now, weren’t young boys trying to fit into school groups. It’s as if each school year that passed, I wanted to disappear from view, so I could observe and be respected among my peers.
I feared the bus, for this exact reason. I had to take it at three separate points for school: once to attend kindergarten at Weber Elementary (Arvada), another in Kansas (even though I could have had my driver’s license that year), and then for college at The University of Colorado at Boulder–but the last one doesn’t really count, because that was a convenient choice.
In kindergarten, there were groups of kids who picked on me no matter where I sat. Doing things like smacking me in the back of the head as I endured the 20 or 30 minutes it took to get home. As I got older, even more discomfort in who I was set in. My mother dragged me out to Kansas and I both physically and mentally rejected existing there. I went, for one year, to Goddard High School in Wichita, and for one year of my life, I turned myself off.
Rolling up into the third week of San Francisco life, I had this early recollection of my school days, Kansas, and how out-of-place I felt. The city was booming from juggernaut tech businesses like Facebook, Google and PayPal. In fact, Andrew (the guy we were renting with for the month) worked at Google and Nintendo doing design and marketing. He was doing well, but being car-less cost him taxi rides, plus eating out, and with high-rent put him at the break-even point financially. At the time he was dating a woman named Natalie Stone. She immediately took to Liz, sharing in similar music and a love for Red Rocks (the place and the music venue).
Our one month at Andrew’s was coming to an end and nothing much had grabbed us. I met the owner ofCity Model Management, shot one test, Liz got signed and she booked one advertisement which had her face on SF local buses; I booked one wedding, went to Al Pacino’s Wild Salome premiere at the Castro Theater, took a 30-minute survey to an acting course, and found my business interest in SF suddenly waning.
The owner at City really loved my work and actually referred me to one of his close friends, and City model, to shoot her wedding. This was my first wedding client meeting outside of Colorado, but come to find out the groom went to my college and my high-school. He even played baseball with Roy Hallady who graduated from Arvada West in 1996, right after my freshman year. I was at ease with this news, realizing I wasn’t too far from home, no matter how it had felt.
Right before we moved to San Francisco, I had to leave two pursuits: Paykoc Imports, where I was a product photographer and e-commerce manager, andMad Cap Improv Theater. I started doing improv classes around the same time I dove into photography. 2 years later, I was only doing well in one of them. For the first year and a half at Madcap I was an improv student, where I learned Whose Line is it Anyway? style comedy. I started in the sound booth, announcing the actors, doing stage lighting and closing the show. I also bar-tended and went to a weekly actor’s rehearsal before I had several stage shows in front of a live audience. I had a blast. As a kid, most likely inspired by Harrison Ford, I wanted to be an actor. This feeling has yet to subside.
Acting upon all that I knew from the place I left, I decided to look into classes in SF. I found a teacher named Shelley Mitchell, who for the brief time I was around her, was someone I immediately respected. Her class was tucked away, near 24th & Mission, behind an old theater. I went upstairs and sat in the back, with little expectation of anything. I already felt out of my element being in the city.
There were three rows of chairs facing a small but well-lit stage against a black curtain. Shelley entered, a gracefully aged woman with a direct teaching style and sharp wit. A few students from the class went and looked like they were taking the course to break free of stage fright. Watching people struggle with this used to make me cringe, for my earlier fear of speaking in front of my judging classmates, but now, after having done improv, it felt like much-needed character material.
I introduced myself and gave her some of my business cards.
“Nice work. But are you here to sell photography or to take the class?” She asked.
I was definitely there for the class though I could see her confusion.
Shelley artfully and critically analyzed her students performances as they went, one-by-one, to center stage. This class was one of many where students worked on pieces they wanted to get better at. Since I showed up to test the environment, I had nothing to present, but she offered me a chance to read from a book she selected.
She handed me a yellow, hardback copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
“It’s really strange to have this in my hands right now,” I said with a light chuckle.
“My Grandmother (mom’s mother) gave me this book a long time ago and told me to read it. I really thought nothing of it since I was so young and recently, before I left on this trip, donated this book with a lot of my other belongings.”
“Well you better go and get it back,” Shelley said.
My mother’s mom had passed away a few years prior to my trip, but she was extremely goofy, had a small drinking problem, among other health conflicts (smoking with asthma while on oxygen?), and a woman I gave a tribute speech to during her funeral.
Shelley told me to open the book and read one of the passages.
With all I had learned from the small amount of acting and voice-acting classes I took in Denver, I read two pages of text, in a deep, calculated and confident voice.
“That was great,” she said. ”Nicely done”
Did I do well, or was she just trying to sell me the class?
This thought brought to you by Charles’ Self-Worth alarm system.
I wanted to offer to take her portrait. I decided against asking.
I let out a small sigh leaving the class, because it was $400+ dollars I couldn’t afford. I probably looked like a desperate photo head-shot salesman to a woman I respected. So I slipped into a small movie theater down the street. It only sat about 20. Coriolanus was playing and it was one of the few Shakespeare plays I had not read. I sat through the credits, as was customary with this theater’s crowd and then I went home.
Most of the proper nouns in this blog post are links to what I’m referring about, if you’re curious.
Listened to James Vincent McMurrow - Early in the Morning as I wrote this.
As the first month in SF rolled on, we started to explore. We had to stop eating out, which had become regular fare in Denver. Whole Foods was nearby. So was Trader Joe's - a new market delicacy to us with our gluten-free diet. Trying to manage a gluten-free diet through Whole Foods in SF without a job put me quickly on the welfare path. It was my first time dealing with the government in that realm, except for when I was a participant under my mom's care as a child.
If you schedule online, the interview is quick and painless. We waited about twenty minutes in a large room with homeless, teens, and some transients. It was just a taste of the bizarre characters that inhabited the city. We got a big spoonful of transient-living while browsing apartments. Homeless were everywhere as Turk met Market Street in downtown SF. I originally heard about the area from a bartender at the Rickhouse (www.rickhousebar.com/). One of the many California bar recommendations my friend Randy Layman (bartender at Steuben's & Ace in Denver) liked on his visits. Randy crafted a cocktail for me out of Navy Strength Gin, Green Chartruese and St. Germain's that has not been perfected by anyone else since, and is one of my favorite drinks to this day, aside from well-vodka on the rocks if I'm on a budget.
The tender at the Rickhouse was a stout, blonde-bearded Irish guy. He recommended the Tenderloin for the price, but even a guy of his size was uncomfortable with chances of crime there. I felt the need to look into it, how bad could it be? Studios in that area were still $1400ish, but didn't seem to have the demand other neighborhoods did.
Walking into the area of the Tenderloin I was immediately uneasy. Aside from the name sounding like how a surgeon would refer to my sliced open calf on an operating table, the place was caked over with years of dirt. Parts of the sidewalk were lost to an infinite blackness composed of who-knows-what. There were so many homeless people around the base of the complex I was scouting that one man resorted to sleeping on his arm against a parking meter. It was as if small pockets of this territory were eternally caught in some drug hangover - but no one told them the party stopped 30 years ago.
I knew right away the area was too unsafe for Liz or I walking home late in the evening. I decided to check the interior of a few places anyway. The apartments were around 400 sq ft in one room, sometimes it included a small tag-a-long kitchen area with an old electric stove. We wanted a spot on Mission Street near 24th, if we could find one. I scoured Craigslist daily to find anything (if you weren't doing this, you would ultimately never find anything). One place opened up, right off 24th, in a three-story former old-time hospital setup.
I knocked on the black doorway and in the distance I heard some muffled voice. The man ambled from the backroom cast in dark shadows caused by mid-day sun. He was a grumpy, 70-something African-American man, missing one eye, but stared on with the mannerisms and composure of a bulldog.
"What do you need boy?" He said.
"I'm here about the Craigslist ad."
He shuffled his hands into his pocket to retrieve a set of keys. He gave me specific instructions to find the room he was unable to walk to anymore, with his age. I immediately forgot what he said as I headed into the adjacent building trying to take in how I imagined his past life brought him there. I wandered out back, found a young guy smoking a joint and he pointed me to the room number I was looking for.
The room was big but there was no closet, only a row of kitchen appliances on one side, a window, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle green painted on every wall. At the end of the hall was a shared toilet and conveniently for me, the exit. Having no other leads and running out of money fast, I decided to tell him I wanted it on a last-minute whim.
"It is just you?" He asked.
"My girlfriend and I."
"You better get her to come see it, first before you make that decision, boy."
"Yeah - you're probably right."
I didn't go back. I decided that night instead of sitting on the computer, I was going to start reaching out to people the next day. If they didn't want to meet up, I was just going to explore the city and take pictures. What did I have to lose? The only way I knew how to get where I was going was through the random encounters and friends who pushed me along the way.
Rain or shine, which mostly it was rain, I started saddling up my gear and hitting the streets. I walked around most of the city in the first week I was there. I went to Union Square, Golden Gate Park, all the way to the northern docks to see Alcatraz in the distance, from the Castro and of course around Potrero Hill. I had some sense of direction from visiting two times before, but also found many familiar places friends had taken me as I ventured up and down giant streets. One of the nights that week, Liz and I ventured back to a restaurant we went on a double date at, the first time I took her to the city, before we moved.
We met up with photographer Cole Rise (www.coleri.se/). I StumbleUpon'd his work, as more than a stumblers did, blown-away by his conceptual self-portraits and landscape photographs. I had reached out before my flight about possibly doing a portrait, expecting no response from such a popular artist. Within a few days, to my surprise, he responded saying something along the lines that he checked out my work and was excited about the idea. My confidence boosted, I shot him and his girlfriend Kate on Ocean Beach in 2011. We lost touch before I moved back and after a few attempts to leave messages, I assumed our paths were too far apart now to expect a hangout.
One trip to Union Square though got me thinking differently. I had walked most days with my camera around my neck so I could capture anything happening in the moment. I got stopped at a street light across from the square and a well-dressed man named Dario Smith (pictured on the header) asked if I would snap his photo, with his Canon. I obliged.
I shot a couple of snaps and he thanked me and walked away. I caught myself before he got too far.
"Hey man, I feel like I could take your photo better with my camera. Why don't we exchange info and I'll email you a shot?"
He agreed. We started meeting up nearly every week, discussing local fashion and his entrepreneurial dreams of becoming a Men's fashion consultant with his friend D'Angelo; a business endeavor they called The Bellwether Project (thebellwetherproject.com/). He connected with Liz and her aspirations of tackling the SF fashion scene for her own styling track.
From that point on I started emailing agencies, wandering streets, and shooting in one of the rainiest and windiest cities I'd been in.
Best Viewed on my Wordpress: Charles Hildreth
March in San Francisco was rainy. I heard days were a mixture of rain and wind off the Bay but had no idea what to expect in terms of coldness. Coming from Colorado, though, right as the snow was at an end, we were prepared with plenty of clothing. I stocked up on cheap H&M garments. Any given day I was wearing the same pull-over navy blue sweater and an orange skull cap - perhaps some subliminal choice coming from Bronco territory.
We parked at a Motel 6 deep in the San Francisco city. I carted a heavy computer tower, bags of clothes, and Liz's belongings to a second-story hotel room. It was the same Motel 6 interior we had seen before in San Luis Obispo (SLO), and other stops along the way. Weirdly enough there is a hotel called the Madonna Inn, right off the 5 heading north to San Francisco from Los Angeles. No relation to the singer.
As I walked in to the Madonna to check on rooms, I took two steps and stopped. I had suddenly realized I was not in any ordinary place but one of pink extravagance. I felt like I was inside a magical wonderland, one you would find if you found its entrance inside Elton John's piano. The lobby felt small, and from what I can remember from the brief stop was pink sprawled across wooden walls and narrow doorways, with tiny rooms on the other side. Rooms were $170 a night. I quietly exited.
Motel 6 in SLO was nothing special but we scored a working hot tub. No such luck on the hot tub in San Fran.
The night we got in to SF, I sent texts to friends I had met (several blogs back, and a year prior) who only partly knew we were in town. I reached out to Andrew Braswell, a former roommate of Randi Sumner, who I met on my first trip out to Oakland, among a myriad of other interesting friends/hosts. Coincidentally, the same day we arrived his roommate went away on a long trip for a month. He offered us a one month stay in Potrero Hill for $800.
We were sold and we were fortunate.
Potrero Hill was off the beaten path, but close enough to walk to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit; underground metro) and had access to great local hangouts (Pops, Mission Street, etc). Having been such a dive-bar hopper in my Colorado days with bars like 92nd Tavern and Sweetwater, to name two, I needed to find a new hole-in-the-wall joint. Just down the hill from where we were staying was 24th street which was a blend of Mexican produce markets, hip boutiques, seedy dive bars and a great oyster spot tucked into a coffee shop. San Francisco was nice like that: every place felt like it harbored around some artistic or spiritual vibe, and at first it was intimidating to walk in anywhere, feeling like I was new.
Let me back up just a little.
As I was leaving Colorado, I was underneath a wing of confidence, perhaps even blinded by its shadow. I had a sense of invulnerability, finally breaking out of my financial roof from bar-tending and my day-job salary caps. I was booking Skype Photoshop tutorials, head-shots, family portraits, weddings, engagements and anything else at the time that was paying. I had successful shoots for the Suicide Girls website as well, tapping into some of their modeling talent in the Denver area (which was not a booming market, unfortunately).
Most of my work came from the portfolio I built around non-paying "test shoots" with models or friends. I struggled with self-confidence for a year doing test-shoots, trying to find my artistic eye while still learning the gear. I knew right away I needed to learn Photoshop and I needed to invest in prime lenses. I felt that calling. I didn't want to be limited with my work in terms of the digital development. I started with actions, as most people do, to get those vintage, romantic looking images. I'm not one, however, to be content with letting some automated process dictate my vision.
At that point, somewhere around 2010, a year into shooting, I reached out to an artist named Jaime Ibarra. He taught me--and still teaches to this day--his unique coloring style which helped me refine my own coloring process. His work continues to impress hundreds of thousands of people and early-on, he was my biggest influence. The one thing I was intrigued by and is surely something I related to on my path, is the fact that Jaime was self-taught, and really didn't seem to care much about his gear, but more about the process and the story.
The point of all this back-story is that I came into San Francisco with this knowledge and sense of presence from Colorado. Out here though, I was no one. Nobody knew me, except for a handful of friends spread between Oakland and San Fran. I had Liz and my computer. I would say I spent a majority of my first few weeks in San Francisco on my computer, searching for any escape, as I had done in my past.
The computer linked me to home. I could reach back to my friends there trying to pretend I was confident in this new venture. The reality was, I had no idea what to expect--at all. All I knew is that I had the security of weddings throughout the year, in case I couldn't find any work in San Francisco, or elsewhere, if we moved on. We had discussed the possibility of staying in Los Angeles, or going further north like Portland or Seattle. Anywhere seemed cheaper.
We struggled to find suitable places in San Francisco. Landlords didn't like renting to couples. Most craigslist ads read like angry foreign students who were sick of parties, or fed up with people who had friends over between the hours of 8-10 p.m., or even had friends at all. I only say that because of the strange broken English.
We went to spots that had open-houses and there were 5-10 people, cash-in-hand with applications filled out, ready to move in (were their cars outside with their belongings?). One place had an older Asian lady with a golf-visor on who questioned our intentions of being in San Francisco: Who are your friends? Are you in school? What do you do for a living? What are your interests? To reserve that place we needed rent plus two months deposit: $4500.
It was a studio.
I think my idea of leaving the little-big city of Denver on an adventure was miscalculated. We started weighing our options in one of the most expensive cities (in the world?) to live. I started weighing my decision to uproot my newly found business in Colorado to the west coast.
Best Viewed on my Wordpress: Charles Hildreth
Time to bleach the mold off this blog and get it active again. It feels like a tall order, but I'm going to try, anyway.
When I last left this blog, I was over a thousand miles away and in Denver, writing about a contemplation of California. Now, I'm in California. For the readers who know me well, I hope you'll agree I'm always one to talk about doing something new. I hate slinking into the same comfortable routines life hands out, though I'm guilty of staying in some situations past their expiration.
Over the last year, I've learned a lot. It wouldn't be a real year if I hadn't, and probably if I didn't, I probably died. That being said, over the last three years, my life has been a series of "I want to do this" and then "doing it"moments. Not all endeavors have been successful, but that's the process, right? Try many things and hopefully one sticks.
When we left Denver, it was in a hurry.
We moved 1600 sq ft of apartment junk down 3 flights of stairs, in downtown Denver (Belmont Buckingham, 11th & Grant), into the seats and trunk of a 2005 Ford Focus at 5 a.m. on the morning our lease ended at 9 a.m. I spent the next 12-hours strangling a steering wheel to drive into Las Vegas on the eve of my 30th birthday (2011). Nothing like pulling up to Luxor valet with everything you own in the backseat and dragging two garbage bags full of belongings into check-in. Well, I don't know, maybe that's commonplace in Vegas. I'm not one to judge.
The 30th birthday. 3-0.
When my father and mother turned 30, they had me in their life. They were dealing with the day-to-day, some quiet, strange blonde kid in tow - each dealing with me separately mind you.
I spent my childhood mostly in the care of my mother or grandparents, as my past blogs reveal. Once in a while, I'd visit my dad who lived a while in Poulsbo, Washington, before he drove cross country to live in Tampa Bay, Florida.
My dad was in the Navy. My mom was making a career in Colorado. There was this constant reminder from my Grandma, that had my grandfather been alive, he would've wanted to see me become a doctor.
No such luck. Not only am I not a doctor- he isn't alive anymore. So I guess in some weird way, he died with the memory that I would some day be successful and now there's no way for me to prove it to him, one way or the other.
As the sun set on the I-15 into Vegas, this reoccurring thought paired with the notion that my grandmother would die before I would see her again. I was right.
We were given an upgraded room at the Luxor, which was great because we were exhausted. The spacious bathtub was a nice relaxer. I had my goal of a restless night roaming the casino in search of luck, but found none. Although, the entire experience was grand if anything for the fact that I had freedom from my first relationship, the condo we co-owned together, and my Colorado life.
Someone asked me why I was leaving Denver, and really there were two reasons: 1) to test a bigger market (California) and 2) to not spend the entirety of my life living in the same place. I felt like both were noble charges, even knowing I'd be leaving a huge comfortable network of friends and family to pursue it. My family has flight benefits, and I left my truck at my mother's, so access would be easy, if not nearly free. I had to tap into these resources periodically throughout the year to return for various weddings still pending in Colorado.
Vegas was a quick trip, in-and-out over the weekend which is the best case scenario. I generally hit my gambling limit about 2 or 3 hours into a trip if I don't get lucky early.
With a weird mixture of sense of loss financially but a gain spiritually, I was on my way to San Francisco with little expectation.
We arrived in San Francisco in March.
I may make new folders and organize my gallery accordingly. As of now, I am going to work on submitting new types of photography to break out of my current plateau.
Hope all is well,
You can find my new accounts here:
In the past few months I've managed to accomplish this:
- Publish a photograph in Billboard Magazine
- Shoot 2 weddings with great feedback, paid
- Publish 2 full-page portraits in a local Denver magazine
- Shoot a summer clothing line for a local Denver fashion company
- Shoot a set for SuicideGirls which received 95% approval by members, 470 comments, and earned a personal message from the staff saying "best set we've ever seen by a debut photographer"
- Learn photoshop under Jaime Ibarra and John Bonath
So, needless to say, its been time well-spent. I'm back in the swing of things, hitting up new models, and have loads of new content to share.