We had the good fortune of connecting with Gina Main and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gina, how do you think about risk?
While it makes sense that a certain amount of risk-taking should be logically calculated, I believe it’s imperative to our humanity to leave a good portion of risk-taking to instinct. That amount inevitably shifts and changes over a lifetime!
Growing up as the daughter of an American Diplomat my family picked up and moved to another politically fraught country every few years. There were so many risks involved with every move, but since this was the family’s norm, we all learned not to fear “different.” We learned that the risks involved with change only yielded new experiences, not necessarily better or worse, and that adaptability was inherent in us all. Despite the fact that my father died at 49-years-old while on duty in South Africa, I still believe this to be true.
Once, during the height of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines, when I was about 10-years-old, I went out for a bike ride. I looked up and saw a man leaning out of a helicopter with a large machine gun. I rode faster… because I couldn’t wait to tell my friend when I got to her house! When I got there I was scolded for going out when it was unsafe. All the adults were panicked by my risk-taking. This experience planted the first seed in my brain that risk had to be weighed against more than just my impulsive desires. I was loved and wanted and I had to take that into consideration. I began to add a degree of calculation to my risks, but I’ve always had more of an adventurous heart than a mathematical one, so those calculations were decidedly small.
By the time I was fifteen I was traveling alone. Despite my earlier brush with a machine gun, I had the advantage of youth, perceived invincibility. Like many an adult, I look back on some risky choices and think how lucky I was to have survived, sky-diving, bungee jumping, sleeping alone in an outdoor train station in Italy, driving cross-country (before cell phones) on icy roads to start a new life in L.A. at the age of 22 with no plans but “let’s just see.” I am so thankful that I had parents who let me live life my own way, despite myself. I think they realized I couldn’t be held back after the machine gun incident and that I was a product of their own making. Having the opportunity to take risks gave me the chance to both fail and learn and succeed and learn.
My concept of risk is that it is never stagnant. It expands and contracts. It changes as life changes, as people come and go, responsibilities rise and fall, values shift, and world views widen or narrow depending on whatever information takes hold in our brains. Age and growth make risk move outside of ourselves and take shape around the people we love and the things we create. For example, when my kids were younger I made the low-risk choice to get a high school teaching credential (the benefits, the schedule!). Now, my teen kids have been venturing out to take their own bigger risks, and my adventure-seeking, artist blood has been flowing again. The calculated choices that shaped tightly around my dependant young children have greatly loosened and my heart is back to more instinctual risk-taking.
Currently, I’m feeding my lifelong love of photography with time and attention, money and risk. As I grow my creative photography business toward greater and greater success and feel fulfilled and propelled by the art and creation of it all, I wonder why I didn’t take the risk before. But then I remember the pulsing nature of risk. It expands and contracts like a living thing. It lives inside of us as our own lives shift and change.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Saying “yes” led me to where I am today, in a creative career. “Doing” is how most people learn best. “Doing” exposes people to things they didn’t know they didn’t know. As a person with a curious artist’s heart, I say “yes” to “doing” new experiences in order to develop my world view, deepen my understanding of humanity, make connections in my mind that weren’t there before, and ultimately be able to create art that fills me up and is a positive and relevant addition to the world.
In my early twenties, I was encouraged to do some modeling and although it wasn’t something I was interested in, I did it because by then in my life I’d discovered that saying “yes” almost always led to a new connection I didn’t expect… and, to spare you from overly lofty ideals, the truth is that I needed the extra money! While I was right that I didn’t enjoy the modeling itself, I was exposed to something I hadn’t really thought about before, photography! Saying “yes” to modeling led me to my favorite medium for artistically expressing myself, photography. I believe an artist’s heart has to be open to see truths in front of them, but they also have to seek out those truths by saying “yes” to oppotunity. Minds don’t expand in a vacuum. Don’t people lose their minds in solitary confinement?!
I believe the most successful lives are expansive and full of wonder, growth, learning, and freedom of personal expression. Saying “yes” gives space for that to happen, space to find things that bring joy and open hearts. It’s not easy, though. Saying “yes” to the new and unknown is challenging. But challenges force our minds to do the mental gymnastics needed for growth as human beings and to have something to say. There is no art without something to say.
Along the way, many things conspire to narrow our lives and hold us back from “yes.” Greater responsibilities, fear, scarcity mindsets, to name a few. I had my fair share of years wherein I forgot to say “yes.” Those were certainly my least creative years. As I approach the mid-century mark, and the years ahead of me may be less than the years behind me, I find myself saying “yes” more and more. I am in two improv troupes. I take writing classes. I learned the ukulele. It all adds to my creativity as a photographer. In the last few years I turned my on-and-off-again photography work into a thriving full-time pursuit. I say “yes” to photographers seeking to collaborate on projects with me. I alter fabric and vintage outfits to make them beautiful for the camera! I paint my own backdrops! And I always have a personal art image in my mind that I am working toward creating with photography.
After more than twenty years, the camera is like an extension of my hand. For that reason I use it in my business for a variety of photography genres. Studio photography work allows me the imaginative freedom with light and styling to create images that tell a story, evoke emotion, and possibly give space for compositing work. I get to create images for people that they have never seen of themselves before. It’s overwhelmingly fulfilling to see them emotionally moved to tears while looking at images of themselves and/or their loves ones. But, knowing there is a need for business, social media, and marketing images, I also offer natural light lifestyle photography and headshots to fulfill that need. I make room for both because I really do love everything about photography and image-making. Saying “yes” to it all keeps my life interesting, my mind challenged, and the road I have yet to travel open to anything.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend were coming and things were fully open in the city, I would take her first to Malibu. We’d do an early morning photoshoot at Matador beach. Then we’d have brunch a the Sunset Cafe in Zuma. Afterwards, we would spend the afternoon at the Getty Villa mimicking the statues and pretending we were considering purchasing the villa as a second home. We’d tell the attendants “we’ll take it” as we leave, while enjoying the perplexed looks on their faces.
The next day we’d head to Santa Monica to enjoy the pier and shopping in the morning. Then we would re-enact the skating scenes from Xanadu on the bike bath all afternoon. I would take a ton of photos and we would both post them on social media to mortify our children. It would be a Saturday so that night we would end the day watching Rocky Horror at the midnight showing at the Landmark in West LA.
The next day we would go to Hollywood. The Madame Tussauds wax museum would be the first stop for the photo-op. Are you sensing a theme? Then we would head to Downtown LA for the best sushi in Little Tokyo. We would head to the fashion district afterwards to buy some glamorous outfits for the studio photo shoot I would make her have with me in my studio the next day.
She would happy-cry over her beautiful pictures and tell me how valued and important the photoshoot made her feel, which is good because that is exactly how I feel about her. I believe every human is valued and important to at least one other person in their lives, and that person wants to see them shine. I do love to see my best friend shine in the L.A. sunshine! It’s likely, however, that we would have such a good time together that she would want to move in and have photoshoots every day. They are addicting! I would have to tell her that I know it will be hard for her, but for now, she has to share me with others. That I need time to work on my mission to make as many people as possible see themselves as worthy of being seen in professional photographs for themselves and the people who love them. She would hem and haw but ultimately laugh at the fictional version I created of her because she gets my dry humor. Then she would plan to just visit every other week.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Honestly, there is no bigger supporter in my life than my mother. I wrote in my question about risk how she gave me space to take risks, fail or succeed, live my life without tethers, but she also led by example. While we traveled in foreign countries she took me and my brother and sister to see everything we could despite the difficulty and dangers of traveling with small children. While traveling, she didn’t shield us from the injustices and hardships in the world. We saw squalid orphanages in Romania and South Africa. We saw the cardboard boxes in which people lived, naked and starving in the Philippines. We saw (and camped with) gypsies who slept on the side of the road in Eastern Europe. I could go on at length about these experiences, really. In a nutshell, she showed the importance of being daring and that everything would work out however it would work out and that was just fine. Through everything I have done, she has always been there cheering me on, offering help and support in any way she can. I am well aware of how lucky I am to have a person who I know will always want to see me thriving and happy in the world. There is no quantity of numbers to express how much I treasure her and recognize her formative role in my life.
The other people who deserve a shoutout in my story are Sue Bryce and Brooke Shaden. I found Brooke Shaden first on Creative Live and was knocked sideways by what she could do with photographic images to create original works of art. For twenty years I had done lifestyle photography on and off for pay. I enjoyed it, but I was growing bored because I was not artistically inspired. Brooke showed me that I could create images intentionally, like paintings, with images I took with my camera by putting them together like puzzle pieces. It became a wonderful hobby and made me feel inspired again. Then I found Sue Bryce. Sue Bryce and the supportive community she created taught me that I could be an artist, create art-inspired portraits, and make a good living at the same time. The lightbulb went off and I have been steadily growing my business thanks to these remarkable and inspiring women.
Hair and makeup for one image (girls in the champagne/pink dresses with flowers) was by @marisamalmsten