We had the good fortune of connecting with Cindy Pitou Burton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cindy, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Winning a third-grade art contest was seminal, my art displayed in the hall for a month in its own glass box, building shy confidence and an identity. Moving away from MN family at age five, living in five states before I was 13, I was comforted by my books, full of adventures I wasn’t having. While in high school and college in southern FL, NYC arose as a glittering destination, the star of many books and a perfect place to be an artist. Shy, but yearning for adventure, taking risks was then key. My roommate and I flew to NYC one college summer, finding a job in Queens and renting a couch in an apartment in Manhattan. We took Wednesdays and Saturdays off to see every play and museum, exploring this magical new city. I returned after graduation as a flight attendant based in NYC, earning just enough to pay the rent. Life became an adventure with detours, a marriage, small children, a variety of jobs–-but when I picked up a camera for the first time I landed.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I was an active photojournalist in NYC, but then came a new marriage and move to a small town in the foothills of the Los Padres mountains in Ojai, CA. It was a jolt of quiet that required rethinking my work. I took classes at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and at Otis Art and Design in LA, moving into fine art photography. I developed in distinctive phases, ranging from large scale Polaroid transfers, sepia landscapes of the west, flowers photographed on a light box, B&W portraits and digital travel photography. I have many Nikons but have even used my iPhone for specific effects that remind me of Polaroid transfers. I never wanted to work 9 to 5, but rather to have a disciplined freelance career I could create. As a photojournalist I had assignments that I pushed for, expanded my name recognition and that connected me with people–while expanding my abilities. I learned to bill and get paid. I found that most jobs were recommendations so the need to advertise wasn’t key. As a photographer in the art world, advertising your shows and your work is far more important. I give myself assignments, experiment with printing and shooting styles, with only deadlines for shows and open studio weekends. I needed staff in NYC but in Ojai I shoot alone and staff is more about working with other freelance artists like framers, archival paper designers, and museum and gallery owners. It may feel like play at times, but it’s still a business.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Having had a beach cottage in Santa Monica until recently I’d stay in an airbnb along old Main Street from Pico to Abbott Kinney–or if price is no object Shutters on the Beach. I love that old section of Main Street with it’s unique shops and restaurants. I could spend a day just exploring the streets or a walk along the lively beach, stretching from Santa Monica to Venice.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Saul White was a great supporter during my development as a photojournalist in NYC, while I was taking classes, shooting for costs, and gathering base knowledge while working to get credits. Saul used the big box cameras to photograph rooms in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s and l worked as his assistant while I learned how to use all the expensive, heavy equipment that was the gold standard. It allowed me to say yes to jobs I wasn’t sure about, confident he’d shine a light on it. An actress friend, Geraldine Kennon, began an Equity theater, asking me to photograph for them, so I developed a portfolio of actors and theater PR which added to my versatility—and ultimately to work that paid.
Cindy Pitou Burton