When I first met Chase Jarvis, I was the editor-in-chief of PRINT magazine, and Debbie was the magazine’s editorial and creative director. We were putting together a special issue on San Francisco’s designers, artists, activists, writers and makers, and Jarvis had offered up his CreativeLive studio for the weekend for a comically intense two-day photoshoot involving the likes of Jessica Hische, Liz Ogbu, Scott Dadich, Tim Ferriss, Clement Mok and … 66 amazing others.
It was, in a word, exhausting—and I wasn’t even clicking the shutter on the Hasselblad; that was John Keatley. I interviewed everyone we photographed, including Jarvis, who subsequently was interviewing a medley of our guests in a neighboring studio for his Chase Jarvis LIVE show. Seeing the indefatigable pace at which he worked—all within the CreativeLive HQ warehouse, an empire he had built from the ground up—was to witness Jarvis’ lifelong drive in action, and helped frame the many places his talent has taken him. Jarvis went from amateur snaps in ski bum towns to the forefront of professional extreme sports photography; he created a pioneering iPhone photo app; he’s shot celebrities; he’s interviewed hoards of the foremost minds in creativity; he co-founded CreativeLive, and has long been on a mission to democratize access to the arts via the innovative online platform.
And through it all, one gets the sense that he’s not just blowing smoke—he believes in the power of creativity. He believes in the work he produces, and what his work might help others produce. And over the years and through the woods, he has absorbed and distilled a medley of Jarvis-isms for creatives.
In chorus with this week’s special live episode of Design Matters, here are 26 such nuggets, alongside some biographical reflections that serve as pins in the map of his own journey.
—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief
“If you don’t write your own script, someone else will write it for you.”
“My childhood was a very creative childhood. My parents would give me a block of wood and I'd go play in the backyard for hours. I sat at the adult table because there was no kid’s table.”
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a lover of pictures. I had these junky disc and 8mm cine cameras. My interest in all that probably developed from an early realization, a near obsession with the idea that we could capture time, capture stories and moments with tools and a bit of film.”
“My grandfather died two days before my college graduation, which was a terrible, terrible thing. He dropped dead of a heart attack. The silver lining in that was I got his cameras. I was gifted his cameras. It was this permission to go explore the world.”
“I bailed on a career in professional soccer, I bailed on medical school and dropped out of a Ph.D. in philosophy to become a photographer. That obviously was very radical. … The reality is there aren’t a lot of parents running around telling their kids to be artists or to be creative.”
“I also think my educational path points to an all-too-familiar pattern within our culture—one so widespread it’s become an epidemic. Namely, that degrees have become a metric for carrying ‘meaning’ for our parents, earning ‘approval’ of others. Frankly, that whole narrative is total B.S.”
“I had an incredibly supportive family and yet I still spent years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars chasing everyone else’s dream for what I was supposed to become rather than chasing my own. It was when I finally quit that path and pursued my own calling to become a photographer and an entrepreneur that I really felt alive. This perspective has been instrumental in my life ever since. It felt like waking up from a sleep state. This ‘aha’ moment suddenly helped me become aware and empowered.”
“The people I try and surround myself with, they know that intuition is the mechanism through which to book your own ticket.”
“I was literally breaking in—as in breaking and entering into the local community college to develop my film for free between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m. I was learning from books. It was very difficult to get meetings with other people who were the best in the craft because they didn’t want to divulge their secrets, and it was a very closed, limited mindset. So through hacking my way and figuring it out, literally taking a picture, writing down my exposure, taking another picture, writing down my exposure, such that when you get your film back, you could actually figure out what the F you were doing.”
“I’m a hard-working culture junkie who knows that it’s the greatest time in history to be a photographer or creative. It’s the first time in the history of the world that creatives are also distributors. And that’s very profound if you think that up until recent history, permission was required for us to be able to share work at any sort of scale. We had to get permission from galleries, from ad agencies or photo editors to be able to have our work out there. And now anybody with access to a computer can show their work in 200 countries around the world.”
“It’s fair to say that I would not be where I am now without the internet. I think the same can be said for nearly every successful artist these days, whether you’re talking Ai Weiwei or Macklemore or everything in between. The democratization of creativity enabled by online tools and the ability to reach millions with the touch of a button has surely changed the trajectory of creativity forever.”
“I have very few regrets because it’s a policy of mine to chase down anything that might become one.”
“Stuck in a cubicle? Not living your dream? Whatever you’re doing on the side of your ‘real’ job, whatever you’re doing with your free time—that’s what your soul is angling for in your next gig, job, career, life. So how do you make that dream career come true if you’re already in a full-time gig? It’s all about nights and weekends. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the time.”
“Focus on being world class at something that you’re deeply passionate about because it’s just going to get hard. Once it gets hard, you have to care deeply about it if you want to push through. That’s going to keep a lot of other people out.”
“Create, share, repeat. The secret weapon to succeeding (in whatever way ‘success’ means to you) as a photographer is to create personal work. Follow what fascinates and inspires you. Make something real and then share it with the world. This is the most brutally simple recipe for standing out, for making your mark. But there’s a catch: This work has to be all you. It can’t be a project you undertake to please others or an idea that you tried to fit into a recognizable mold. Get weird, get your hands dirty, chase your very own heart. It’s in creating from there that your work has the chance of turning out solid gold.”
“Let’s say I finish a job and instead of buying a new couch or a new car with the money, I put that into a personal project. I’m going to be able to create a cool body of work that is going to make me feel alive and bring the most out of me creatively. And that work will be responsible for me getting my next job, maybe getting a cooler job, and having my personal brand equity and my personal value as a creative be higher than the last job that I did. … I would advocate that throwing money at personal projects is in many ways a stepping stone or a ladder to growth and evolution.”
“There is no recipe for a great picture. It is this challenge that keeps me interested in doing what I do.”
“Just do something creative every day. When you sprinkle chocolate sprinkles on your cappuccino, do it in a pattern. … Be mindful of being creative.”
“Creativity is the new literacy. Whether you’re taking pictures, building a business, managing a hedge fund, there’s a ton of creativity involved. Art is but a subset of creativity.”
“Craig Swanson and I founded CreativeLive based on our shared belief that the world deserves—and needs—access to new models of education, as well as a community of peers and collaborators. Moreover, the future of work, life, community, technology, family, everything, will be driven by creativity. The sad reality was that when we looked around, the status quo education and work structures not only traditionally excluded, but even punished, creativity—the very thing that unites us all and drives us forward.”
“The best thing for me to do is forget about my need for inspiration and go out and live a little more. Get uncomfortable. Live some other art. Travel. Walk the earth and get into adventures. … For me, getting inspired is ultimately about forgetting about looking for inspiration, because in that mode, you’re always judging. And when you’re judging, you’re not nearly as open to some inspiration that might crack you upside the head. Escape and engage.”
“Life is about human connections, not photography. Photography is simply a means to express ourselves, and if we’ve got nothing to express and no one to share it with in a way that touches others, it’s pointless.”
“Devour popular culture. Consuming the works of others inspires me. And it’s not just museums and the ‘establishment.’ I devour magazines, books, street art, performances, music, etc. All things that make me think critically (and whimsically) about the world. Inspiration can come from anywhere.”
“Moderate expectations. Make it a habit not to judge yourself on your creative output. Sometimes your creativity is on fire. Great news. Other times, it’s not. It’s hard sometimes when you make art in a professional commercial capacity because you’re paid to be ‘on,’ but you’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you make it a habit to be cool to your psyche when your creative mojo isn’t firing on all pistons.”
“We’re living in a world that is more photographic than ever before, and we’re never going back.”
Curtis: The interview was recorded in front of a live audience at the HOW Design Live Conference in May of 2018. Here's Debbie.
Debbie Millman: Finally at long last I get you into the hot seat.
Chase Jarvis: She was telling me of this stuff. She wouldn't let me see any of the notes. She mentioned my mom. She mentioned a few of the things. So apparently we're in for it.
Debbie: Well, you know I have my research techniques. Let's talk about-
Chase: Why are you not faithful?
Debbie: Because I don't have any interest in looking at anybody but you. So we're doing a live show. This will be on Design Matters. I have a very small studio and the studio is really ... my guests and I are even closer than this. And I think part of the reason I'm able to get so deep and intimate with my guests is because we're literally sitting knee to knee, eye to eye. And so I have to look at you because otherwise I-
Chase: Which we just not ... pretend they're not there.
Debbie: No, no, no. We don't want to exclude anybody.
Chase: There's not 2,000 people sitting right here?
Debbie: Last week I interviewed Mr. Bingo in London and it was the same thing and he was completely freaked out and felt like he was ignoring the audience. And so we don't want you to feel ignored. Just feel like you're part of the conversation. How's that?
Debbie: Okay, good. So I want to start to talk about your entrepreneurship. It seems like this is something that you were born with and I understand that as a kid you used to go to your local golf course, fish golf balls out of the lakes and then sell them back to the golfers in between holes in addition to selling lemonade.
Debbie: What, how and why?
Chase: Sometimes it was the same ball that they would hit in the water-
Debbie: I know.
Chase: I would go get it and sell it back to them for five bucks on the next hole.
Debbie: I understand that the people that owned the golf course felt that you were cutting into their business, but because you were doing such a good job at this, they hired you to run the Pro Shop one day a week.
Chase: How do you know this about me? This is freaky. Yes, all those things are true. Neither of my parents are entrepreneurs so I don't know the gene in me that was turned on by the idea of connecting with others and building something. But yes, that's true. I also had a car wash business where I would wash all the cars in the neighborhood to save up money to go buy Super 8 film to make films.
Debbie: Yes, I know.
Chase: You guys have no idea what it's like. There's a lot of pressure right here.
Debbie: Well, I understand that you also have an interesting fondness for crows. Crows, the bird.
Chase: You really have done your research. This is freaky. So here's what I think about crows. I think crows get a bad rap.
Chase: Because people look at them, they make a lot of noise and they are very vocal and they're sort of scavengers. I love grit. That's one of my favorite characters in humans.
Debbie: Why is that?
Chase: I think it makes the impossible possible. We walk around and if we took ... It's a Nietzsche quote, like no artist tolerates reality. And if we took the world around us as what it was prescribed, then nothing would grow and nothing would change. And we have a room full of people who are change makers here, who are creators. So in a way, I love the character of grit and crows to me are like the grittiest bird.
Chase: It turns out they're brilliant. They can remember a face for 10 years. So if they see you and-
Debbie: How was that discovered?
Chase: Would you like me to tell you this? It's pretty cool.
Debbie: I would, actually. Don't we all want to know this?
Chase: So researchers ... Do you want to know why crows can wreck it? Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, there's a lot of crows on campus and they start studying them, and it turns out that they're very, very wise. A friend of mine named Josh did a TED talk about teaching a crow to use a vending machine, to put a coin in a thing to get a thing back. It was a rudimentary vending machine, but it turns out that they're very smart. And if you throw something at a crow, it will remember you and it will also communicate to the other birds that you're not a cool person.
Debbie: What if you are a cool person?
Chase: Then they know it and they literally don't mess with me. I see crows and they will mess with people that I'm with and they're like, "He's bro," when they see me. Respect. Respect the crow.
Debbie: That's awesome.
Chase: The study, I don't want to go too nerdy here, but the study, the researchers, they would wear masks when they did the research because they were afraid of the long term effects of crow hating. This is true. You can look it up.
Debbie: You learn so much in Design Matters episode. We learn so much.
Chase: Yeah, it's true. You learn very strange things, but the crow is the grittiest bird. It's very smart. It's under appreciated. It's very handsome. It's beautiful.
Debbie: What is so intriguing to you about grit?
Chase: I think it's our ability to push through things. It's our ability to overcome without my ... I think I got a healthy dose of grit from my grandmother in particular. She was a single mother and basically waited tables and worked in a bar to put her daughters through life and through school. I learned that at a very young age when you're trying to put together like, have you met my grandpa? Because they were separated, and she's like yes, I know your grandpa very well. And I remember observing how she ran her household and when I was over there with my mom, had a deep appreciation for what she had made when I realized it was through a pretty hard run.
Chase: In my own life, I started realizing ... I grew up very confused. I grew up a creative person. I was an only child and for some that means you were like spoiled. I was not spoiled. I had like Adidas with four stripes, like the upside down Nikes.
Chase: In that not being spoiled I felt like I was trying ... I had to decide. I was very creative, but as I was growing up, I looked at, wait a minute, the creative kids were weird, and as an eight-year-old, all you want to do is fit in. I also was a gifted athlete, so I ended up sort of just running to the thing that I was. It was easier to fit in as, and it was only through sort of skateboard culture many years later, maybe a decade later, where I was able to understand that you could fuse those two things and I'd been sort of ... And I went to college on a soccer scholarship and I had a-
Debbie: But you studied philosophy.
Chase: Yep, studied philosophy and was on the Olympic development team for soccer, but it was really skateboard culture that put those two things together. And in skateboard culture, like grit, the ability to ... Concrete is hard. I don't know if you guys know that, but concrete's very hard and there's this sort of the ability to learn tricks in the face of like more than a skinned knee, the ability to create such a DIY culture. I think this, again, the community here understands and grit is a core value of that community. I think that is what helped me sort of grow and evolve and find myself. So I deeply identify with that as a characteristic because in many ways it's what set me free.
Debbie: You grew up in middle class, Seattle.
Debbie: Your dad ... Representing. Your dad was a police officer and your mom worked at a biotech company, the one that I understand launched Cialis?
Chase: That's the one with the bathtub with the adults sitting ... Yeah.
Debbie: As a kid you would go around your neighborhood, as you were mentioning, and you'd wash cars to raise money to buy a Super 8 camera so you could make films. What kind of films was a young Chase Jarvis making back then?
Chase: Swashbuckling films.
Debbie: Like with Zorro?
Chase: Yeah, literally sword-fighting films. We would cut out cardboard. There was a very short ... The stunt life of cardboard turns out is not long.
Debbie: A lot of testing I guess.
Chase: Yes, a lot of testing than we realized that if you'd wrap these swords in foil, aluminum foil, they would last a little bit longer and they would be shiny at the same time. It was with those props basically that we started making our first films. The first film that we actually screened ... Here's a little side story. So, saved up money, bought the camera, saved up money, bought the film, hired one of my co-stars brothers, Derek [Traulsen 00:10:07] to record us. All the editing was done in camera. He was not a very good cinematographer, but nonetheless we ... I think I was age six, made our first film. It was called Sons of Zorro. The short version of the film is ... and by the way, there's another film that already exists called the Son of Zorro. This is totally different.
Debbie: Good to know.
Chase: Just the S is just makes it very different. And we ... There was a bad guy and the bad guy, turns out he stabbed me-
Debbie: I see you as a good guy.
Chase: ... walking down the street. I got ambushed. Bad guy stabbed me.
Debbie: Did he stab you with a pencil?
Chase: I managed to crawl back to my homies. My homies found this out. They went and avenged my stabbing and there was a princess involved that we went ... It was very cliche, but I was 8 or 7, so going with the stereotypes of the time and we screened the film. We made it on camera. We bought candy for 25 cents, sold it for 50 cents, charged admission, sold-out show. It was my first film and I still have it. If I was going to do a keynote instead of sit down with you, I would be showing that film right now and you're thankful that we're doing this. I'll just say.
Debbie: I was going to say if you had it with you, I'd abandon this as long as I've been waiting to do this, just to be able to see that. So you were making-
Chase: Sons of Zorro, check it out y'all.
Debbie: You were making money doing this at six or seven or eight years old. That's pretty amazing. Very entrepreneurial.
Chase: Well, I think that there's a ... What has often been seen as a conflict, like art and commerce, entrepreneur or artist and, we'll probably talk a little bit about CreativeLive. But to me, again, it's all sort of making. It's all creating and whether you're creating a piece of art and hung in museums and whatnot or a business, there's this underpinning of creativity that I feel like we do a disservice to one another, to ourselves, in creating a conflict where there really isn't one. And of course, they're often difficult to reconcile. Like individual relationships at any moment in time are difficult to reconcile if you have one point of view and your partner has another or ... I don't think about those things more in that vein than I do is sort of completely juxtapose one other.
Debbie: You mentioned feeling that being artistic back in junior high school and high school made you feel weird. Was your effort to be athletic a way to overcompensate for some of that?
Chase: Absolutely, 100%, no question. I think, regrets are ... to me that's one thing that I struggle with. I do not want to have them. To me, to date, that's my biggest regret is my lack of ability to, as a young person, process trying to fit in and we've all gone through this. We've all been vulnerable and realized that we were on the outside. We're all on the outside of something at some point and even that little bit of that little boy's life that was on the outside, to me, that stings and I don't want to position it like I had some ... Like again, I felt like I had all the upside of being a great athlete. But it felt like many ways it was at a cost of what I felt was a really important piece of who I was and who we are as people. I mean, our ability to create is what separates us from different species. So it's ...
Chase: Yeah, in part what makes us human. And so, in a weird way, because it was creativity that I was suppressing, it felt like I was suppressing a really important, a fundamental part of what it meant to be not just me but to be a human.
Debbie: What made you decide to study philosophy at San Diego State?
Chase: Well ... Did you talk to my mother?
Debbie: Maybe. Maybe not?
Chase: So, with as much respect as I can conjure up, my parents ... We grew up very middle class and you already mentioned the background of my parents. I didn't want for ... I mean, I had a roof over my head and I have all those things, the Adidas with the four stripes notwithstanding. I felt like I was programmed in a way and I think this is something that I'm trying to undo culturally through community is, as I was programmed that if you're hard-working, smart, or you care about the things you care about, that you should channel that to the things that society, that culture thinks are the right things. And when I was growing up in my time, in my place, with my middle class upbringing that was, oh you're smart and hardworking, you're a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or something that was very ... It was obvious that that was respected. Neither of my parents finished school and the fact that I was A, an only child, B, the first person to go to school, C, had a couple of other characteristics, I decided to be a doctor. Like literally, I remember having a conversation with my uncle. It's like oh, don't mess around. If you're gonna do anything like, doctor, lawyer and everything ... it was like okay, someone I respect and they're ... okay. So I just enrolled in that sort of program.
Chase: It was only through doing that for a long time and totally hating it and in order to ... I did all the pre-meds, all the prerequisites, it's whatever, four year, three and a half years into college and I hated it. I hated it so much. I loved college. I loved ... 'cause I was playing soccer at the time and that was a really important part of my life, but this other part was horrible. And I felt like ... Talking about being on the outside, no one loved labs and science and and biochemistry and all those things that I hated, and so in a way, this was something that wasn't that. It was a thing that when I said I was interested in reading, and I was interested in philosophical texts, and Siddhartha, and some things that really sort of motivated me at that loss of innocence, sort of coming of age time. I found out that you could actually get a degree from doing those things. Wait a minute. [00:16:29] So I ran to that. I didn't quit the medical school. I ran to that and it didn't [inaudible 00:16:34] also. So I did both that and a degree in philosophy.
Chase: I always build it as I was going to do this and be a more well-rounded doctor, very philosophical, ethical doctor, and my poor parents. I went from going to go to medical school and then ... Oh, going to be a professional athlete. Okay, I decided I didn't want to do that. Then I'm going to be a doctor and then wasn't gonna do that, and then going to be a, at least another kind of doctor, a PhD. Then when I dropped out of that to become a photographer? They're laughing for a reason.
Debbie: Immediately after graduating college your grandfather had a heart attack and died.
Debbie: And you were then gifted his cameras, which you described as permission to go and explore the world. So you put those cameras in a backpack and went and explored the world with your then girlfriend, who's now your wife. What were you seeking?
Chase: I think I was trying to make up for all those years that I jammed away and didn't acknowledge the creative side that we all have. If you walk up to the front of a second grade classroom and you say, "Who wants to come draw me a picture?" Every single one of those hands goes up.
Chase: And then you try that again at 4th or 5th grade, and half as many go up. You tried that at 6th, and 7th, and 8th and 10th, and you know where this is going. Then by the time you're graduating high school, there's one or two people in any class that would want to come up to the front and draw a picture. So, for me that ... I don't know if I was ... I think when I when I had the opportunity, I was obviously terrible. My grandfather, like a week before just dropped dead of a heart attack. Nothing. No plan, just ... one day he was gone. He was the type of guy that the camera manufacturers loved. He had all the little gadgets, and the lenses and all that stuff, and I had to date, only really played around with my father's camera and he only had one lens and I grew up with him photographing me, but that was his and not really mine. So this was an opportunity to run toward that creative thing.
Chase: I mentioned skate culture a couple times. Photography was such a ... photography, punk musics and spray paint was ... Those are a huge element of skate culture and I always noticed that when I was skateboarding there were usually photographers at the pool, or at the ramp or whatever, and that I had never really fully embraced that. I touched it, but it was mostly through the ability to express oneself and to spray paint. I was in a band for a very, very short time. I was a terrible lead singer. There are no videos. I've burned them all.
Debbie: I know.
Chase: Yeah. Ultimately, I think I was trying to redeem lost time and when I mentioned regret, I can't think of other things in my life that I regret. That is a very big one, and I think that's been a big driver in my career to fully embrace that because it was something that was so fundamental to who I was, and so fundamental to being human that and I'd [inaudible 00:19:55] so I just went all in and it was ... When the silver lining for my grandfather dropping dead was, as you mentioned, me getting his cameras and it was just two weeks right before I decided that I was going to take all the money that I had my bank account, which is not very much, got a little gift from my parents and a little gift from my grandmother to go walk the earth. You know that line in Pulp Fiction, like I'm going to walk the earth. I'm gonna be like Kane from Kung Fu. That's what I wanted to do.
Debbie: But you said that ... I believe that you said that philosophy really helped you find yourself as a photographer in that it required you to be honest about your intentions and about what life really meant.
Chase: Oh, there's no question about it. I think that's what people ... everyone pretty kind of laughed and like I was going to become a ... There was two phases of laughter when I was going to be the philosopher from being a doctor. I was like, oh, okay. Okay, and then there was the other one, which was when I said I was gonna become a photographer. In the philosophy world, I think ... The way my wife puts it she's like, yeah, I thought that was the thing that dumb jocks did to try and get the degree as fast as possible. But I truly believe that what philosophy does is it ... More than anything it's a tool for critical thinking and you can apply ... People say how do you ... do you use your degree? I hate that question because I don't really respect school as much as I should, but specifically, I ... I don't know. I think you get it. You get it.
Debbie: When you came back from the trip, you still were thinking about going back to school. You had taken your MCATs. You were thinking about your PhD. Then you quit all of that, and your first job after that experience, you were tuning skis for $10 an hour in a ski shop, and you licensed your first image, your first photograph in 1994, for $500 and a pair of skis.
Chase: Yes, it's very important, second part of the pair of skis because that was the currency that I was dealing in.
Debbie: Right. So what was the photo and what was it like for you at that point to make a sale? Your first sale.
Chase: Sure. So speaking of the philosophy part. What philosophy taught me to do is two things. One, to think critically, to apply intention, which I think is the foundation of art. Like if I spilled my bottle of water here and it was an accident, that's not art. If I spilled it on purpose as a piece of performance, then it's art. So there's this huge part of intention, which I really ... I got from philosophy. When we move to Steamboat, Colorado after the Europe trip, I was just ... I was passionate about living life and exploring and it was in my travels in Europe with my then girlfriend now wife, where I acknowledged that I wanted to do this and I wanted to do it somewhat surreptitiously because I was still somewhat ashamed of pursuing something that seemed, in my culture and my family and my time, like wow, you're gonna go for that. Okay, okay.
Chase: And I think when I was able to couch it in being a ski bum, it seemed like it was okay because I was at that time of my life. I was waiting tables and trying to ski a hundred days a year, but when I applied myself again and added intention to the mix and decided that I want to take photographs, I was in one of the most metaphorically richest places in the world and in the middle of Colorado, with some of the best Ski and Snowboard athletes in the world. I had a camera. I could actually ski really well as well, so I could go anywhere and do those things. If you know ... Like, if pursue something you're passionate about, you're more likely to be good at it so, I put those two things together and I was able to make great photographs, in part because of teaching myself composition very painfully through traveling through Europe.
Chase: Back now in Steamboat, Colorado, doing something I love. And it was just the culmination of all these different pieces and that intention part that I mentioned that I learned from philosophy, took this photograph. It happened to be of next year's ski because I worked at a ski shop that was very Future Ford. It tuned the skis for the US ski team. This is all dumb luck. Like, I'm just randomly here and we tuned the skis for the US ski team, the freestyle team, and that put me in contact with great skiers, and we got next year's equipment all the time to test in our shop.
Chase: So, when you have [inaudible 00:24:04] that's part of like getting photographs bought is you have to buy them before ... I don't know how that happens. I don't ... excuse me. That was my phone ringing. when when you're trying to sell something, being ahead of the curve and having something that other people don't have ... Turns out that's valuable in the marketplace. I had that. It was the culmination of like 50 different things that made it so that I could sell a photograph. And remember, I'm making $10 an hour and I threw out ... I went to the library. I looked in the card catalog. Found a book about photography business, read the book, went to the Ski manufacturer who was passing through and said, "I have this photograph." He said, "It's amazing." He put me in touch with someone else and my first offer of $500 and a pair of skis to license, not to give, to license that photograph was immediately accepted, and when you do that in business you should be like, shit.
Debbie: [inaudible 00:25:07]
Chase: You always want to have to think about it a little bit longer, right?
Debbie: What made you decide to license it as opposed to sell it?
Chase: I think the concept that I was creating something of value and that that could be licensed over and over and over was ... I think it was something that, again ... There's two phases here. One is, I believe that that is part of the ethos of skate, surf, sort of culture. Is that what you make and what you do matters and so there was ... I believed inherently that there was value in the work that I had created and that book which I should try and track down that book because it talked about sort of the concept of licensing rights to use something for a very narrow scope, and I did that and was able to ... Again it was just an immediate yes, and I'm making 10 bucks an hour, so you do the math. I can either work ... and the skis were probably worth, five or eight hundred dollars and some like okay, wait a minute. I went skiing with my friends and I got this picture and I sold it for the equivalent of a hundred hours of my time. I would like to do this again. And it was literally the act of pulling it off once that sort of painted a picture for me that it was possible. I remember telling my parents that I had done that and it was very unusual for them. They were like, huh? Okay. Well, how's your medical school application going?
Debbie: I thought they were going to ask you how is your medical insurance going given the skiing.
Chase: There's a funny story. I got medical insurance on a Wednesday and on Thursday, I tore all the ligaments in my thumb and had a $12,000 surgery. Literally 24 hours.
Debbie: Skier's thumb? I had that happen, but not from skiing.
Chase: There you go. You see my scar right there.
Debbie: I got the same one. You found this book in the library and essentially from what I can understand, that is the sole education that you undertook in becoming a professional photographer.
Debbie: You had this little throwaway line just a few moments ago where you said that you learned composition as you were traveling. Well, just because you do something over, and over, and over again, doesn't mean you're going to get any good at it. You went around the world studying composition? How? How did you learn composition as you were composing photographs?
Chase: The same way we all learn, right? Repetition, comparison, imitation. These are all foundations of learning.
Debbie: How did you find your voice? How did you find your ...
Chase: I hadn't yet found my voice. I think that was ... That's also ... I'm pretty prescriptive about this. This is you can really only can get that through repetition. I was able to make photographs that looked like the photographs in the art books that I was reading at the time. I was wildly, deeply, passionately inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, the artists of New York and the sort of 60s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, because they were doing things that ... There was a meta layer to what they were doing, right? They weren't just making art. They were making art about art. And Warhol, taking things off the supermarket shelves and put them into museums, and Basquiat taking them off the walls of New York and into Galleries. So there was this meta-narrative that was going on and I knew that that was wildly inspirational to me and I also knew that they were ... I mean, Warhol had the factory. Just the concept of the factory has repetition as one of its foundations, right? And Basquiat, obviously wildly prolific, and it was those two things that influenced me to decide to say, "Well wait a minute. If I'm too attached to one thing it's going to be hard to learn and so let's treat these things a little bit less preciously."
Chase: I was very precious on the value of my work in the marketplace because of a single book that I had read under duress trying to make 500 bucks. But, on the other side might ... Like, the self facing side, I was wildly disconnected from good or bad and I was more into making. It was that process of making, both when I was on the road in Europe. Remember, this is like ... care to mention how long, it was long time ago. It was you'd shoot a roll of film, you shoot 24 pictures and I was taking a picture, exposure number one f8 250, kind of sunny, photograph of Eiffel Tower and then photograph two, so everything I took. Then I would get them developed when we'd save up enough money. We would eat beans and tuna fish for like a week to be able to take the extra money from not eating fancy meals to develop film and that was the way I learned. It was very painful, very slow so, you end up paying very close attention when it's that hard and that slow.
Chase: I mean today we can take a thousand pictures in 15 minutes and just be learning in real time. Well, there was this delay and so I think that made me pay very close attention and to be able to pay close attention and not be precious ,I think is a really good recipe for learning. So sort of taught myself through imitation, and it was also very inspirational to be in Europe, traveling around a culture that at that time, especially relative to the United States, was widely valuing art and creativity at a degree that the US hadn't really openly embraced in my mind. It was sort of the culmination of those things that helped me understand how to teach myself. We can't really ever teach ourselves, right? There's all kinds of influences, but I guess that's sort of ... Those are the building blocks at least.
Debbie: 11 years ago you were caught in an avalanche in Alaska, while working on a campaign for a major brand, and you got hit with enough snow to fill five to 10 football fields with about 50 feet of snow. You managed to escape, but you thought you were living the dream at the time and that experience shook you to the core. How did it change you and how did you escape?
Chase: I think it would be tedious as hell for me to explain how because the process of figuring it out ... I don't know if anyone who's listening right now or watching here in Boston has come very, very close to death, where ... I don't need to go into details about an avalanche, but the mountain cracked behind me, and it was about 300 feet long, and I was about 10 feet deep, and I was on that thing that was sliding down a 1800 foot vertical face. Not vertical, 50 degrees. Skiing things that hadn't been skied before with the best skiers in the world and I just happened to ... I mean, I had extensive avalanche training, avalanche awareness, all of that stuff. I was with, literally, the best skiers and snowboarders in the world with world-class guides and that's the ...
Chase: When you ski, basically shoot, ski and snowboarding for a living, all of your ... There are times after storms where it's the most dangerous and if you live in that world you spend all of your time in the most dangerous narrow time to be in the mountains and so it ends up being a little bit of a numbers game. But when you're caught in something that's that magnitude, the concept of getting out of it is is very ... it's pretty much like there's a couple things you're going to do to try and make it so that they can find you and when the avalanche is the size of that one, you're basically a goner. I realized all those things and if you've had a near-death experience, time slows down. Use all your references, and I was doing all sorts of calculus in the moment. So, instead of going into painful detail of as I was going over I could feel my right ski hit that ... I could relive all that. I could write a 20-page book about the 20 seconds that I was in what's called the white room, and it's actually not white. It's very black because you're basically ... I was rolling down the hill at about 50 miles an hour with snow, some of it the chunks the size of Volkswagens, and just imagine that plus a billion BB's, which is all this little snow.
Chase: Without going into the weeds I managed to ... I survived. And sorry ... it was legit. It was serious. When you survive something like that and you think ... I'll just say me. I don't want to say one, I don't want to project, but I thought that I was doing my life's work. I had transitioned ... I had left the culture and the world that everybody else wanted for me and found my own path as a creator and I was doing as well as you could do shooting for ... This was a Fortune 100 brand, with your friends in Alaska, unlimited helicopter. It doesn't get any better. Huge budgets, all that stuff. After that moment, I was immediately transformed. I mean, I remember the night that it happened, laying in bed, completely sleepless, saying, "Everything that you had done to date," ... I think we all understand this as independent artists. I believe we do at some point, which is in order to make a living and a life doing what you love, you have to stomp out your space. Otherwise there's a lot of people who will take that space and so it feels a little bit competitive.
Chase: I've heard life talked about in two arcs. One arc where you have to figure out it's about you. I mean, even the ... Think of a child. Child's very egocentric, right? So in a young adult world and the early part of our creative career, we have to establish who we are and what we believe and think and then in that moment, I was like, wait a minute. If you're so focused on living this life that you've very proudly carved out for yourself, you're living your dream, and yet, how many lives are you affecting for the better? So I remember in that moment realizing that I needed to do something that transcended me as an independent artist, but also embraced the thing that I felt like was the best thing outside of my wife Kate in my life, which is the ability to do what you love as a creator for a living.
Chase: So how could I fuse those two things, include a community of as many people as possible and simultaneously fuel my own fire? It ultimately was, I was going to try and inspire other people to A, pursue their passions, B, understand that there's a creator in all of us, and C, that you could put those two things together to live a life that you would aspire to.
Debbie: Because I have a somewhat fixed amount of time, I want to talk to you about three more things. The first is the big article called Snowfall in the New York Times. You were involved in this amazing, multimedia storytelling project about a fatal avalanche in Washington State, which won a Pulitzer. Congratulations. What was your involvement and why have you not pursued more of that kind of work?
Chase: Well, first of all, to be clear, to be able to be involved in a project of that magnitude ... I don't know if anyone who's listening at home right now or sitting with us is the New York Times put, I think like 80 people and millions and millions of dollars, they built websites and it was like you could fly around on the-
Debbie: I mean this was one of the first [crosstalk 00:37:03] multimedia pieces that the New York Times did.
Debbie: And I remember seeing it. I didn't even know you at that point. I remember seeing this, thinking, everything's going to be different after this.
Chase: It was literally a mark in time. And so, when you work on a project that's large ... To be clear, I did not personally win a Pulitzer Prize. I was a part of the project that did the winning ... I think the genius in that was the research and the writing so it was appropriately directed at those folks. But to be able to be a part of something like that was, it did two things. One, it helped me see, again, what was possible, and it was also an amazing opportunity to contribute. Bess you. To contribute, because the victims in this avalanche ... One of the victims was one of my very dear friends. And so it was a way of processing. Remember, I had almost died in an avalanche not long before that. And so, it still haunts me. I'm still infinitely aware of it, but I still do that kind of activity. I was in the back country not too long ago, engaging that same behavior, but I just take a much narrower view of that and don't do it as much but ...
Chase: So to lose one of my dearest friends in that same way, to know what he went through in the moment of his death, and then to be asked to contribute in some way, it was just like ... it was a beautiful first full circle and it also inspired the hell out of me because I could see what was possible. I could see where all this was going. I could see that creativity plus technology was so powerful. It was this amazing force for good. I also realized in that moment, I think I had known it before, but the power of an image, the power of an image to be a part of something that has a sort of a tech underpinning and could be seen and experienced at scale ... That was really early sort of UI UX in a browser. That didn't really happen before then.
Chase: So it was an incredible project to be a part of and to be clear, there were people who spent months and months and months working on it and researching and I had just ... I had pictures of Chris and I had lived a lot of my young life at that ski area where this horrible tragedy had happened. So, it was an incredible eye opening experience though, and it really helped me understand the power of an image.
Debbie: So, the next two topics are first, best camera and then second, CreativeLive.
Debbie: So if anyone is interested in, and I think that everyone is, you can go read all of the details about this on Chase's blog. The story is titled, My Biggest Failure: The Story I Was Too Ashamed To Tell. So, tell us about that story that you were too ashamed to tell.
Chase: That is a wicked open-ended question.
Debbie: I know.
Chase: In about 2007, a couple of phones came out that had cameras. Remember those? The Razor, the Palm Treo. They were horrible phones, but they had a camera in them. And there was something I was deeply passionate about photography, as we've been talking about for a long time, and in some way because I had been living that world so intimately ... And at some point I had also about 2004 or 5, I'd started building a community online through blogger. It was then Google Video, before YouTube. I wasn't building a community for any other reason than to actually learn and connect with others because the photography industry, not dissimilar to the design industry, not long ago was very closed. And the concept of sharing your work ... I mean I was talking to some folks last night at your cocktail gathering where they were like, oh like in the UK, we don't really share what we're working on or ...
Chase: And so, in the u.s. at the time and I think culturally, globally, it was frowned upon to talk about your creative secrets and what you were doing and I needed those secrets. I needed to understand them. And I also ... I saw that information wanted to be free and move quickly because of the internet and so I started ... When people are lamenting that this thing is coming to bowl us all over and we're all going to lose and it's going to suck, I was like, well, if it's an inevitability that information's going to move quickly, how can we lean into that? So, I started telling stories and sharing what it's like to be a photographer and here's my settings, here's my vision, here's what I think about, here's how I talk to clients, here's the shoot, and I started making videos.
Chase: There was no such thing as behind-the-scenes videos that ... The term didn't exist if you searched it. It accidentally had the effect of creating a community because it was talking about what we called the black box and that you put money and a photographer and some concepts ... art concepts in one end of this box and out comes a campaign with a star and a hero and print and digital and all these different things, but no one knew what that was like. I started telling those stories, incidentally built a large following, and again, on Blogger. I had a million readers a month in probably 2005 or six. When 2007 came along, cameras started having phones or, sorry, phones started having cameras. See how crazy that is, right? We flip those things right? I don't even know what this thing is. It's just a camera.
Chase: I found that I actually was more inspired by the idea that I would always have a camera with me. So I popularized the phrase that goes, the best camera is the one that's with you, and what that understood was that images aren't about dynamic range or megapixels, or if you have the newest, latest, greatest things. It's that images are about stories and they're about moments and if the best camera is the one that's with you, allows you to have a photograph that you otherwise would not, because that's what we all lamented prior to that time, was like, oh, if I just had my camera. Well, your big camera's at home in a case when that one thing that you didn't expect to happen happened.
Chase: Sure, we all have them now for birthdays and weddings and all that kind of stuff, but it was all the off moments, which I actually believe deeply are how we should look at our culture's art. I did an installation at the Ace Hotel about the snapshot. And I believed then and believe now that snapshots are the true character of what a culture is, not the stuff that's hanging in the museums and the galleries. The idea of a snapshot being with me all the time, I started embracing mobile photography and then in 2007 when the iPhone came out, I really saw that this was going to be massively adopted. Not just in the sense of taking pictures of the things we've talked about, but taking photographs of receipts and that there was going to be ... It's a visual language, right? And did an iPhone app in 2009 when Apple allowed you to submit apps. So it was the first iPhone app that allowed you to take a picture. Tell me if this sounds familiar ... take a picture, add a cool filter, and then share it on social media. Heard of that before haven't you?
Chase: So, it ended up that it went on to be the app of the year in 2009 and turned my photography studio largely into an incubator, realized that with an audience in the millions, that clients were a nice to have, not a requirement. You could be very choosy and so I started thinking about how photography and creativity could be scaled using technology. And with the best camera's the one that with you. So, it went on to be successful, but there's a twist.
Debbie: There's a twist?
Chase: The twist is that this was a year and a half or two before Instagram and after it was ... New York Times, Wall Street Journal, all that app of the year kind of stuff, I went on a global speaking tour because this concept was very radical and it ... I built a little company around it and I had outsourced the development to a firm which will remain nameless unless you go read the blog post and I think it's in there maybe. It turned out that we had ... it was a work-for-hire agreement, but there was a bunch of things that were casual when you're trying to develop something quickly and be out in front of a market. And for example, we put it out on this development firm's Apple ... their developer account instead of mine because at that time it took like eight or ten weeks to get an account. You didn't know it was the black box of a different kind where you just send something into the void and you hope that you got approved by Apple. To shortcut that timeline we said, "Yeah, okay, you put it out," but I had a bulletproof contract work for hire, they gave me. I owned all the code.
Chase: Short story too long, we were way out in front of everybody and after about of course of a year, they were not doing the things that they were supposed to keep up the code. When Instagram sold for a billion dollars ... There's somewhere there's a video of Kevin of Robert scoble asking Kevin Systrom, "Hey, isn't this just a copy of best camera?" And he skillfully dodges the questions as a tech founder would at that time. I don't have anything against Kevin. I think it's an amazing app. It's transformed our culture, but the real story for me was, I learned that if you can make a great idea once you can make a great idea again, and that being first doesn't entitle you to anything, that there's a whole set of things in the technology world especially, that that is my biggest failure from a business and a creator perspective. But I only feel stronger and smarter and more connected and empathetic and open because of that experience. I'm sure I'll have more. It was very ... it was powerful.
Chase: Can I have a little slight divergence here? Does anyone know how many languages there are in the world? Just take a guess. Anyone? I'll tell you. There's 7106 languages. 7106 languages and it would be impossible for any of us to learn even a hundred of those languages, even to be proficient, to say I love you, to say goodbye, to say I miss you, will you marry me? And yet, when any one of us looks at a photo we know it immediately, intuitively, when you see the love that a mother has for her child in a photograph.
Chase: I've learned to start thinking about my role in photography and my mission as a human to do anything that I can to unlock that and I think, we'll talk about creative live in a second, but in the moment of my avalanche and with this amazing failure, what I realized is that I wanted to create a living and a life around the ability to help others become fluent in this language, to realize that it is the most powerful language. I mean, if this device here, I'm holding my iPhone in my hand, if it is a Swiss army knife, then five years ago, the camera was the toothpick. And now it's the blade. It's the most important part of this tool. The data is irrefutable and this is ... Not only is photography a universal language, does it transcend geography, orientation, race, language, culture, time?
Chase: But it's the future of AR, of VR. If you've watched a fourteen-year-old communicate, it's all through images and we're not turning back, people. Photography is a universal language. And so, if my failure not getting the billion dollars, not having everyone walk around saying, "I'm going to best cam this," as opposed to "Instagram this," I'm totally fine with that because I've committed my entire life now to helping provide access to what I think is the world's next great Universal connective tissue.
Debbie: Did you always feel that way? Did you have any sense of depression or sadness?
Chase: Yeah. I had a ton of it and I think [Brenee 00:49:46] Brown is a mutual friend of ours and she's been on your show, she's been on my show. She talks about this thing called gold-plated grit, which is as humans, or as creators, or entrepreneurs, our ability to just say, "Oh and it was so hard. That's my biggest failure." But then, tada ... then we just go right on to this next big success story, which is what I'm kind of trying to wade carefully here because I don't want to do that. I wanted ... Like, it was terrible and I didn't show it. I was disappointed and when Instagram sold for a billion dollars, I got a lot of phone calls and was like man, that was first, that was cool, that was best, but it doesn't really matter.
Chase: The reality was, I experienced this sort of gold-plated grit. And for a number of reasons, I actually ... There were legal reasons. I did not join Instagram until about a year ago specifically because I was preserving some legal rights. I decided to let that go because that was part of my healing process and what an amazing experience to realize that what your true value is, what your true aspiration or inspiration, in this case to help people understand that photography's universal language and that there's a creator in all of us, that this was my true calling. Again, through that, sort of we don't ... Life doesn't happen to us, it happens for us and this was a really important part of that processing, and what I realized also ... And that was a business, right? It was a creative business. We created this idea of filters at the bottom of the thing that you swipe left and right and then you choose one and it like ... All that didn't exist. The UI didn't exist.
Chase: While I'm proud of that work, I think I'm more proud of acknowledging at that point, because there was a part of me as a creator that said, "Oh, man, I'm not a business guy," and really thought about ... and I had plenty of opportunities to sell that for never work again money, even though it wasn't Instagram and I decided not to. The reason I didn't then is not dissimilar to that same problem that I had of reconciling my creativity with my athleticism. In this case, it was reconciling being a creator with being an entrepreneur and I thought they were different things even just, five, 10 years ago. What I realized is that it doesn't matter What you're creating. Doesn't matter if you're creating small things every day that are seen by few, or if you're creating a business that is seen or experienced by hundreds of millions or billions of people. That it's all art. It's all creativity.
Chase: And there's this amazing ... I have had the fortune of reconciling those two things and again not dissimilar to how skate culture set me free. I feel like the understanding of that failure was able to say, "Oh, man, it's on," and so I felt like I was able to unlock that and that is I ended up leveraging everything into your next question here about CreativeLive.
Debbie: Tell us about CreativeLive. CreativeLive is a force of nature. Creativelive.com. Explain to anyone in the audience that might not be familiar, what CreativeLive is and why you started it.
Chase: Well, what it is, is it's the world's largest education platform targeted specifically for creators and entrepreneurs. It's where the top names in photo video, art design, music and audio, craft and maker, and a channel we call money in life, which is the ability to make a living and a life, doing what you love in and around creativity. It's a community of 10 million people and folks like Debbie Millman are on it on the entrepreneur side. It's folks Like Richard Branson and Tim Ferriss and Arianna Huffington, Brenee Brown, and in the photography, like analogous people in each sort of world. It's highly curated. It's not a two-sided market place. So it's not open for anyone. We choose that stuff very carefully. But it's just a lovely Community where 10 million people come together and learn from the world's best and there's ... Part of my ethos as a creator when I was back in the Blogger days trying to shed light on the black box of photography, that was all free, and-
Debbie: And people are taping shows live there, free.
Chase: Yeah. Anyone in the world can come and participate in CreativeLive and watch for free while we're making the content. And we broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in all those channels, and and we've had billions and billions and billions of minutes of education consume their own platform for free, and will always, always, always have something for free, something for everyone. I think that's part of what creates an inclusive culture where, if you're going from 1 to 10, you're a novice and you want to be an expert or you're creative curious and you're going from zero to one. There's something there for everybody. It's an education platform.
Debbie: You've said that what you're doing with CreativeLive is really just the beginning, and the future of education isn't about a four-year degree. What is the future of education?
Chase: It's largely self-directed. It's largely digital. It's not exclusively digital. In the CreativeLive world. We still have an in-person class that flies in from all over the world to sit in the audience so the teacher can have someone to teach to. We made about 10,000 hours of that content and I think everyone who's in the audience and probably those who were listening, they understand how they learn and the reality is that if our parents had one job, we will have five and the next generation will have five at the same time. And the school system, the inherent school system is based on the factory and the farm, both of which are reasonably outdated when it comes to a linear progression where you do one thing and then you do the next thing and materials come in one end and we try and create a bunch of like items that are coming out the other end of the factory. People go to school on a schedule that matches the seasons because of the harvest. I don't know too many people that are actually out in the fields in the summer.
Chase: Knowing that those two things are really out of time, the future is we will learn so fast relative to any formal infrastructure that that infrastructure just because of its physicality, will not be able to evolve fast enough, and so CreativeLive aspires to, when a new piece of software drops, we have that software on the platform the next day. and I think ... not just CreativeLive, just generally speaking, that's a really powerful concept to realize that you can tap into it. I think that's a thing that is a core value of ours as access, providing access not just to folks like yourself and others, but also to transcend geography, so that ... Of course I want to acknowledge that you do have to have an internet connection and that it's a real thing, that we need to as a culture provide internet in underserved areas, but I think that's ... There are people who are qualified to work on that and they're working on that problem.
Chase: But also to transcend the concept of degrees, and the concept of the future is way more about a portfolio than it is a resume, and they're going to borrow that from creativity. Creativity in case you were at all ... It was ambiguous in any way, creativity is the new literacy. Okay? Creativity ... If you look at literacy ... Literacy before, it used to just be reserved for aristocracy and the wealthy and people of privilege, and when they realized that if we taught that to the rest of the world that things like infant mortality went down, the concept of science was possible because of literacy. So, the people of that time ... Before literacy, it was the Dark Ages. Afterwards ... the printing press, afterwards, it was the enlightenment.
Chase: The same thing is true for creativity. I gave a talk at the next web where they were saying, it was all about AI and robots, and I was the sole person standing on a stage in front of 5,000 people saying that AI doesn't happen without the creative people who can envision it. Everything that's around you, every chair, everything we're sitting on, the floor that our feet are on right now, was designed by somebody with intention, probably no smarter than you were I. It didn't exist before then. And the first thing that existed was a picture. it was drawn by an artist. It was a concept. So, if you've ever wondered how important what it is that humans do in the role that creativity plays in this big, huge thing that we're a part of, it matters. It matters deeply and if we can think of creativity as the new literacy, I think that's probably what will ... There's something that I'm aspiring to live up to that phrase, I guess, in the work that I'm doing.
Debbie: Chase, it has been an absolute honor and privilege to sit here and talk with you. I wish we could talk for another couple of hours. I think we will. Ladies and gentlemen, Chase Jarvis.