Letter: Ignore mom and dad, just snap away

Dear young, aspiring artist, 

It is no secret that today's society raised an eyebrow at you when you decided to pursue that degree in photography, graphic design or whatever you're passionate about but "doesn't pay well." And if you haven't come to that point in life, give these words a thought.                

Our generation is one of non-conformity — we are fortunate to live in a time where many have come up with unconventional business models to reinvent the wheel. From YouTubers making millions a year, to DJs touring the world in a matter of months, there are more ways to balance economic and personal needs today. It is almost intuitive to believe that certain career paths will make you successful and the rest will land you a job at Starbucks or that not attending university will ultimately limit you to a job in the service industry. But oh God, I had never been happier to be wrong in my life. A bit about my journey — I'm an artist in a left-brained family. My father is an industrial engineer, my mother is a lawyer and my sister a geophysicist. As for me, I've been drawing and painting since the age of nine. My dream was to either attend Julliard or Rhode Island School of Arts and study fine arts or animation. It didn't take long before my parents and school counsellor advised me to look into sciences or engineering. 

There I was, 18-year-old me, choosing a career path that didn't attract me in the first place. "Computer science at the University of British Columbia," said my advisor, "looks promising!" So I applied and moved to Vancouver the following year. I knew I wouldn't have the time to draw and paint, so I taught myself photography during my senior year. It was the only visual medium that wouldn't take a big chunk from my study time and it did the job when I needed an artistic outlet. 

Photo courtesy William Selviz

Almost instantly, I started doing event photography at UBC. Coming from an Islamic country where concerts and parties are forbidden, I had zero experience in the field and had to learn everything from scratch. Little by little, I found my own style by combining my knowledge in colour and composition from drawing and painting with my eye for candid moments in street photography and gave concert photography my own touch. "Fine Art Concert Photography" I would call it at the time. Defining my style boosted my exposure in the city and, before I knew it, I went from shooting frat parties and sweaty first-year dances, to festivals in and out of town.

It is almost intuitive to believe that certain career paths will make you successful and the rest will land you a job at Starbucks.... But oh God, I had never been happier to be wrong in my life.

If you are either about to embark into university or you're already in it but unhappy with your decision, these are some things that kept my head above the water for the past three years: Follow your gut feeling. If making art is what moves you, don't listen to what others say about it — do it for your own fulfillment and happiness. Balance out school and make time for a photo shoot, a jamming session or drawing doodles if that is what you need.

Photo courtesy William Selviz

The nightlife scene was intimidating for me at first. I was new to it and it demanded social and creative skills I never thought of working on. Through networking and building a strong portfolio, I managed to get myself out there. It didn't come fast or easy, but it always came down to following my gut feeling and what felt good to me. From every click I made on Lightroom to every festival I applied to, it was all something that just felt right. There were too many signs pointing in one direction and it was obvious I needed to give this a shot.

I fell in love with the energy of the stage and the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene — that is what I am passionate about at the moment. I tried to balance out this "hobby" with a degree I hated with passion. But it was then when I realized this wasn't for me, I needed to make art one way or another.

Photo courtesy William Selviz

When you're at the hardest point of your career, writing your most important paper or sitting through a four-hour lab, the only things that can help you thrive are intrinsic rewards and aspirations. Your job and degree won’t matter more than your happiness.