01. Introduce yourself.
I’m Victoria Gamlen and I’m a portrait and lifestyle photographer here in Chicago!
02. What’s your background?
So I actually “studied” computer science in college. I put studied in quotes because academics were pretty low on my list of priorities. After college I got a boring desk job doing email marketing, followed by several months of unemployment after getting laid off. I actually had my lightbulb moment while watching Mad Men on Netflix – I needed to be in the creative industry, sans toxic and misogynistic work environment. I got a job at a design agency in San Francisco (where I lived for 3 years before moving to Chicago) as a project but really wanted to BE a creative, not just managing them. I started taking photography more seriously about 2 years ago when I moved to Chicago and starting my own business was always “the plan.” But it wasn’t until I got laid off again that I jumped in feet first and essentially became a full-time photographer overnight.
03. How did you start your business?
I started with building a portfolio I felt good about over the course of about a year. I didn’t have an Instagram when I first started because it was solely a time suck and depression manufacturer, but realized I had to bite the bullet if I wanted my work to be seen. Losing my job was the fire under my butt I needed to create a website for my portfolio, of course only to redo my portfolio these last several months. I think it’s super important as a creative to show the work you want to be creating and my style and goals have changed so I want my portfolio to reflect that. And then as far as marketing I’m actually just getting started with all that, I have a ton to learn. Oh, and networking! Networking is key to starting (and growing) a business. Creative Women’s Co. is a great network and then I’m the team lead for Freelancing Females Chicago. I also attend Six Degrees Society events whenever I can!
04. What inspired you as a creative woman?
My photography inspiration comes from fashion magazine editorials and other publications such as The New York Times Style section and the WSJ magazine. I also get a lot of inspiration from the fine art portraiture at the Art Institute. As far as what inspired me to start a photography business and continue to build it even when things get hard, that’s definitely been seeing and reading about other creative women making a living from their art. The vulnerability about their struggles and obstacles and how they overcame them when building a business is what inspires me most to keep going.
05. What was your first job ever? Any funny or memorable story?
My first job was a one day stint at a tanning salon. I went through a big tanning phase in high school (okay fine, in college as well) and thought the girls at the front desk were super glamorous. So of course I had to work there. Turns out you have to work your way up, like any job on the planet. That meant my only task was to clean the tanning beds after a client. Literally my only task. Oh and I wasn’t allowed to be seen by clients, I had to hang out in the back by myself the whole time. Like I said, I lasted one day there. But here I am building a service-based business, just a different kind!
06. If you won a lottery today, will you still continue to build your business?
I think so! Perhaps not at the pace I’m doing so now, but I would still want to be a photographer. I would be traveling a lot more for sure.
07. Walk us through your day as a photographer
Every day is pretty different, so I’ll tell you what my “average” day looks like. I usually wake up pretty early (around 5 or 6); I’m a morning person so I’m usually in bed by 9. Then it’s first things first – my matcha latte. After that I try to meditate daily, or at least just sit with and ground myself for 5-10 minutes. Then it’s email and editing time. I’m getting ready to sell some of my prints so getting those ready in terms of editing and image size has taken a lot longer than expected! I usually have client meetings or phone calls in the late morning and early afternoon. And then my afternoon is filled with one of two things – off to the studio for a shoot or back to emails and editing and business tasks (i.e. marketing, etc.)! Then I’ll go to the gym, then dinner, then depending on how much I got done during the day, it’s back to the laptop for a couple hours!
08. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Probably having one of my images chosen to be on the front cover of a homeschooling publication. It’s a super small one but I was so honored they wanted one of my photographs, especially one I really loved.
09. Where or what do you think you will be/do in the next 5 years?
Oh gosh. First off, I hope to be still taking pictures. Next, I hope to have grown a lot as both an artist and a businesswoman. A tangible goal of mine is to get into editorial photography and become a published photographer, so hopefully that will be within the next five years.
10. Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25-year-old you
“Chill out and keep takin’ pics.”