S3E21: Devin Ford with Focus Women’s Conference and Devin Ford Photography

Transcript:

This week we have the pleasure to sit down with yet another local entrepreneur who moved away and just had to move back home! Devin Ford trained with celebrity photographers in California and has brought that knowledge back to Mobile to serve her business clients via Devin Ford Photography. Marcus was audibly impressed when he finds out the college she attended while studying photography. The bulk of the discussion is focused on the conference Devin has helped start here in Mobile: FOCUS Women's Conference.

Devin: I'm Devin Ford and I'm the founder of Focus Women's Conference and I also own Devin Ford Photography.

Marcus: Welcome to the podcast, Devin. I am really happy to have you here because I know you've got a lot of things going on. So, thank you for being on the podcast.

Devin: Thanks for having me.

Marcus: Yeah. Well, before we get into the Women's Conference and business and all that other stuff, we usually like to get some backstory of who the person is and their life experience and stuff like that. So, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to high school? College? All that stuff.

Devin: Well, I grew up in Green Bay and I actually went to several high schools. Two of which were here, Green Bay High School and Faith Academy. Then I went to school in Baton Rouge for just about six months. I graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara.

Marcus: Oh, very cool.

Devin: Growing up in Green Bay I always kind of felt like I was too big for the town and I wanted to move away. I did for almost 15 years and then I decided I really wanted to come back. So, I've been back for about five years.

Marcus: I'm familiar with Brooks Institute and the reputation there. That's pretty cool. So what was that like? I would imagine you knew early on that you wanted to go into photography? Because you wouldn't have made that decision, right?

Devin: Well, my mom had taken photography classes when I was little. I always helped her with her assignments and I was always interested in photography. I was the year book photographer. But, I didn't really think of it as a career. So, I'd started at South Alabama and quit school and bartended for awhile and then decided to go back to school and went to PJC for a little while. Just to make sure that I was good enough. I had an instructor there who was actually ... Worked in a different department, but, she mentored me and said, "Well, why not? Just go for your dream." 
So, I applied to Brooks and ended up there. It was phenomenal. It's in Santa Barbara. It's absolutely gorgeous. A lot of my instructors were photographers for National Geographic, celebrity photographers, a lot of ... To work there you have had to have had a successful career at some point in photography essentially. So, you're learning from people who really know what they're doing. 
It was amazing and I met an incredible mentor there who just lived in Santa Barbara. She was a fine art photographer and she encouraged me to travel Europe by myself. Which I did. Encouraged me to move to LA and when I got to LA I was working for a celebrity photographer. Thought that's what I wanted to do because the money is very appealing. But, I quickly learned that those really weren't the people I wanted to spend my time around. So, I switched to businesses at that point.

Marcus: Well, this podcast is going to be extremely selfish, because I consider myself a photographer as well and my son actually has voiced that he wants to go into photography. So, I'm going to ask you questions that kind of pertain to that. So, hopefully, the audience will go along with us on this journey because there's also going to be some additional things that I want them to hear in this podcast as well. But, I guess you know ... You talk about working for the celebrity photographer and realizing that wasn't the direction that you wanted to go. You didn't want to ... I can imagine the thought process that went into that and the type of people that you have to deal with. But, photography is not an easy business. And, you have been very successful in doing photography. What would you say to if you're ... Because you have kids, right?

Devin: I have a daughter who's going to be three on Tuesday and then I have a step-daughter who's going to be 10 on the 20th.

Marcus: Okay. So, if your daughter is 16, 17 years old and says, "Mom, I think I want to go into photography." What do you say to her?

Devin: Well, whatever my daughter says that she wants to be, I'm okay with. So, whatever they want to be, that's great. But, I would encourage her to pick a focus. I think a lot of what you see especially in a small market is you meet people who are doing acting head shots, weddings, maternity sessions, commercial and they're not good because they're not picking a focus. So, you see a lot of poor work and people aren't able to raise their prices because they're not really doing a very good job at anything. So, just pick a focus.
I do not shoot weddings. I don't shoot maternity. I don't shoot newborns. I shoot what I'm good at which is commercial advertising and I do some portraiture. I do a lot of family portraiture and stuff, but, I shoot it in an editorial style because I'm a commercial advertising photographer. With that, you shoot magazines and things. So, I do it in my style and I don't try to emulate other people's style.
I would encourage her to get a lot of training. I shoot a lot of jobs that other photographers have shot. When the person is complaining about the photographer my first question that I ask is, "Well, did you hire a photographer, or did you hire a camera owner?" Because there's a difference. I think the market gets really flooded with people who buy nice cameras and think they're a photographer. And, there's a lot more that goes into it.

Marcus: Well, it's certainly gotten a lot easier for people because it use to be everything was ... I've been shooting since I was 16, so doing the math I think it was 1990 or something like that. So, I've been shooting for close to 30 years. You hand the camera to somebody ... Like to Miles, my son. He's really got a great eye. But, you hand the camera to somebody and you tell them to switch it over into manual mode and most of them have no idea what to do at that point. I'm of the mindset if you don't know how to shoot in manual, then you don't really understand how the camera is operating. When you go to shoot in some aperture mode or shutter priority or whatever, then you may be making mistakes. You're compensating in the wrong way anyway. So the ... I guess the question would then be is it a requirement to go to school in order to be a good photographer?

Devin: No, but it is important to have training. But, you can get training while working under another photographer. The celebrity photographer that I worked for, the first six months I worked for him for free. That's a thing I hear ... I just started an adjunct professor at the University of South Alabama and I asked the kids what do you think about internships. And they thought they should be paid. And, I'm like, "Why would someone pay you?"

Marcus: You don't know anything.

Devin: Exactly. You're pay is knowledge. 

Marcus: Just be happy that you're not paying them for being able to be around them.

Devin: Exactly. So, I had Haley Hill with Access Magazine come and speak to them last night. Several of them are going to sign up for an internship. But, internships are where you trade your time for knowledge. I think that a lot of people don't understand the hard work. A lot of what I learned was working with John Roche, that's the photographer's name. The retoucher that worked for him ... I learned a lot about retouching in college, but, the most I learned was actually sitting ina chair behind this guy Steve. The southern accent's great in LA because he normally wouldn't let people sit by him and watch him. But, because I was southern he would let me. Because of my accent. I lost a super power when I moved back to Mobile. I would just watch and watch everything he did. I learned a ton from that guy.
So, even though I had a degree, when I started getting really good and when I developed my style is when I started working for other people, asking questions and just willing to do whatever I had to do to be around them. The photographer would come in and I'd be scrubbing the floor of the studio and dusted everything and rearranged all his equipment. I'm like, "Okay, can I go on this shoot now?" But, we shot like Spielberg and people like that. 

Marcus: Well, it's interesting to me because we oftentimes have people approach us to be interns too. The assumption is that ... Their assumption is that they would get paid. We're just not interested. The amount of time that it takes for a company to invest in an intern, you're actually taking away from someone else's productivity time. Which has an hourly rate associated with it. So, if somebody's interning with a photographer, then they're costing that photographer money actually. So, it does need to be like ... For those of you out there that might be interested in doing something along those lines, really just know you are trading your time for the ability to be around someone who knows a tremendous amount about business, about the creative aspect of whatever it is. Especially in our industry because what we do is fairly similar. You're trading your time for being around that person and gaining their knowledge. I mean it should fast forward you into a completely different realm if you do it correctly.

Devin: It does. I had a summer intern. She's with Auburn University and she did a great job. She worked really hard. I was impressed. We had a 12 hour day. It was the hottest day of the year in July and she stuck ... The woman was outside all day. She stuck with me. So, I was amazed. But, because of that, I'm going to write her a glowing recommendation. I'm willing to help her get internships in other cities. Or, jobs in other cities. You're also building social capital with your networking.

Marcus: And a portfolio. There's a pretty good chance you're building a portfolio at the same time too.

Devin: Absolutely. If someone interns for me, at any time they can come and I'll critique their work, which is really valuable. People just telling you everything you do is great has zero value. But, people saying this isn't good and telling you why is golden.

Marcus: Yeah. I know. One of the hardest things that I had to learn and it was a buddy of mine and we shared an office. Casey was his name. He lives in Birmingham now. But, we shared an office and we would just spend hours taking pictures and then kind of critiquing going over them and stuff like that. It was a humbling experience, but, at the same time, that's where you get better. Right?

Devin: It is.

Marcus: It's in the critiques because you learn a lot from that. Do you remember the first time that you held a camera in your hands, took a picture of something and realized, "Hey maybe there's something to this?"

Devin: I think what ... I don't remember a specific photo. But, initially what ... Having a large impact on my community is important to me. When I first became interested in photography, I felt like that that was a way ... You know the cheesy saying, "A picture says a thousand words." That that was the way that I could have a strong impact on my community. I can't paint. I don't draw. I love the idea of being an artist. I'm a commercial artist. I'm not a fine artist. I occasionally do some fine art, but, not really. That was a way that I could have an impact. So, I initially thought I was going to be a photographer for National Geographic and go and I wanted to document women living in indigenous cultures. But, then I found out what National Geographic photographers have to do. I am adventurous and I'm brave in some ways, but, like staying in the jungle and being eaten by mosquitoes and like snakes. I'm not that kind of adventurous.

Marcus: Right. I think everybody has that. I remember looking at those magazines as a kid too and thinking, "Man that would be just so much fun." Then Joe McNally and some of the other folks have been people I've followed their careers because they're just phenomenal photographers. And you think, "Man that would be just so awesome." And then you start realizing no there's no ... Even Joe did a recent podcast with somebody and he was like, "Yeah you know it really took a toll on my personal life because you're gone most of the year." He missed on a lot of his kid's growing up and stuff like that. But, yeah, it's a sacrifice. 

Devin: And, if that's the life you want then wonderful.

Marcus: Go for it.

Devin: You know, absolutely. I mean because someone needs to be doing that work. But, for me, it's just ... I can't.

Marcus: If you were talking to someone who wanted to start running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Devin: Relationships. I for instance, with the women's conference, I wanted to do that from when I immediately got to Mobile. But, I did not have the relationships. So, I really started networking. I joined Mobile Arts Council and I took over their event, The Greater Mobile Arts Awards and rebranded that as the Arties. That helped me get my name out there. It's a lot of work. Again, working for free essentially. But, I was able to make a lot of connections. I'm on their board now. I'm the Vice President of that board. Then I joined the Leadership Mobile and just anything I can do to make relationships. Because when I'm booking the conference I've been amazed at how east it was to book this lineup of incredible women utilizing social capital. And again, I have a committee. Shelley Teague is on the ... They're four women on the committee. But, Shelley Teague has been just phenomenal. She's a huge networker and booked a lot of the speakers and raised a lot of money without ... We've worked incredibly hard, but a lot of the money she raised was in the first few days just by calling connections.

Marcus: People knowing who you are and just knowing that they want to be a part of it. I want to pause there because one of the things that I wanted to say to you is ... I know we don't talk on a regular basis, but, I have been floored because we met I think a year or so ago at an event and I keep hearing your name over and over and over again. You are absolutely pouring into this city and I just wanted to exhort you. 
Because I think it's phenomenal what you're doing and I know that you care very much about Mobile. You care very much about the arts. You obviously have a passion for women and seeing women become excellent. The conferences is part of that. But, I think it's just phenomenal how you've kind of dove back in after being gone. I know some people may look at that and go, "Well, you're doing that for the business." But, I know you don't do that kind of stuff. You don't expend that kind of energy and time and stuff like that just because it's a business thing. You really care. So, thank you for doing that.

Devin: Oh. Hey, well thank you. I will say this. I moved back here five years ago, but, I came here on a visit. A two-month visit. I went on a date with my husband. We did know each other in high school. So, it wasn't completely crazy, but, I decided not to go back and we got married. He has a little girl and she was here. So, we were going to be here. One of my pet peeves is when people complain about where they live, but, they don't volunteer. I'm a really huge advocate for public arts. I started a public art committee at Mobile Arts Council and I'm determined there will be a public arts policy because that's something I don't like about Mobile. Instead of just complaining, I'm going to try to fix it.

Marcus: Do something about it. Yeah.

Devin: That's sort of a motto that I live by. I think if everyone would get ... Join one committee, or one board, or just tackle one tiny problem maybe-

Marcus: Or just volunteer. You don't necessarily even have to be on the board. Just volunteer and be part of the movement, right?

Devin: Right.

Marcus: Lend your voice to whatever it is that's going one. Because there are plenty of people. You obviously have a passion for the arts. We're kind of lending our voice to the things that are going on in the business entrepreneurial space. I know Lou Peavey and Ben Jernigan. I had lunch with them the other day. They care very much about the music scene here in Mobile. So, they're doing everything that they can to change that. Then you look at people like Grant Zarzour and the Fuse Project and stuff like that. They very much care about non-profits so they're investing in things like the Fuse Factory as well as schools. Because that's what Fuse Project is all about. But, you know you see these people and they're trying to change the city for the better. I think the fractioning of efforts is harmful at times. So, really don't just go just to be the boss, go to lend your voice to whatever is going on. Right?

Devin: Yeah. Absolutely. One of the things that we're going to try to do after Focus is over is really get ... Because essentially even the music things and Lou Peavey's on our board at Arts Council. To create a committee of basically the leaders of all of these organizations. Because there's a group attacking blight. I did a summer art program. It's actually on the cover of [inaudible 00:17:56] this week. But, we want to attack blight with public art. That was a partnership with Mobile Arts Council, Alabama Contemporary, my business, the Mobile County Commission. And, it's of groups of people who working separately coming together to attack a single problem. Just even helping unite these organizations, like you were saying. Because a lot of times people are all working on the same problem, but, not communicating. I don't think that's on purpose. It's just kind of the way it works out. But, I do think that's a problem that's been identified by lots of organizations and that everyone's trying to work together to fix that.

Marcus: Yep. What are the last two books that you've read that you've found helpful? And, I'll give you an out if you're not a reader. Books or resources that you've ... As a business owner that have been helpful?

Devin: I listen to a lot of-

Marcus: Podcasts?

Devin: I listen to ... Yeah, I love Tony Robbins. I listen to a lot of Tony Robbins. He's somebody who can really get me pumped up while I'm retouching. As far as books, I do like to read business books, but, a lot of what I read is to escape. And, so I read a lot of nerdy fantasy things. 

Marcus: Beach novels.

Devin: Well, and even ... Yes. But, not your ... Not typically things that you would ... That most ladies read I would say. I'm kind of a nerd. So, I read a lot of things about magical powers and fireballs shooting out of people's hands and things like that.

Marcus: That's awesome. I had no idea. Tony Robbins has a documentary on Netfilx that is absolutely phenomenal.

Devin: I want to go to that so bad. But, I think it's 10 thousand dollars or something to go to that program. And, my husband wants to go too. So, I have to pay double. I can't go without him. He's not going to-

Marcus: Of course not.

Devin: That's one thing I want to say too. Kind of a side note, but, Cheryl Sanborn says that the most important business decision you'll ever make is who you marry. Right? And I know we don't think about it as a business decision. It's not, but, someone who supports your career is very important. So, with Focus Women's Conference, the logo design, the poster design, the website, all of that my husband has been doing. He comes home from work at night and he works on the conference until it's time to go to bed. I mean one of us makes dinner, but, one of us is sitting at the computer working on this at all times. 
So, it's not just ladies putting it together. Shelley Teague, her husband has done all the contracts. Volunteered his time. Riley [inaudible 00:20:47] who's a friend of mine, he decorated the windows down at Hoffman's. I mean, you guys are having me on. There have been a lot of men pitching in and I think that's an important note about women's empowerment. I think sometimes people associate that with disempowering men and that's not the case at all. It's just about closing that opportunity gap for women.

Marcus: I mean, I just think men have their outlets. Women should have theirs too. That's totally cool. But, I know we've been kind of dancing around that. Why don't you ...Here's your chance. Plug the women's conference. Because this podcast will be released before then. So, why don't you tell people where ... What it is, where they can find additional information, why they should come, that kind of thing.

Devin: What's really sort of directing my path to commercial advertising ... I was a little lost because people are telling me, "Don't quit working for this photographer. You're crazy." But, I got a flyer in the mail to something called the West Hollywood Women's Leadership Conference and I went to that conference and met amazing mentors. Got a lot of educational information about growing my business, but, also about how to get engaged in the community. That's where my community activism really started taking root. I had not done it previously. When I came back to mobile I started searching for that and there was not one. So, I decided to launch it. 
But, through the West Hollywood one, I ended up becoming the ... I was on the Board of Directors for the West Hollywood Chamber and it was the youngest person that had ever achieved that position in their 90-year history and that was because of relationships that I made there. It really help set my direction. So, I wanted to offer these educational opportunities and the mentoring and networking that I received to the women of Mobile. In the program that ... The Summerfield Film Program at Strickland Youth Center this summer, nine out of the 10 kids in my class were from single parent homes with just their moms and their moms are living in extreme poverty. So, we have a scholarship program. Anyone is eligible. You just fill out the application and it will be based on availability, but, we're really hoping to tackle that opportunity gap for women so that we can help them lift themselves out of poverty.

Marcus: Absolutely. So, who are some of the speakers that are going to be at the conference?

Devin: We have an amazing lineup. Liz Freeman from the Chamber is on our Breaking the Glass Ceiling lunchtime panel. Kelly Finley is Moderating that. We also have a lady named Angela Suggs who's over the Florida Tourism Board. Then we have workshops on everything from how to become an elected appointed official and that features Gina Gregory and Connie Hudson and several other women. Then we also have a conflict negotiation workshop with Dr. Jamie Franco-Zamudio. We have a workshop with Brandy Hambright a local attorney who is negotiation skills and is helping women to learn to just ask for what you want when you're negotiating for a pay raise, or if you're an entrepreneur negotiating in that situation. So there's really ... The format is there ... The morning speaker, Rachel Macy Stafford, who's a New York Times Best Selling Author is our morning speaker. Lunchtime panel everyone gets and then there's three workshops sessions during the day and you choose from three during each session. So, whether you're looking for personal development to learn how to be a public servant or professional development, you can find what you're looking for there.

Marcus: That's really cool. So, if they want to find out more information or I'm assuming that there's a cost associated with it. If they're wanting to buy a ticket, where would they go to find out?

Devin: Well the cost is a hundred dollars and you can go buy tickets at FocusWC.com or you can go to FocusWomensConference.com and you can follow us on of course on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.

Marcus: Yeah. Yeah. That's cool. So, you've told us about the Women's Conference, but, where can people find out more information about your photography?

Devin: DevinFord.com and you can also follow me of course on Facebook and Instagram as well.

Marcus: Very good. Well, I want to thank you for coming on the podcast. To wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Devin: I'm just really excited about all the stuff that's going on in Mobile and I really believe in the power of community, and I believe in the power of art and women. I just want to encourage everybody to support all those things.

Marcus: Well, Devin, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been fantastic talking with you.

Devin: Thank you for having me.