We had the good fortune of connecting with Jonathan Valerius and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jonathan, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
I often recall a pivotal point in my life and remember it as being one of the most important decisions I ever made. I was working at a photo studio in Miami Beach in 2001, we were one of two maybe three studios and it was still part of the heyday of the photo industry in Miami Beach and we were busy, this was before digital had come to be the standard in the industry. This particular studio had equipment rentals, camera rentals, film and expendables for sale and of course the studios. It was a great place but the owner was at times very tough to deal with, he had many successes but also had some personal difficulties in his life that he would unfortunately take out on people around him. I had witnessed this type of behavior many times and without consciously saying it to myself knew that the day it was directed towards me, I wouldn’t put up with it. One day as I was packing an order that was scheduled to be picked up in a few days, meaning I was a head of schedule, the owner came up to me and very rudely expressed his dislike for how I was doing things and grabbed the camera bag from my hands and started to go through it. I turned to him and asked him if he was able to continue speaking to me with respect and decency to which he answered no, I then said, “then, I quit.” I did the rounds, said goodbye to all of the lovely people I worked with and proceeded to walk towards my apartment. When I left, I was quite shocked and for some strange reason the main focus on my mind was that I had to make sure I earned at least $50.00 everyday. I cannot explain to you how scared and strange it felt to have done what I had just decided to do. To this day this remains the single most important decision I made as it taught me that valuing myself and not allowing myself to be spoken to in a demeaning manner lead me to where I am today, I believe that had I not, I would have allowed this type of treatment to continue in my life on any level of relationship and that would be detrimental to my growth and progress. I ended up building on that $50.00 a day to the point where I was making over $800.00 a day, in the beginning, I was mowing lawns, painting studios, doing deliveries. Eventually, I started my own courier service and production company, as life would have it, my first client for the courier service was that same studio that I had worked at years before and they used our services for over 10 years. There have been several other parallel stories like this that have lead back to me being very grateful for having stood up for myself and many times I have realized that saying no has been as good a business decision as agreeing to get involved in a venture.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When it comes to art, the most important thing I can say is that I focus on keeping it an honest expression of what I am interested in or what my attention is caught by. I have structured my life in such a way that I work so that anything that I do creatively is free, the idea for me is to get the idea from my head into the world as best I can, this can mean a photograph, a piece of furniture I make, something I write or how and where I am going to live. Lately, sailing and the ocean is on my mind a lot, the mediterranean sea is too.
I suppose what sets me apart from others is far less important than what makes me just like others, I get inspired by people and their work, I try things thanks to that inspiration and I keep moving forward in that respect. Being an individual sets me apart from others but that is just an illusion anyway isn’t it, we are more one than we are individual it seems. I am not the best at what I do, nor am I the worst. When it comes to pride, I would say that gratitude is a better word, I am grateful to have made it this far as a self employed individual, that means the world to me but I did not do that alone by any means so I feel grateful to my family for this possibility and I can say I am proud of my contribution to that if I have to pick something. Clear ideas excite me the most, when I am clearly drawn into a project or a photo idea, that excites me quite a bit.
How did you get to where you are today professionally?
The two main factors are focus and consistency. We chose a business, we worked on it with attentive focus over many years and remained in it. When we saw an opportunity to add to the business we did but a big part was also knowing what to turn down and to keep the focus on what worked.
Was it Easy?
The short answer would be no, but when you are completely enveloped in something and your perspective lets you see that you are making it on your own, the reward is so great that it is not something you measure in terms of easy. Easy work scenarios and life set-ups feel completely suffocating to me and that would make them harder than what I have gone through to get to where I am.
The way we overcome challenges is always by paying a lot of attention to what solutions are possible and what sacrifices need to be made to implement those solutions.
We spent a large part of our lives working all the time and nothing more, that usually is the ingredient you need, the ability to stay focused and work on your business all the time and not much else, we did that for over 10 years diligently for our own company and for many years prior while working for others.
The most relevant lesson is to stick to what you decide to do and if it is working don’t complicate it, keep building on that.
What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I try to allow myself to adapt to the changing times and I have no issue in trying to change myself so I suppose that what I can hope for is that over time people who get to know me can see that I try to do my best in life form an integral place lead by a strong moral code that has been established in me from many failures.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I have done this several times and I usually like to scoop them up in my camper bus, pack the cooler and shelves with food and drinks and start by heading North on PCH out of Los Angeles. First stop is usually Leo Carillo or County Line State Beach as we can pull up right on the beach and relax, make food and enjoy the ocean. Depending on schedules and desires, I will head towards the point Mugu area and enjoy some of the sights there, it is a lovely area and gives a nice sense of the natural beauty that the California coastline has to offer. I will proceed based on an itinerary that I did with my best friend when he and his girlfriend came to visit. Next, we head to Ventura County and go to one of my favorite beaches and surf breaks, Emma Wood State Beach. You can pull right up and have a spot on the beach and enjoy fun waves and a lovely peaceful time. Next stop would be to go get fish tacos and a nice cold beer at Spencer McKenzie’s, great food, great prices and a very laid back setting right in town. With our bellies full and our hearts content, we would drive up highway 33 into Ojai, grab whatever we needed for the night ahead and take a nice drive up Matilija Canyon into the lovely mountains of Los Padres National Forrest while enjoying the sunset. There are lovely places you can spend the night star gazing and enjoying the sounds of nature in the mountains. The next day it is either off to the water fall or the beach depending on the wave conditions and the desires of the people. After enjoying the day on the beach or at the falls it is always a treat to take an evening hike to the hot springs in Montecito, they are not the easiest to find but they are a lovely treat, especially if you catch a full moon, this will set you up for a lovely night of sleep, that is pretty much guaranteed. The journey back to LA will usually consist of stopping and spending an afternoon of surf and relaxing at Rincon Beach, sleeping there in the bus and then driving back to the Los Angeles area where we will spend a day or two sleeping in the comforts of home and sharing some of my favorite sites in Los Angeles. To name a few, Griffith Observatory, Runyon Canyon, Barkowski, The Pint, Millie’s Cafe and some of the neat little nooks in the Echo Park and Silverlake neighborhoods. I could go on and on about this because LA is so much fun to explore and I keep discovering new things all the time. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The short answer for me is family, without them, I would not be where I am today and most importantly I would not be currently building towards our success without them. My mother, father and brother have been everything in building my foundation and exposing me to the world in a wonderful and varied way. We have traveled, we have been poor, we have been rich and we have fled countries when they were being over run by military coups. My wife has then taken the relay and showed me a level of love, loyalty and support that only she could have offered me, 10 years later, we continue to build together and support each other, the last decade of my life would not be what it is today without her.
Other: the best way to get to know me or my work is during a studio visit but unfortunately those are on hold due to the pandemic.
All images by me, Jonathan Valerius