The Story of DSP
No photography allowed!
The Beginning - Circa 1980
Long before the days of electronic event ticketing and cell phones with high-tech cameras, this warning was found in the small print on every concert ticket from the Allman Brothers to ZZ Top. But, such strong words were never going to stop a 16-year old music fan with a camera from wanting to grab a few choice shots of his favorite rock-and-roll bands as they toured through the music venues of Philadelphia.
As they say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, and I had come up with a rather devious way of sneaking my dad’s 35mm rangefinder camera into shows -- a method that would prove to be 100% successful, albeit against venue regulations, without ever getting caught by the venue security personnel (* see disclaimer below). The thrill of getting past event staff with my secret stash was only matched by the thrill of getting the prints back from the local pharmacy a week later and showing them off to the envy of my high school friends. It was never my intention to do anything with the prints apart from boast about what I was doing, and I certainly never thought the day would come where I would be paid to photograph some of my favorite artists.
This "unauthorized" concert photography practice carried on through my high school years, with my passion for the craft earning me a 35mm Minolta SLR camera as a graduation gift from my parents. Against the encouragement of my high school design teacher, Mr. Anthony, I wasn’t heading to art school upon graduation as I was destined to study mechanical engineering. But, my interest and talent were, indeed, recognized by my folks in the early 1980s, and for years after that I would always be “that guy with the camera” at college parties and on vacations. My career out of college may not have initially taken me on a path of creativity, but that didn’t mean that I lost the thrill of capturing moments in time and seeing them in print and proudly displayed in my many 3-ring photo albums (remember those?).
Taking the thrill to another level, nearly 40 years later…
Although I was an avid subscriber of Rolling Stone at a young age, little did I know that about four decades after covertly practicing my favorite creative hobby in crowded Philly music halls, my concert and band photos, this time “legal” and commissioned by clients, would be published in the prestigious music magazine, amongst many other print and on-line publications. For most photographers, this story would be a dream come true. For me? I’m not sure it was as much of a dream as it was fate. I had never set a goal to be published in Rolling Stone -- not in the early 1980s, and not even after I became a professional photographer. It just happened.
How did I get here?
How did I go from being a somewhat-rebellious teenager with a camera to being published in Rolling Stone, have my work featured on billboards and other high-profile places, while also teaching a craft that I had never taken a course in myself?
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version. If the in-between details don’t interest you, simply read the first and last sets of bullets and move on!
* Disclaimer No1: Though I openly admit here that some 40 years ago I willfully broke the rules to sneak a camera into venues, as a professional I do not endorse such practices today. Having said that, these days everyone that goes to a concert or festival has a camera with them in the form of their cell phone (and it's likely better technology than what I used many years ago with a proper film camera), so it's now rare that "photography" is not permitted at an event. But, it is common to restrict "professional cameras" from shows, so check with the venue before showing up in line with your Nikon only to get turned away by the security folks.**
** Disclaimer No. 2: If you do choose to take concert photos or (worse) video with your phone, please don't be that person that holds their phone above their head for the entire show, distracting the people around them. And, while we're here, please don't be that person that also spends more time yapping than listening, disturbing those around you and, worse, disrespecting the artists on stage. Just STFU and enjoy the music, and the experience. There's plenty of time to yap between sets, at the bar, or after the gig.
1986 - 2002
In the beginning…
- 1986: Graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in mechanical engineering.
- Worked in New York City for a few years in the power generation industry.
- Got hired by a British power company; moved to England.
- Transitioned from engineering and project management into sales and marketing while working in the UK.
- Got the travel bug while living in Europe. How could I not?
Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man…
- Late 1999: Left my job for a travel sabbatical to kick off the new millennium.
- Passed through five continents over a three-year period, Nikon film camera in hand.
- Highlights included a few days stay on Easter Island, trekking in the Khumbu region of Nepal, Thai street food (and SangSom), Luang Prabang (Laos), multiple months in New Zealand, a five-week solo motorcycle tour around France, Spain, and Italy, and over a half-year in South America wandering around the Andes Mountains and Amazon Jungle, while studying Spanish and emersing myself in Latin culture. Of course, I also spent some time in North America.
- Captured some interesting travel photos while vagabonding.
- Had a life-changing conversation about “life after traveling” with an English friend while wandering around the South Island of New Zealand. Decided not to resume my corporate career, and completely change the trajectory of my life.
- Wrapped up my travels in late 2002; returned to my home state of New Jersey; rented a spare bedroom and tiny basement office from a childhood friend in North Trenton, New Jersey.
- Bought a bunch of books on the photography business; learned how to design / code websites and use Photoshop software.
- Early 2003: Bought my first digital camera -- a Fuji S2 6.2 megapixel DSLR.
Going Pro in NJ: 2003 - 2011
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Thoreau)
- March 2003: Launched Vagabond Vistas Photography, with the primary business objective to be a “travel photographer” (and get paid to travel).
- Achieved considerable success my first year in business with major front-page publishing credits, exhibition awards, and various “stories” about me and Vagabond Vistas.
- December 2003: Landed a photo from Easter Island on the front page of the NY Times Sunday Travel Section. (see below)
- Met a local artist in North Trenton who invited me to teach his painting students a few things about photography.
- Accepted the invitation, then realized how little I knew about photography, so I literally started with a blank sheet of paper and started to design my first photography workshop.
“When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear.”
- In this case, I was both “student” and “teacher”, as teaching these art students forced me to actually understand everything I was supposed to be doing as a “professional” photographer. In a sense, I became my own teacher.
“If you want to learn something, teach it.”
- Not only did this decision to teach enable me to become a much better photographer, but I discovered how much I loved sharing my knowledge with others.
- Expanded my workshop repertoire, while also launching “photo tour” events in both Philadelphia and New York City and the Delaware Valley of NJ and PA.
- Built up the photography instruction business, while also expanding my photography interests into other areas, not the least of which was “music photography” (concerts and festivals).
One out of The Three Tenors, A King, and a Jazz Fest...
- October 27, 2003: Though I grew up with 60s and 70s rock-and-roll, which influenced my choice of music in my teens, the first concert I ever shot as a professional, with a legitimate "photo pass", was none other than the late, great tenor, Pavarotti. Imagine that?
- My next professional gig wasn't until 2006, where I got the opportunity to shoot BB King at a theatre in Trenton, NJ. I recall it being a very challenging shoot, not just because of my inexperience, but because there wasn't a photo pit and all press photographers had to shoot from the flanks of the theatre. I came away with one or two acceptable shots, but longed to have another shot, no pun intended, at photographing BB again.
- Enter 2010, and I was selected by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation to be one of their photographers for the 2010 Jazz Fest. I was assigned to two of the stages on site, but was able to wander a bit when time allowed. Fortunately, I had time to get over to the Blues Tent to shoot -- you guessed it -- BB King. This time, access and lighting was much better, as were my skills, and I came away with a plethora of decent photos of one of the most popular and talented bluesmen in history.
A Change of Scenery: 2011 - Present
Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…
- 2011: Moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains (Asheville, North Carolina area, not West Virginia, and not near the Shenandoah River, but who doesn’t think of this song when they read “Blue Ridge Mountains”???) and decided to focus on my music photography, bringing my childhood creative interests full-circle, but now at a high professional level.
- Experimented with business branding options, eventually parking the Vagabond Vistas brand, and bringing all of my creative activities under the David Simchock Photography (DSP) brand.
- With Asheville being such an active music hub, I continued to focus on my music shooting, with a goal to become the “go to” music photographer in the area.
- April 2014: Founded "Vagabond Photo Walks - WNC" MeetUp group, with intentions to build a local community of enthusiastic hobbyist photographers. (As of March 2022, we now have over 850 members!)
We keep getting’ richer but we can’t get our picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone…
- 2016: My photo of the Steep Canyon Rangers appears in Rolling Stone Magazine (not on the cover, but in a full-page ad feature), on billboards in the Eastern USA, and was also “wrapped” around their tour bus (promoting Asheville as a destination).
- Continued to raise my music profile in the Southeast, shooting hundreds of gigs and working with countless artists, venues, producers, publications, etc.
- Selected as one of 45 featured music photographers appearing in the award-winning film, "A Year in the Pit". (John Woody - Executive Producer / Director)
Ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strain) Ch-ch-changes (Just gonna have to be a different man)
- Late 2019: Decision made to revive my photography instruction activities but move my workshops to an on-line course format.
- March 2020: COVID-19 arrives, the live music business shuts down, reinforcing my need to transform DSP, particularly its instructional events, to the virtual “socially-distanced” world.
- March 2022: An all-new DSP website is launched, maintaining my presence as a “photographer” (commercial and editorial) and "artist", but putting heavy emphasis on my passion to teach the craft to others.
The Next Chapter: Photography allowed!
Every picture tells a story, don’t it?
So, here we are in early 2022, with the COVID Era and many of its restrictions likely becoming a fixture for the foreseeable future, if not indefinitely. This isn’t the story anyone wanted to be telling two decades into the new millennium, but we can either all give up, or we can face the present challenges and adapt to this ever-changing world, creating our own story amongst the uncertainty -- creating our own reality, if you may.
I have chosen the latter.
And, it is my desire, if not my purpose, to collaborate with others who have made a similar decision, or at least strive to move in that direction. We are all responsible for how we deal with the circumstances we find ourselves in. I choose to blaze a new, creative path, despite the uncertainty around me.
In the early days of my creative career, I am the first to admit that my “purpose” was more about me than it was anyone else. After living the foot-loose and fancy-free life, galavanting around the world for a few years after leaving my "real job", I wanted to be a travel photographer, and get paid to travel. I later morphed my ambitions into music photography (i.e., get paid to shoot live music), while still focusing on what I could achieve without limits. I am proud of my accomplishments, but there is more work to be done, and more stories to be told.
Though I was never one of those entrepreneurs who started his own business in order to avoid “working for The Man”, and my aspirations were always driven by my passion to be creative and to share that creativity with others, the truth is that my story was all, or mostly, about me. Yes, I’ve had many satisfied clients and happy students with pride-filled stories about our work together, but I feel a need to take all of that passion and success to another level.
As we enter this new era of humanity, and as I have grown as both an artist, a business owner, and as an individual, my focus as a photographer (no pun intended) has shifted, and my own mission has taken on a new, elevated meaning. Though I’m sure my own story will continue to unfold in ways I could have never imagined, I want to inspire and help others in revealing, expanding, and telling their own unique stories. Or, in some cases, producing an entirely new story (purpose) with a new business or new chapter in their life. Beyond the individual level, I will continue to strive to create community amongst those individuals.
I believe that through photography and the still image, it is possible to tell a story that the written word simply cannot achieve on its own. In today’s age of information-overload and endless distractions, this is more important than ever, whether marketing a business, promoting a non-profit, or simply creating and telling your own personal story to your family, friends, and social media followers.
- Are you a frustrated business owner or marketing manager, forever trying to figure out how to stand out in a crowded and noisy internet?
- Are you musician or band seeking a way to be noticed beyond your music?
- Are you a parent who can’t seem to capture that perfect picture of your child or family with your own camera?
- Are you a magazine editor who needs unique, compelling imagery for their travel stories?
- Or, perhaps you’re a budding photographer who has the will to take their creativity to another level, but you’re unsure about the way to do it.
You are not alone. And, you don’t need to be.
If you made it this far, what you just read were the words to the DSP "story" over the past two or three decades, up until January 2022. What you see throughout this website are visual representations of that story -- my photos. Imagine seeing all of the words above (and there are many), but with no compelling or relevant images to complement such a transformational journey. Now, imagine your own business, or your own life journey, and how that, too, can be enhanced and come to life with captivating imagery.
Therein lies my purpose -- the hero in my own story, turned guide for others. As is emphasized within this (new) DSP website, my mission is to help others, through my photography, instruction, and inspiration, to become the hero of their own stories.
How can DSP help you to become the hero of your story?
PS: The Sequel - Creativity encouraged!
Though no matter which path I take in the future, I will always be a photographer, and I will always be willing to share my passion with others as a trusted, experienced instructor. Over the past year or two, it has become more and more obvious to me that my aforementioned “purpose” goes well beyond “photography”, and as I unveil “the new DSP" with an all-new website and presence, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to extend my teaching and consulting into life and/or business “coaching”.
I do not have a definitive launch date for this service (and likely a new brand), as my current priorities are in getting the new DSP website and on-line photography courses up and running. But, “watch this space” as 2022 settles in to kick off a new era for DSP. If you would like to keep up to date with my coaching developments, and be part of this exciting, ever-evolving story, please sign up for these special updates below. Thanks!
Paulo Coelho - Author
"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve; the fear of failure."
How can DSP help you to tell your story?
David essentially offers two fundamental service options. You can either collaborate with him to produce imagery to tell your story. Or, he can teach you how to do that yourself.
Are you struggling to attract visitors to your business website or social media platforms?
Are the cell phone or stock photos you post simply not cutting it? Perhaps it's time to invest in a seasoned professional photographer.
You've invested in the fancy camera.
Why not invest in yourself, and make the leap from taking uninspiring snapshots to producing high-quality photographs and pieces of art?
Prints & Products
Are you interested in owning a part of the DSP story?
In the coming weeks, a "satellite" site will be launched where DSP fans can purchase affordable prints and photo products. Signed, customized art will also be available. Expected launch in April 2022.
DSP has collaborated with and contributed to the following...
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Henry David Thoreau - Author
"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."