Name: Justin Bridges
Occupation: Fashion Photographer
Job He Quit: Wall Street Trader
Justin Bridges worked on Wall Street until the financial crisis hit in 2010. He left his desk job to work a temporary job at J Crew, which led him to Saks 5th Avenue, and finally to The Sartorialist, before landing his dream gig working for himself as a fashion photographer for the likes of Public School, High Snobiety, The Arrivals, Everlane, Ovadia & Sons, among others.
"It takes a lot of courage to do what others aren’t doing and take pride in that.”
Figuring It Out: When I went to college, kids were always trying to figure out what they are going to do when they get out of school. Finance became interesting to me and so I followed that path. It’s one of those careers, at least before the financial crisis, where you could make a lot of money in a 5-10 years span. It was very appealing, it was fast, it was exciting, it was cool.
Lifestyle Change: The funny thing is that finance and Wall Street never lost its luster. The part that did, however, was the lifestyle that you have to have in order to be successful at the job.
Dealing with a Crisis: I started my finance job in 2008, and I was an intern right as the financial crisis hit. When the world starts falling apart, you really begin to question what it is you believe in and where you want to be.
Second Thoughts: At the end of 2008, start of 2009, I started reevaluating if this job is something I can do for a long amount of time. I thought, "Can I make a career out of this and give what's in my heart and my head a shot, versus what’s in my wallet?"
Napkin Scribbles: When going through this, I sat down with my boss, who happened to be my mentor, and we wrote down on the back of a napkin a list of pros and cons. Everything was on the pro side of me wanting to leave and try something, and on the con side was only "can I have enough money to live the lifestyle I want?" That was enough motivation to start shifting the mindset.
A Giant Leap: I thought maybe the next step would be corporate finance, but I actually ended up getting a job in planning at J. Crew, which started the trajectory of me slowly getting further and further away from numbers. Planning helped me get close to the purchasing team, which helped me follow a path of buying. Eventually I found my way to The Sartorialist which was the line of demarcation in terms of going from numbers, to full on creative.
Average Justin: The first time I picked up a camera was in college in 2007. I had found the interest early, I just thought I would never be able to make any money at it. There are probably a lot of people that pick up a camera and are legends immediately, but I wasn’t one at all. When I picked it up it was really fun and I liked some of the stuff that I shot, but I mostly thought my work was garbage.
On Doubt: I think doubt comes in streaks. The way I deal with doubt, I like to think of it as a motivator. Doubt is an inevitably of going out on your own and taking a risk. Doubt just comes with the territory. You balance doubt by taking pride in your wins.
Using Prior Connections: The first 6-12 months, because of my blog, because I had worked at the Sartorialist, because I had travelled during fashion week, I got to meet a lot of editors, and because I worked at Saks, I got to meet a lot of brands.
On Being a “Professional Photographer”: I never thought I would be taking pictures in any professional capacity. I still have my doubts that I’m actually doing that. It’s kind of surreal. I’m so early in my journey I can’t take profits off the table yet.
Explore, but Be Real: If your heart is in something, you owe it to yourself to at least explore that decision that it would take to pick up and do something about it, but I don’t think everyone’s going to be successful that quits a job, it isn’t for everybody. I’m always trying to learn. I still study finance, I still study photography. I do want to get to that next tier of photography.
On Social Media: I think it is an absolute truth that it is easier to spread your voice democratically in the new system, than it was three years ago, but with that reality comes a heavier burden to make your voice stronger in a sea that is too big. In my case, I don’t think it's that important as it is with somebody who relies on their voice to gain business. If a brand is looking not only for my eye and my following count, they aren’t going to find it with me. That’s also not necessarily my forte nor my business plan or strategy. It’s awesome to be able to gain people's interest in my work by a push of a button, and I love the democratic nature of social media. But as any form of democracy, sometimes it shifts to become not democratic and thats’s where we are at.
Follow Justin at @bybridges, and check out his website at justinbridges.com.