Say hello to Mr. Nicholas Wray. He's a photographer based out of Sacramento, California and I promise you he's not as "gangster-ish" as his fashion implies.
If you live in the area and are the least bit active on social media or spend any time in midtown or downtown, you've probably seen one of his photos. The guy is everywhere. He captures the Friday Night Concerts in the Park and many other local events, spends a lot of summer weekends photographing lovebirds at weddings, shoots amazing photos for various publications around town and has helped define many local brands through his imagery.
Basically, he's a really talented (and super busy) guy!
I caught up with Nicholas via email to ask him a few questions about his craft and how he got to where he is today. He was kind enough to give us the scoop, so let's get to it:
Jen: When people ask you what you do for a living, how do you generally respond?
Nicholas: I tell them I'm a photographer.
J: When did you begin your creative venture?
N: I started this thing back when I was a kid, I guess. My mom and grandma always had these old Vivitar 110 cameras and I was fascinated by them. My mom got me my first one when I was like 15... it's probably in a box at her house somewhere. It was blue. I really sucked at taking photos with it and probably half of them had my finger in the frame. I got my first 35mm film camera when I fell into taking photo classes as a minor for my last year of college. That's when I learned all the magic of the darkroom; rolling my own film, developing it, and printing - I miss the sexiness of the fiber paper.
J: Did you work any strange/odd/boring jobs before you started your creative work? If so, what were they?
N: Oh yeah, here's my resume: My first job was in a deli in high school. I burnt myself a lot and learned that preparation H works great for that (haven't used it since, fyi). Then I was a campground attendant where I hung out with awesome old folks. I remember this guy Smitty quite well. We had the same truck. After that I worked at a grocery store called Kroger (Ohio people know about this). It's like Safeway. I worked in dairy which means I drank a lot of chocolate milk for "free." I worked 3rd shift for like a week at some other small grocery store. That sucked - I think I got fired?
Then it was off to college. I worked in the office where student ID's were made, where I figured out how to put fake birthdays on them - BAM - coolest kid on campus. Then I worked at Ames, in electronics. The store was in the middle of nowhere and most of our customers shopped on the 1st and 15th of the month - boring. After that I had a short stint at Wendy's for 3 weeks - I couldn't handle the smell - it was baaaaaad. That was followed by Best Buy for a couple years, which offered a sweet discount.
Then I started doing real stuff. I worked for an engineering company for a couple summers where I learned how to use all the high-tech GPS surveying equipment - rad. When I transferred to a university for my BA in Geography, I worked at the Center for Applied Ecology. We fixed nature stuff. I did that through my last two years of school and for a couple years after I graduated - awesome people; awesome job. While I was doing that, I also worked for a professor who was really (I mean really) into flies. I took microscopic photos of them in what was basically a closet. Weird, but cool. I think I could probably do a better job at that one now. After that, I moved to California to work for a great local engineering firm, MBK. I worked primarily in the flood control department but also dealt with some water rights mapping, etc. That job is what allowed me to start my business.
J: Did anyone ever tell you to "have a back-up plan" or advise you against working in a creative field?
N: A lot of people were afraid I wouldn't make it - but nobody ever told me not to try. I had a life coach for about a year who helped me prepare mentally for leaving my cushy salary job. I still don't have a backup plan.
J: What inspires your creativity (people, places, things, experiences, etc.)?
N: Everything inspires me - it's hard to pinpoint what it is, but I guess the main thing is light. Light is so cool. I learn more about it every day. I love to travel, whether I'm going to a new city or to a city I've been to a hundred times. The city may change a tad, but the people are always different - and that's what's important to me. A photo of a dirty alley is cool. A photo of a dirty alley with a guy playing bagpipes is even cooler.
J: Are there parts of your career that provide less income than others? If so, what drives you to continue doing those things?
N: I pretty much charge everybody the same. Some of my clients have been around for a while and they get special treatment because I love them the most. The stuff that pays the least is the stuff I do for myself and I'm cool with that. One day after I'm gone maybe someone will find all of my little treasures and make a name for me.
J: If you weren't doing what you're currently doing, what would you be doing instead (In other words, have you ever envisioned yourself doing something else for a living)?
N: That's a tough one. I could never go back to an office environment where I had to abide by someone else's rules - that makes me want to die. I think if I were to do something else, it would have to involve the outdoors. I'm super into climbing and have hundreds of miles of trails under my boots with a backpack, so I guess if I didn't have my eyes I'd have to be somewhere I could use the rest of my senses.
J: Are you involved in any events/happenings around town or on the web that we should know about?
N: Well, not as much as I'd like to - I wish I was more involved in the music and art scene. There are some cool people out there. I hang from time to time with the Capital Creative Collective and I have this little side project called Sacramento Space where I currently have a pretty slick space for artists and entrepreneurs to work in Downtown. I'm also working to add a much larger space on R Street.
All photos in this post are courtesy of Nicholas Wray.