Tom Nugent: Photographer
Anyone who knows photographer Tom Nugent will tell you he is one of the ‘nicest guys ever,’ and in a creative field that can hold a mix of personalities, it’s refreshing. Whether it’s capturing beads of sweat on the singers face at a punk show or reflecting the west coast image of a local fashion label, his passion is clearly evident in his work. Over coffee in Mount Pleasant one afternoon, he tells me why he left an intense film job to pursue what he loves.
What made you decide to make the shift?
"When I worked in the film industry it was mentally and creatively challenging, often times I would work 12-15 hour days, 6 days a week. With so much time spent at my day job and so little time to properly focus on photo/video freelance jobs that I took on, it was hard to juggle both. I eventually hit a point where I realized the freelance was more fulfilling to me and if I wanted to pursue that, I had to shift my focus and make a change."
What steps did you take?
"Once I made the decision to do photography and video full time, I had already done freelance in my spare time and collected enough of a portfolio and recurring clients that I had some important ground work done. I found the first wave of work started to come in somewhat naturally after I - first - made the decision that I would pursue freelance work and - second - said it out loud to clients, friends and most importantly myself, that it’s what I wanted to do and it’s what I was going to do."
What has been rewarding since changing jobs?
"I had the constant reminder in the front of my thoughts that I needed to create something that’s my own. The refreshing thing about my current position is that I’m not tied down by a specific client type or focus of work - and I want to be able to keep doing that. I love being a part of a project, to plan something and see it all the way through."
What are some of the challenges of freelancing?
"The jump from structured workplace environment to self employed freelance artist was and is tricky for me. Working in a structured environment for so long and having tasks and priorities managed for me, for well, my whole professional life, was something that created challenges moving into a position of working for myself."
"Another challenge is to be able to see ahead and anticipate when you might not have work, to figure out how you'll manage things during that lull of income. But after you’ve gone through a few of those they're a little more prominent to recognize in advance and it quickly becomes motivation to change trajectory."
What has helped you along the way in your career?
"Supporting myself financially with creative work, or even just creating in general I've found it easy to wind up in a state of harsh self-critiquing and doubt. It's easy to get down on yourself, but one thing that's helped me keep things in perspective over the last few years is this quote from an interview with Ira Glass (shortened for this story):
"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
What inspires you?
"The people I work with, who build and create some really incredible things.They’re all involved in different industries, and I get to take their work, their designs, and use my own visual interpretation of how to properly represent whatever it may be. It’s awesome to feel like I’m a part of something I admire that much. I’ve also seen a direct connection between the work I’ve done for clients and the growth of their business.That’s been a really surreal experience for me working so closely with some businesses."
What advice would you give someone wishing to pursue their passion?
"I think one of the most important things that I’ve observed over the years is that if you’re doing something that you really are passionate about, something that gives you that fulfilling feeling, you’re already working harder at that thing than anything else and you’re doing the best work that your skills will allow in that moment."