We had the good fortune of connecting with Shelby Bernstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shelby, how do you think about risk?
To be honest, I don’t think about risk too often. Sometimes that might not be the best or smartest thing, but what fun is life if you don’t take risks? I have limits and boundaries, but career wise I feel like take a risk can have a massive reward. I’m also a pretty impulsive person, so risk taking just sort of happens for me and I don’t necessarily realize that until after the fact. Obviously, some times taking risks doesn’t work out in your favor, but for me I’m always happy I did because ultimately it’s what I wanted to do and I won’t look back on it wondering what could’ve happened. Without taking any risks career wise I wouldn’t be where I am today. I took a risk quitting my job in Scottsdale and moving back to LA without any real job prospects. I let all of that fall to chance and accepting anything that came my way even if I felt like it would be too challenging or far out of my comfort zone. After every risk you take you’re guaranteed to learn something new, whether it be a skill, a lesson, or just something about yourself. No matter how everything plays out you gain more knowledge one way or another, which will ultimately help you down the line.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think what sets me apart from others in my field of work is the fact that I started out doing darkroom photography, and only that for years. You have to put in a huge amount of practice and effort to get to your objective: a perfect image. You have to understand light/lighting in a way that you miss out on doing solely digital work. You have to understand the working mechanisms inside of a camera to know how your images may come out. You become more intimate with your tools as you’re forced to understand them more. There is no real “editing” process like there is when you use digital programs like Photoshop. It’s up to your skills and how you understand the chemicals in a darkroom to operate and work with one another. I’m proud of my photographic background because not many people in my generation can say they’ve sat in a darkroom from sunset to sunrise creating images. I know it’s not an easily accessible thing but I’m grateful I’ve had the experience to be able to essentially live inside of one for over 5 years. It’s helped me understand the work I do now extremely well, so I’m really excited about the work I do now. I can take all the things I’ve learned doing that kind of work for so long and apply it to my digital work. I really do feel like it sets me apart from others. It was not easy getting to where I am today. As someone who only did darkroom photography and was very stubborn about moving into the digital world, there were still so many unknowns when I decided to make the leap. All of the editing software is intimidating when you’re just starting to learn it. At times it felt easier to just give up than to keep pushing forward. I gave up several times, but ultimately jumped back in and kept trying to learn. As time went on I took any type of digital photography job I could find even if I didn’t feel qualified. Regardless of the outcome I learned something new that would help me in the long run. One thing I’ve learned is to always believe in yourself. It sounds so stereotypical and cheesy to say, but it’s true. Self doubt and imposture syndrome are real and can be debilitating. Even if you don’t feel qualified on a job try to push the thoughts aside and do the best you can. That’s all you can do anyway. If you believe you’re doing a good job most people will as well. If you show confidence even if you don’t have it, other people will think you’re confident. I still struggle with these things as I’m sure every creative does, but regardless of that I put 100% into all of the work I do because it reflects me and I want it to be the best it possibly can be. I want to help people show what they make or sell in the best possible way it can look. People deserve to have the things they make look amazing and pleasing to their customers, and I’m here to help make that happen.
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.
I love taking people through the entire city. I’d probably start doing doing a drive from the beach all the way past downtown, zigzagging around the entire city showing off all the famous landmarks and buildings. Growing up, during 2008-2012 I would’ve immediately taken someone to Melrose Ave. on a Sunday to go to the flea market at Fairfax High, but it’s changed a lot since then. Now I love hanging out in Echo Park, Silverlake, Korea Town, and Downtown. Highland Park is my honorable mention. Food wise, I’d take someone to any of the taco trucks in Highland Park, or Joy. Their Dan Dan noodles are amazing and I’ve missed going there since the Pandemic. Afterwards we could walk around and window shop all of the vintage stores. All of the areas I’ve mentioned are just fun to walk around and see all of the cool street art and people out and about. We could hit Echo Park Lake and chill under the sun and do some more good people watching. Maybe get some elote from one of the cart vendors. There’s also so many good bars in all of these areas as well so it’s hard to pick which ones to go to! My favorites would probably be Tony’s which is a little east of the tall buildings downtown plus they have a good pizza spot right next door, Zebulon in Frog Town which has a great outdoor patio and good live music from time to time, Club Tee Gee which is a fun old school bar that’s like 72 years old, and then it’s a tie between The Shortstop and Cha Cha Lounge. Both of them are really fun depending on what vibe you’re looking for. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to shout out my parents for always believing I could do whatever I put my mind to even if they did agree with me or think that I was pursuing would work out. I’d also like to shout out every teacher or other authority figure who never believed in me. This happened to me a lot growing up as I was a bit unruly and didn’t like to listen. These types of comments made me extremely insecure about my creativity, but I was eventually able to harness those negative comments and thoughts and use them to propel myself forward. Lastly, I would like to thank my high school photography teacher Mr. Briggs. To this day he is one of the only positive authority type figures I’ve ever had as he always believed in my work and challenged me to continue making photographs regardless of what I was personally experiencing. He taught me the basics, and showed me that I could make photography into a career if I tried hard enough. For that I am eternally grateful.
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