I moved to Thousand Oaks, California in 1984. It turned out that the reason I thought I was relocating was quite different from what actually ended up happening over the three years that followed.
Like so many young hopefuls who “go west”, I had a dream. More than a dream, I had a promise. A music producer who had been ‘tracking’ my career as a musician for a few years had told me that when I was ready, to let him know. Three weeks after I got out there, I realized he had nothing for me. So, there I was. A midwest girl who literally knew no one, now questioning how this could be.
I did what I needed to do. I went to church. It was a small church and very informal. The question was asked of the congregation whether anyone had any special prayer requests they wanted to share. Others spoke up and then nervously and with very mixed emotions, I stated that I needed a job and a place to live. Prayers were said and after the service, I was approached by a friendly lady who said she was getting a promotion and her job was available. I showed up the next day with my resume and after an interview, was hired. I was able to rent a room in the nice condo of a single mom and her nine year old daughter in Newbury Park, through another Divine appointment.
While I appreciated the provision God made for my needs, I also was pretty sure I hadn’t moved across the country to work in the defense electronics division of a company that made microwave amplifiers as a customer service representative. So, six months later, I went back to Michigan and sold almost everything I owned so I could quit my office job and go to a college in Huntington Beach. I had come to the conclusion that California was where the TV and Film industry had flourished, so what better place could there be to study that art?
It wasn’t simple. I made a lot of sacrifices. I cleaned houses to help meet my expenses–and continued to live in a rented room for the first year and a half I was in California. After that, I married my prince charming–but that’s another story.
What I wanted to learn was Video Production. Little did I know that it would be almost a year into the two year TV and Film program before I would get my hands on a video camera. The first prerequisite was Still Photography. Not only still–but black and white photography. I didn’t even know how to load a 35 millimeter camera. But by the end of level one and level two, I could load and unload a film camera in the dark and also process my own black and white or color photos in a darkroom. Our instructors were old school guys who mostly had day jobs working in L.A. These were people who not only knew the tools of the trade but were working professionals in real TV and Film studios.
I aced Photography and then studied Film, which built on the concepts I’d learned in Still Photography of composition, lighting, camera operation and more. Video Production was actually pretty easy compared to Still Photography and Film, but I’m glad I got to study all of it.
Fast forward twenty some years, after a career in video that included tons and tons of media production. Ready for a change–or at least an adjustment, I eagerly pursued an opportunity to get back to photography–something I hadn’t really given much thought to in a very long time. I was surprised how little had changed in all the years since I went to school. Well, let me re-state that. In some ways–everything had changed. No more film cameras. No more darkroom. Computer editing programs to learn. Yeah. Some stuff had changed a whole lot. But, lighting, composition, understanding focus and depth of field–and a lot of other things, really hadn’t.
I started taking photos for NonStop Staging, the premium home staging company in Sarasota, Florida, with my iphone and editing them in Adobe Photoshop. The quality was actually not that bad, but I did the research to learn what kind of equipment photography professionals were currently using who served the interior design industry. In a short time I had saved up my money and was able to invest in the best camera, lens, and flash. I already had a good tripod from my video days. Now, I was getting somewhere. Talk about fun. Every house I went into that was staged by Doshia Wagner was total eye candy for me. I subscribed to Architectural Digest when I was 21 and practically devoured every issue for years and years. I would pore over the pages of beautifully decorated and photographed estates, reading all of the stories and studying the details in the pictures. Now I was getting to photograph houses that were decorated on that level and was working hard to make my own photos look like the ones in the magazines I loved. What a kick!
I continue to take photos for NonStop Staging and produce all of the media for their website (www.NonStopStaging.com), but have had the pleasure of branching out into real estate photography, also (www.ChristinaCookLee.com/photography). I must state here that I don’t photograph just any real estate job. I have been known to walk out of a house that has not been properly prepped for photos–actually it only happened once. But I learned something about myself when I walked away from that job. I learned that I am not in this only for the money. I am an artist, who is also a photographer. I have standards and I have a conscience. There is a limit to what I will and will not do in post production–and there is a level of professionalism that must be evident if I am going to put my name on it. People who appreciate excellence are glad to work with me. We think alike.
So yeah, I still sing. I still play the guitar. Last year, I even bought a harp with money I made taking pictures of interior design and houses for sale. On most weekends, you will find me assisting the Video Director at my church–as a volunteer. Everything works together in the grand scheme of things. I like a life that has a surprise here and there along the way. Things don’t always turn out like we thought they would. But it’s all good.