15 minutes with Collin Erie
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published November 25, 2015
- Portrait by Mo Mfinanga
One of the main things you’ll notice about Collin’s work is the sense of celebration and intimacy every frame holds. From a young age, Collin's photographic arsenal involved a 35mm film camera and an attention towards the technical side of photography. His devotion to photography carried him from assisting photographers to becoming a full time photographer equipped with clients such as Apple, Nike, and Rolex. Now, residing with his wife and their beautiful dog, Maya, in Venice, Los Angeles, Collin aims to tap deeper into the ability of distilling a sense of honesty in his work.
Collin: So, I read your blog. I was trying to prepare last night so I read through most of the interviews. [smiling]
Mo: Thanks! Are you familiar with anyone on there? I know you and Jake are with the same agency.
Mo: There are a few interviews coming up with a few people based in California.
Collin: Those two that you have under 'recommended' were great. Very introspective. [laughing] I don't know how deep we'll get. [both laughing]
Mo: Well, Emmazed interviews are slowly becoming candid conversations. I'm not a fan of Q&A's. I just hope these interviews make the reader feel like they stepped in the middle of our conversation. So, what's been up with you lately?
Collin: What is lately?
Mo: Let's say the past three to five months.
Collin: In May my fiancée and I went on a three month road trip.
Mo: I remember seeing that on Instagram. Did you guys buy the Volkswagen?
Collin: Yeah, we got it a year ago. It wasn't just for the road trip. It was a purchase that we would have for a while and hopefully when we have kids we'll go camping with them.
Mo: What did you learn from that experience?
Collin: There it goes! [both laughing] I feel like there's a lot that we learned, both personally and professionally. From a personal standpoint, you kinda learn to let everything go and become totally present, which [for us] was finding our day-to-day routine: cooking, cleaning, setting up camp, finding our next destination, and getting there.
Mo: So the farthest ahead you looked was two or three days?
Collin: Yeah, [but] even that was a lot. We were trying to meet up with friends along the way and we couldn't give them a specific timeframe. There were so many variables. We were literally winging it as we went which was a really cool experience—to not have a plan, but a lot of work.
Mo: An experience like this supports the notion of awareness. Just with you two together, you need to compliment each others needs.
Collin: Yes completely. It's such a different experience compared to day-to-day life here in Los Angeles. When you’re living in a space with 40 square feet you need to become very efficient.
Mo: After that experience, did you live more presently when you came back to LA?
Collin: Yeah, for sure. I think it was kind of hard to adapt to what is considered normal life here, especially with the careers that we have. You're always thinking of the next project, the next shoot, or just trying to plan ahead. I try to be in the moment as much as I can because I think that's were all happiness comes from. This trip reminded me to keep this mindset.
Mo: Recently, for me, it's been interesting because since I'm 18—
Collin: —wait, you're 18? That's crazy. [both laughing]
Mo: Yeah, so I live with my parents. There's a basic foundation of safety there. Back then I would be able to look ahead two months, but now when I came to LA, I was just visiting and seeing the place for what it is. But hey, I found an Airbnb that'll let me stay here for a bit longer. So fuck it, why not stay? I'm only able to look ahead five days now because of the lack of security.
Collin: I think that's kind of how you have to live, man.
Mo: Yeah, and what you said about living in the moment, I agree that it's important to notice what's happening right now. But yeah, you have to me mindful of what's ahead.
Collin: For me, when I look at my emotional states, I feel like when I'm most happy is when I'm in a good rhythm of being present. When I get bombarded with thoughts and worries—that’s when I kind of become recluse.
"You definitely have to be disciplined, I think with anything. I think it does take some motivation to move the discipline forward. They go hand-in-hand."
– Collin Erie
Mo: With you being a photographer, I'm just curious about what career your fiancée is in.
Collin: She works for Audi. She just got that job when we were on our road trip. [laughing] So she had to fly to the east coast three or four times to interview for the job while we were on the road.
Mo: If I may ask, what does she do there? Marketing?
Collin: Lifestyle communications
Mo: Well, in a way, both your careers compliment each other.
Collin: Yeah, I think so. I learn from her, from a branding, marketing side. And she learns from me in a more creative side.
Mo: Do you think it's important to have a significant other in a similar career or not?
Collin: No, I don’t think it’s important either way, just as long as you both understand each other and support each other. It works for us.
Mo: I don't know why I'm somewhat reminded of Frank and Claire's relationship in House of Cards. They're both complimenting each other, but not in the best way. [both laughing]
- Collin: They're very evil.
- Mo: What did you think of Season 3?
- Collin: I feel like it was good but I was expecting a little more. Season 2 was just so good.
- Mo: I think because it had so much weight. With Season 3, everything felt evenly distributed. With Season 4, [hopefully] things will be heavier than before.
- Collin: Hopefully. I think it will because a lot of shit is going on. She left him and his power is fading. Maybe they ran out of steam?
- Mo: Maybe they realised what they were as a couple, but didn't realise the result of the type of relationship they had.
- Collin: Yeah, Season 3 didn't have that punch-you-in-the-gut feel.
Mo: I don't know. Sometimes you have to level things out. It's hard to throw a home run every single time. Don't you feel like that's hard?
Collin: Totally, and, I mean, it's not sustainable. Because then it'll start to become fake and too far fetched. But I think you get caught up and expect there to be that home run every episode.
Mo: Regarding your work, how do you implement that notion of sustainability?
Collin: I'm always trying to figure out projects to shoot that will have a lasting impression, not just an immediate reaction.
Mo: I assume that requires a lot more effort.
Collin: It does, and a lot of thought. Maybe too much thought of where and what to shoot. [laughing] When things come naturally that’s when you know you have something good.
Mo: For you, what are some of the requirements to get that result?
Collin: It’s searching for that feeling you get from the pictures. Like, a sense of optimism and curiosity from the subject matter that I am photographing. I like positive feeling emotions that can be elicited through a photograph. For instance, on this road trip I focused a lot of my attention on American youth in the south. Most of these kids didn’t have much and were very poor. But they were still outside playing, exploring and having fun. If I can capture a little bit of that feeling in a photograph to share with others than I think we are able to put things into perspective and think a little bit. I'm drawn towards photography that can really stand the test of time.
Mo: Was that something you always wanted when you started shooting?
Collin: I think I've slowly started figuring that out over time.
Mo: What were you attracted to when you started shooting?
Collin: Well, when I first picked up a camera and started to take pictures the thing that really attracted me was the actual mechanical aspect of taking a picture. Like, clicking the shutter, exposing the frame onto film and waiting a few days or weeks to see this moment of time that you captured. It was such a rewarding experience to get the film back and see things that you had forgotten that you had taken. I was hooked. I feel like a lot of people have that, but nowadays... [pauses]
Mo: I think a lot of people had it. Now, most people starting out will pick up a digital camera first. It's really important to get acquainted with a tangible medium such as film. I think that's how a lot of people should start. Yeah, you're learning the mechanical sense of photography, which you must do, but more importantly you're understanding the tangibility within photography. So, when you start shooting digital, you already have that sense of tangibility you're trying to parlay into a digital landscape. You see a lot of photographers who retain a film aesthetic even though they're shooting with digital.
Collin: Yeah, that's what initially got me into it. I was in junior high when I first picked up a camera and then high school came around, I figured out photography is something I really want to do and pursue. While in college, I got into sports photography and I shot for the athletic department; I shot all the football and basketball games on the sidelines. So, in a sense, I was documenting events that were happening in front of me and I feel like it’s coming back full circle. I'm trying to document moments and things that are happening around me and hoping to tell this narrative story with the pictures.
Mo: Going forward in your career, what are you trying to shoot?
Collin: I think the time period we're living in right now is pretty crazy. When you look at the scale of innovation, exponentially, it's going through the roof. Massive industries are being disrupted. There is a lot happening now that I think could make for some pretty great photographs. I’m working on a couple things right now to explore this some more.
Mo: Like, the car industry's tables are turning like crazy.
Collin: Yeah, the car industry is going to change dramatically.
Mo: Do you think there's anything in the photography industry that's changing exponentially?
Collin: I feel like the medium itself is what it is and the experience of looking at one single photograph, physical or on a screen, I don’t think is going to go away. Obviously Instagram has had a massive impact on a lot of people from sharing to consuming the content. People have molded their entire career off of it. I’m not really sure what will happen next with the photography industry itself though.
Mo: A lot of young people are making more money than before, and a lot of people are looking at experiences more than products. I feel like photography is adapting towards that. People know that they're being sold to. I think we have to adapt to the fact that we're capturing an experience rather than just the product.
Collin: Yeah, I agree with that for sure.
Mo: For you, personally, have you seen the narrative go towards that notion with clients, or has it been a gradual consistency?
Collin: Yeah that seems to be the notion with most of my clients. Capturing an experience organically. I think some brands really grasp this concept well, others don’t. The latter usually will put content out there that feels very forced and people can recognise that as crap. I still think though if you have a great product, there are many different ways to advertise in a unique and creative way.
Mo: What are you looking forward to the most in your life soon?
Collin: I'm getting married in April so that should be a lot of fun.
Mo: Where are you guys getting married?
Collin: In Mexico. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to shooting more, too.
Mo: Shooting more personal work?
Collin: More personal work for sure. That was one of my goals this year—to shoot more personal work. That was one of the reasons for the road trip. Always trying to shoot more and come up with projects.
Mo: In our careers there's a never ending finish line. In your opinion, do you think discipline is more important than motivation?
Collin: Yeah, I think there’s a strong argument there.
Mo: The argument can be supported by the analogy that if a car ran on motivation then it won't start all the time. But if it's disciplined, then that fucker starts 99 percent of the time.
Collin: That's true.
Mo: A lot of people get carried away by motivation. If everyone only worked when they were motivated then we would be so far behind.
Collin: You definitely have to be disciplined, I think with anything. I think it does take some motivation to move the discipline forward. They go hand-in-hand.
Mo: So, you've lived in California all your life?
Collin: I grew up in Encinitas, California which is north county San Diego. And then I moved to LA in 2005 to go to UCLA. After school, I moved back home with my parents for a year and then moved back to LA after that.
Mo: What caused you to move back with your parents?
Collin: I didn’t have anything set up right after school and fortunately was able to move back home. I graduated; wanted to do photography; there were a couple of photographers in San Diego that I was assisting, and then I realised that LA was where I wanted to be. There's more work and more photographers to assist. I knew that’s where I needed to be in order to work and make a career.
Mo: What were some of the motions you set forward in terms of assisting?
Collin: Man, assisting is such a weird thing to get into. I feel like there's a barrier. Photographers work within their own network of people and assistants, and I'm guilty of this, too. I have my guys and if they're not available then they refer me to someone else that they work with that's good. I got into it just by emailing people and friends of friends.
Mo: But you have to email them in the right way.
Collin: Yeah, I think that's the key. I think if there is some personality to the email that works best… Like, the way you emailed me was personal.
Mo: It takes a lot of effort, though. People can see through bullshit. It's easy to just email someone and ask them a question. Sometimes they might respond, but that’s rare. I took it upon my own liberty to really reach out to people to take the time out to talk about themselves, their ideals, and such. Having a platform to share an interview you've done with someone you admire helps because it allows both you and the interviewee to share your conversation to your readers and answer questions that they consistently get.
Collin: I think what you're doing with this is awesome. And I think this is a good way, in terms of assisting, to go about it—meet before. I'm always down to meet someone for coffee or lunch or something. I think that's better than emailing someone, like, "Hey, can I assist you?" without ever meeting. If you’re going to bring someone on you have to have an understanding of them first.
Mo: Yeah, especially if you're in a place like LA, you have the ability to meet a huge variety of like-minded creatives people in person.
Collin: Are you living here now?
Mo: I've stayed with family friends for a few weeks. My mum called me and asked when I was going to buy my ticket to go back home, but for the same price as a ticket home I found an Airbnb that'll let me stay here longer. For me, it's not like there's any viable work waiting for me in Michigan. It's scary as shit, though. I'm putting everything on the line.
Collin: Rad, that's great. When you think about it, what's the worst that's going to happen? You may run out of money but you will somehow figure a way to either make more money or a way to go back home, you know what I mean? I think it's easy to get super fearful. But when you're realistic about it, it's not like you're going to die.
Mo: Just going back to discipline, I have to work everyday. Nike, just do it. [both laughing] How old are you, though?
Collin: I'm 30-years-old.
Mo: Has there been some sort of consistency in your life recently?
Collin: Yeah definitely. There’s been a nice flow lately. Things have been really clicking this year.
Mo: Regarding your time assisting, was it full time?
Collin: It was full time but I was getting random shooting jobs here and there. In 2012 I was assisting a lot but realised that in order to be where I wanted to be I needed to stop assisting completely. So I made that decision in 2012 and put it out there in the world that I'm a photographer, I'm not an assistant anymore.
Mo: That direction you took reminds me of what Andy Dunn said in a Medium article: "There's protection for you in this world if you make it known that you need it."
Mo: How's it been so far with Giant Artists Giant Artists?
Collin: It’s been really great with them.
Mo: Did you reach out to them initially?
Collin: I used to assist Emily Shur and David Black who are on the roster. I met Eleni at Giant through David, so I kind of already had a relationship with her and I saw myself eventually being represented by them. I was shooting a lot and thinking that maybe someday I would join with them and they actually reached out to me and wanted to do a trial run, so we did an unofficial trial run and then I became official with them.
Mo: What do you think the purpose of your work is?
Collin: Hopefully it's to inspire people and to bring an optimistic and a hopeful look into our world.
Where can we follow you?
- Website and Instagram
Most used apps?
- Mailbox, Awesome Cal, Spotify, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Notes, and FlightRadar24.
I’m all over the map. Steel Pulse is close to the top of the list. Chet Baker, Sonic Boom & Spectrum, Pépé Kallé can get you moving pretty good, MGMT, and the new Tame Impala album is pretty awesome. I just went to a Jamie XX show—that was really good.
Places you like to visit?
Venice Boardwalk, the beach, and camping in the Van.
What do you read and where at?
I recently signed up for Twitter so I’ve been reading a lot of articles off of my feed. Wait But Why is a great blog with long-form posts. I’ve been reading a lot of Ram Dass lately too.
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