Age: 25 //
Occupation: Sponsorship Sales Coordinator at The Classic Center,
Photographer at Jeff Crain Photo //
Major at GC: Exercise Science
Why did you come to Georgia College?
I ran cross country at College of Charleston before I transferred to Georgia College. I was on a running scholarship. I broke my ankle playing basketball with my roommate after practice one day, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise in the long run. I wouldn’t change my experiences for anything. I didn’t lose my scholarship, but the amount of rehab that I needed to do, I decided that I’d enjoy being in a different place, so I started looking at transferring.
My first day of class was my first time in Milledgeville and my first time on campus. It was a wild experience, but I fell completely in love with Georgia College and I realized that it was a blessing to wind up in that place.
I took a year and a half off and traveled with my best friend. We went to southeast Asia, South America, Canada and out west in the U.S. That was a time that I really got into photography. I went back to school the summer of 2015, then ended up with in internship in Charleston in the cardiac unit at Roper St. Francis Hospital, and graduated December 2015.
I was a Young Life leader. That was something that shaped me, and the people that I spent my time with the most was that community. Getting involved there was one of my favorite memories.
I think the greatest part of Milledgeville is the community. You can’t have the intimacy of that community at a bigger school, where it gets a little more diluted. You can walk to all your friends’ houses in Milledgeville. It’s a tight, close community.
Tell me about your job at the Classic Center.
I oversee all the sponsorships at the Classic Center. I work really closely with our executive director to sell all our sponsorships, fashion the sponsorship packages and work with our clients. We’re pushing half a million in sponsorship sales every year. They give me ownership to come up with new ideas, pitch sponsorships. It’s a great learning environment.
This past year the Classic Center did 866 events total. We constantly have things going on: we have conferences, host all the Broadway touring shows, etc. Our team goes to New York in December and buys all the shows – that’s a huge part of what we do. We do a lot of Foundation events. We have the Classic Center Cultural Foundation, which is a really incredible thing. The complete focus of it is to maximize the economic impact in Athens. Our executive director is somebody I get to learn from, which is such a valuable part of working here. His whole message, and what drew me in during my interview, is that the focus of the Classic Center is to put food on the table for families that own all those local businesses here. My role in that mission is to raise sponsorships for the Classic Center. Every dollar is huge because we put 100 percent of that sponsorship money back into bringing events events and conferences to the Classic Center, which, in turn, brings people to the city. UGA football fills out all these hotels and restaurants seven weekends out of the year, but then every other weekend of the year there has to be other stuff going on so that those industries can stay afloat and Athens can continue to grow and be everything that it can be. We play a big role in that. It’s a really rewarding thing to be a part of something like that. As far as work goes, I always want to be doing something that, in one way or another, is leaving things better than I found them.
I spend most of my time doing client relations, making sure that my sponsors are taken care of. I was just putting together my spreadsheet, I think we have somewhere around 150 sponsors total. There are a lot of moving parts, making sure all those benefits they get with their sponsorships are taken care of. Our biggest thing is relationships. That’s how we do business at the Classic Center: maintaining relationships, because they’re the people in our community, the businesses in our community.
You’re pretty busy – how do you balance all that with your photography?
I did the photo thing after I graduated, and for the next year and a half I worked on my own, doing freelance work. Along with booking weddings, most of what I did was booking work with commercial brands. Fire and Flavor is one I worked with, as well as Peach State Pride. Running your own business is tough, especially because I didn’t know too much about it. It’s hugely rewarding and was an incredible learning experience, but I got to the point where I wanted to save a little money. I was looking for full-time positions and I was determined that I was only going to take something if it was something I really love. I stumbled across this job [at the Classic Center]. Since I’ve taken on this one, I’m learning about how to run a business. I’m focusing a lot of my time here right now and have taken a little bit of a step back from booking new jobs with brands and doing it in a huge capacity. What I am doing a lot of right now is engagement shoots and little stuff here and there. I’ve shot three weddings this year. I do some stuff with real estate. It’s taken a little bit of a turn, but what I’m excited about and have been focusing on is opening up a new print shop and getting a lot of my travel photos out there. I really love photography and it’s something I will come back to more in a full-time manner, but just not at this point in my life.
I’m focusing on stock photos as well. I had a really exciting opportunity recently to work with Google. They did a commercial with a good amount of my work for their global tech conference. They talk about everything they did in the past year and announced what they’re doing in the next year – every Google employee tunes in from all around the world. They used a handful of my photos in the commercial. It was a cool opportunity and I’m trying to maintain relationships like that.
I continue to take photos whether it’s with my friends or whether there is a job. My favorite thing to do when I’m with my friends is take photos and see where there might be a need for that type of content. That’s where I currently focus my attention with photography.
That’s how I balance my time right now.
How did you get into photography?
One day I picked up a camera from a garage sale. I got a $5 film camera.
I was driving through Atlanta one weekend my junior year of college and stopped because I saw a bunch of backpacking gear and a little film camera (Minolta XG M). It’s a late ‘80s model camera and takes incredible photos. The guy holding the yard sale he used it when he traveled all over Europe after graduating college. I ended up buying that same backpack and camera he used from him.
I developed a dream to travel and I took this little camera with me from the very beginning. I love film, and it’s still my favorite way to take photos. I fell in love with photography and the art behind it. When I moved to Charleston, I focused more on photography and actually got an internship with a wedding photographer. I studied exercise science, but my experiences led me down this path.
What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
Its tough. I go through seasons where I love one thing more than the other. Landscapes are always going to be my favorite thing, but really what I love more than anything is – not to be cheesy, but – capturing experiences. I think that I can go out and take photos of a field and it can be really beautiful, but even more rewarding than that is when you can say “man that was an amazing experience,” or, “that meant so much to me.” That’s when a photo has much more power to it, in my opinion. If with the photo I can communicate an experience and what I was feeling, if I can get that across to some degree, that type of photo is the most powerful. That could come from people. That could come from a landscape. It can come from anything. If you have the opportunity to tell a story with a photo, in your own words, that’s a cool way to do it. For me, my goal is that the photo speaks for itself.
Lately I’ve been really interested in doing more portraits. For the first time, I’ve had a new outlet to work on portraits more creatively. Working in this job [at the Classic Center] has left me so hungry to go out and take photos and create something. It’s been a really exciting time lately to have that spark with portrait in particular, and just having my camera again with a lot of freedom, without worrying where my rent money is going to come from.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
I love sitting down behind the computer to edit after a long day of traveling and exploring a new place. There are few things more exciting to me.
What would you consider your greatest success?
One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, hands down, was coach the men's cross country team at Georgia Military College. They were an amazing group of guys and we ended up winning two state championships back-to-back. That was the first state championship that GMC had won since 1976 and that one was in baseball – they had never won anything in cross country or track. It was a really rewarding opportunity, and to this day, a lasting reward from that is the friendships I have with those guys. Cross country and sports like that teach you a lot of character, a lot of integrity. They push you to your limits, and you grow so much. To be able to work with these guys and see them go through that change, to make those friendships and to have that success we did, I would say that is definitely one of the best achievements of my life thus far.
Any advice for current GC students?
Don’t sell yourself short. Georgia College is going to put you in a bubble, and its going to be amazing. It’s going to be beautiful. You’re going to grow, and you’re going to learn. You have an incredible opportunity there to invest in the people around you. Learn as much as you can from your advisors, learn as much as you can from your friends.
Take advantage of the community you have there, but then when you leave that place, learn about all the other stuff – all the stuff that wasn’t inside your bubble. Travel. Travel and meet different people. It’s so important. I think today we live in a very wild political time, a time where information is more available than ever. The biggest thing we can do is learn how to relate to everybody else, everybody that’s not like us and didn’t grow up inside the same bubble.
Don’t let your bubble define what you’re capable of doing. Step outside of that. Dream big and just take the first step to go after whatever you want because that is the hardest thing: taking that first step. Go after those things. Don’t let your upbringing hold you back from anything you believe you’re capable of. Get out and meet people. Find out what makes people different from you. Find out how to relate to that. Find out how to love people, regardless of where they come from or what they do. I think that’s so important for what’s going on today in the world.
So travel! Get out of your bubble and go after the things you want.
Speaking of travel, where to next?
I have a 2-week trip planned for Alaska in August, and I am elated!